The communion of Oji Igbo creates a unique presence in a way no other symbol can actualize because, essentially, it creates a seamless interaction between the material and the immaterial world – the physical and meta-physical. This communion is expressed in “Iwa Oji Ndigbo” (breaking of kola nut in Igbo land).
The Igbo kola nut, which is of the cola family, is the “acuminata” species. It is a scarce type of kola nut remarkably distinct from other cola species. Oji Igbo is the small reddish pod produced by a tree called “oasis oji” (kola nut tree). The tree is usually small-statured whereas the nut is bitter to taste due to its high caffeinate content.
Nothing sums the life of an Igbo prodigy as the prestigious “Oji Igbo”. From prayers to endorsements, the “Oji Igbo” is an unequivocal symbol of life and in many things the truest of socio-religious-cultural life of the Igbo people, whose ancestral homeland located in the southeast, south-south, and, a few, in the middle belt regions of Nigeria.
The breaking of the kola nut (iwa Oji Ndigbo) is an age-long Igbo tradition. Although many non-Igbos equate it to prayers over the kola nut, the meaning of “Iwa Oji Ndigbo” is beyond the saying of the prayers as it follows a ritualized invitation of the “gods,” ancestors, and “chi” to partake and intervene in the activities of man.
The invitations (expressed through verbal incantations in the local dialect of the holder) express in fundamental terms the Igbo metaphysical ideology regarding the existence of God, angels, life, peace, justice, equity, prosperity, death, life-after-death, among others. It is indeed a communion which Ndigbo share amongst themselves and with their maker. It is an affirmation of their belief in God.
The word “communion” is defined as the act of sharing, or holding in common; participation. In the biblical sense, the word “communion” as translated in the King James Version is the Greek word “koinonia” and it means a partnership, participation or social intercourse, fellowship, communion, communication, distribution, contribution or to communicate.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
The communion of Oji Igbo transcends the life of the Igbo in its entirety, which prompted the assertion that there is no distinction in the communion rites of Oji Igbo between the sacred and the profane, fact and fiction, natural and the supernatural.
Spiritually, Oji Igbo is used to summon the fallen ancestors, the “chi,” the deities, and the Supreme God above. This is usually buttressed when after breaking the kola nut, a lobe is thrown out to the compound which is meant to be the one for the spirits. These contact points with the supernatural define the communion of Oji Igbo as a transcendental cultural practice.
The breaking of kola nut (Iwa Oji Ndigbo) thus implies the invitation of the supernatural to inhabit the occasion or to bear witness to a pending event. In this regard, the communion of Oji Igbo has transubstantiation values, as could be inferred in other religions, with the invocation of the spiritual presences during prayers or meditation.
The breaking of Oji Igbo further signals authenticity and the sacrosanct nature of any pronouncement which accompanies it. Thus, the Oji Igbo is both a spiritual item as much as it is symbolic. The breaking of the kola nut holds more philosophical meaning than the nut itself, especially regarding the pronouncements, the incantations, and invitation which express both the physical and metaphysical ideology of the Igbo people.
Through these invitations (expressed in verbal incantations), the Igbo metaphysical ideology is portrayed as one that is as advanced as those of the notable civilizations of Egypt and Greece, especially in the concept of the existence of God, His angels, life, peace, justice, equity, prosperity, death, and life-after-death.
Not just anyone can break the kola nut, as there are culturally existing norms that are followed. Usually, throughout Igbo land, no one breaks the kola nut in the presence of a king (traditional monarch), as the king is seen as the custodian of the kola nut, unless authorized by the monarch, for reasons of old age, sociocultural respect or any other spiritual relevance.
In the absence of the king, the prerogative is on the highest titled man present. If the function is in a man’s house, the host is entitled to break the kola nut, provided that he is permitted with these words “Oji eze di eze n’ aka.”
The kola nut must be presented by a male for the breaking ritual who represents the symbol of household authority. Where a man is deceased, the oldest son of his, who is present (age notwithstanding) takes his place.
It is noteworthy that the communion of the kola nut (Iwa Oji Ndigbo) begins with the breaking of the kola during which the ‘holder’ pours out his heart in the incantations-cum-prayers. These incantations cum prayers come in clauses with each clause specific about an issue usually in idiomatic expressions which is affirmed by Iseeee! Or Amiiii! (Let it be so).
Afterward, the kola nut may be broken, taking cognizance of the lobes that it breaks into which have spiritual connotations as symbols.
The “Oji Igbo” in practical usage is either presented to be taken home or ritualized (Iwa Oji Ndigbo) for the common communion. In the entire Igbo land, nothing is more symbolic than the ritual of the kola nut before the actual communion.
Symbolically, no kola nut is ever eaten in any ceremony in Igbo land without the rites of “Iwa Oji Ndigbo” (breaking of kola nut). During the rite, the holder summons the visitation of the immaterial world to be part of the ceremony and to bear witness to events and agreements reached thereafter. The rite of “Iwa oji Ndigbo” is further used to summon the discernment of all good tides and rejection of all evil antecedents.
It also establishes the goodwill of the host and the unity of the group gathered. The rite of “iwa oji” is unique as an art as well as rich in its cultural values
For instance, women do not perform this rite and a man regarded as “fake” (worthless without status) does not perform the rite. The same practice trails the tree that produces the nut; it is neither climbed by a woman nor do women pluck from the tree.
To do any of these is abominable and must be confessed and atoned, otherwise, spiritual reparation will take place.
The efficacy of the kola nut as a symbol of acceptance is best found in the words of Basden during his exploration of Niger Ibos when he said: “without the presence of the kola nut you are not yet welcome in any Igbo man’s house.” Thus the kola nut signifies acceptance and friendship, to strangers and natives alike.
The kola nut, wherever it is presented, is a sign that the parties who have gathered are willing to cooperate among themselves for their own common good. It is usually eulogized with the words: “Egbe belu ugo belt” (live and let live).
There is also the symbolism of the kola nut. Rarely does the Igbo kola nut come in a non-lobed form without parts and whenever this happens, it is considered an omen. Usually each kola nut halves into several parts from two to seven, with two-lobed nuts regarded as an omen. This is because in the Igbo cosmology the number two lacks balance and is thus regarded as unstable and thus does not portend well.
“Oji Ikenga -” the three-lobed kola nut -is regarded as trinity cola of stability. It signifies a good omen, typical of the structure of the Igbo family with the male elder as a leader in order of father, mother, and children. Some scholars have also visualized “Oji Ikenga” in the three cardinal dimensions of man – the body (ahu), the mind (obi), and the soul (mmuo).
“Oji Gbazuru Agbazu,” or the four-lobed kola nut, is seen as a good omen, as it is believed to unite the gods of the four native market days (Eke, Oye, Afor, and Nkwo). It also symbolizes the complete four-day week in the Igbo calendar.
The blessing attached to the principle of the four-market-day cycle is social justice. This is because in the Igbo business cosmology, the market cycle allows each community dedicated to a particular market god to have a day in which her agricultural produce is brought to the market to be patronized by other neighbouring communities, while the cycle rotates fairly every four days (the traditional week length in the Igbo calendar).
“Oji Dike,” or the five-lobed kola nut, is usually announced and claimed because it is a symbol of “omumu” (children) and “aku an uba” (wealth and productivity). In some dialects in Igbo land, it is referred to as “Oji aka na okra,” because of its correspondence to the five fingers and toes of the hand and leg, and the five human senses which are required to be engaged for productivity and wealth.
“Oji Mkpuru Osee Isii” or “Oji Ndi Mmuo and Mmadu jiri Gbaa Ndu” is the six-lobed kola nut. This is the most contested lobe in Igbo land. Whereas some see it as an omen in the principle of “Ishii an esi the” (six dulls up things, retards progress, and brings about retrogression), others believe in its good omen, in that it is a duplication of “Oji Ikea,” signifying the alliance of spirits with humans.
It is usually eaten by removing the smallest lobe (which symbolizes the female part) and is dedicated to the gods to eat. The remainder is eaten as “Oji Dike.” However, depending on whether the holder is an optimist or a pessimist, the six-lobed kola nut symbolizes special visitation by the gods on the man that prayed, which manifests in extreme prosperity and blessing on the man. The breaking of such kola nut is usually celebrated by the sacrifice of a fowl or a goat.
“Oji Asia-also,” the seven-lobed kola nut, is extremely rare. It is highly associated with supernatural effects because it represents the four gods of the market days, the four-day-week cycle, the three dimensions of man, and the trinity. These spiritual symbols make it the most cherished and the most valuable sign of a good omen.
Life is a universally accepted construct that is also professed profoundly during the communion of the Oji Igbo. There are usually expressions like, “Onye were oji were and” (he who brings kola brings life), “Oji bundu” (Kola is life), and a proclamation of the faith “Anyi ga di oooo” or “Ndu any ooo,” which usually serve to introduce the breaking of the kola nut.
In the instances, life is professed and expressed and is linked to the kola nut, which is assumed to be the fruit of life as commonly expressed “K’anyi taa Oji tata and” (let’s eat of kola nut of life).
Furthermore, life is professed for all without discrimination as a symbol of purity in the words “Ndu mmiri, and azu oo” (Let all live). The sacredness and preservation of life is also expressed thus: Ndu any ga-adi nu ooooo, one Guanabara and ya, ya noya info” (We shall all live, keep your life where it cannot be found from anyone who seeks to kill you).
Nothing is emphasized in Igbo land more than peace and harmony during the communion of the kola nut because without it no human society can hope to progress. For instance, the holder says: “any ga di nu ooo, wu any ga di ooo, be any dikwa oo” (live and let live) – the hallmark of peace and harmony.
The Igbo traditional society is founded on the principles of justice which not even our modern courts can guarantee. The word from the mouth of an elder when he is with Oji Igbo is considered sacrosanct and may be violated at the sanction of the gods.
In the unadulterated lives of the Igbos with the Western culture, rarely does a man tell a lie with a kola in his hand. It is regarded as a sacrilege and the man in question has brought upon himself and his family unpardonable crime which may be atoned with his life. The sanctity of life is such that kola nut is regarded as life and thus, any unethical or conduct in its presence is also against life and the gods, are unsparingly punished.
These values of Ndigbo – the foundations of which rest on social justice, hard work, and cooperation with one another – are espoused in the Communion of “Iwa Oji Ndigbo” and can be reinvented by harnessing the true potential of the kola nut, with a view to taming the wildfire of individualism, extremism and the general tendency towards corruption.
These form the core principles of any veritable Code of Conduct for public officers in Nigeria, and Africa, and provide a veritable tool for intra-Africa cooperation and bonding, as the Africa Continental Free Trade Areas Agreement (AfCFTA) regimen strives to gain momentum.