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The Kola nut In Benin Culture

(Last Update July 10, 2020)

KOLA-NUT (EVBEE) occupies a very important and unique position in the cultural life of the people of Benin Kingdom. It  is  as a welcome gesture to receive visitors to home It is presented and served at private and public functions, at meetings of Edo or Benin people and at various ceremonies and festivals, marriages, naming ceremonies, chieftaincy title conferment and ceremonies accompanying the award, new yam festivals Igue, burial, and other traditional celebrations and feasts. It is a popular ingredient for offering prayers to the ancestors and deities of the land and to the most High God. A reverend father in the Catholic Archdiocese of Benin City some time ago describe the Kola nut as “The AFRICAN COMMUNION” being a SINE QUE NON at important public and private functions
Kola Nut

Whenever the elders of the people meet or gather for any purpose, settlement of disputes, felicitation, receiving visitors, consultations or arbitration, burial obsequies etc, the kola nuts must be offered as well as accompany drinks/wine for libation and refreshments. Benin people have confirmed over the years that;
“Edion  I kokua”  meaning “Elders do not meet whiteout the accompanying basic items”. These basic items are kola nuts and drinks.

The breaking, sharing and partaking of the kola nut has its formulation on a common binding force which compels participants to have a clean or pure state of mind towards one another and be transparent in their dealings. Unpleasant repercussions have been known to follow violations of this time-honoured culture and tradition of the people which has nothing to do with fetish ideas but a bond of fellowship and common good of the people.

The kola nut is of such high value in Benin culture as to compare only to the value of gold in modern times. The Benin proverb aptly puts it:
“Noren Igho-evbee ere a y’evbee na”
Meaning “kola nut is presented only to those who know the value. “This is the English equivalent of Gold is given only to those who appreciable its value”.

The kola nut tree that produces the pod is highly regarded as a sacred tree among all trees in the land for its important product, which is widely used as a delicacy for entertainment, and for herbal and spiritual functions. Pulling down or cutting and destroying the tree without permission attracts severe sanction. The botanical name for the kola nut is Kola Acuminata or Kola Alba. A pod contains one or more nuts neatly set in rows opposite each other. There is a variety or species of the kola-nut generally referred to as the “Hausa kola” which is easily distinguishable from the Native kola (Evbe Edo). The “Hausa kola” or “Guoro” is otherwise referred to as the commercial kola as it is produced in very large quantities for local consumption, use, and for export. While the “Hausa kola- nut” or “Guoro” has just two parts i.e. two cotyledons, the native, Benin or Edo kola-nut, has more than two, could be three, four, five, six or more, with special significance attached to each species. A kola nut that cannot be split gbian is rare, and it is obviously malformed and generally rejected, being an abnormality. This can only be utilized as prescribed, for specific rituals and herbal purposes.

The kola nut is usually the first item to be presented to a senior or presented at an appreciate stage during a ceremony, marriage or naming ceremonies, or at family or social gathering or public functions in a suitable, covered bowl. To uniform with the rule kola-nuts are presented inj even numbers 2 ,4,6 etc through young boy, not girl any longer since the  “murder of Adesuwa” in the 18th century by  the Obi of UbuIu -uku which precipitated a  civil war. The young man or boy now holds the bowl in position for the elders or eligible person to pray and break it. If so done, the young man presents the split kola nut to eligible persons to pick their position. If bowl is left on a table or on the bare floor for prayer and breaking, each eligible person goes there to pick his own piece However lavish an entertainment may be, the absence of kola nut makes it incomplete and unacceptable, so the Great Benin custom demands. Indeed, in order of precedence, the kola nuts come first, before any slaughter of goats, chickens, rams or cows for any ceremony or observance. There is a set pattern in the number of kola nuts to be presented at a particular occasion. Generally, however, it is only proper or acceptable to present kola nuts in even numbers two, four, six, eight, ten, etc. as earlier stated. A single kola nut cannot be presented to a group. If a single kola nut is presented, it will not be split or shared. Also, in accordance with Benin tradition, kola nut presentation may accompany assorted drinks and wine but should not be “wedged” with cash or in any form as is the practice in some neighboring cultures particularly in the Delta area of Nigeria.

The duty or honour of breaking the kola-nuts devolves on the visitor who is expected to offer prayers for the host and the family. Under few circumstances (if any) should the presenter also split the kola nuts, since part of the reason for presentation iis to solicit for fresh prayers and supplication through the visitor or visitors, Benin tradition leaves no room for ambiguity in its protocols. There is strict order as the saying goes: “N’ evbee so regbe Ovae” meaning “it Is he, whose turn it Is, that breaks the kola-nut.
In a public gathering, it is :-

(a) The most senior Palace titled chief/functionary or in the absence of a titled chief, the odionwere (village head), by tradition or priest (ohen) (not uninstalled okaIdumwun prevalent in urban centre).

(b) A Benin citizen honoured with a bead by the Oba (king),

(c) The most senior Benin man in age around in that order that breaks the kola nut.

(d) In a family gathering (strictly family affair) it is the Okaegbee! i.e Head of farnily.

Where the Oba and his Chiefs are present, the Oba orders the Iyase (traditional prime minister) or in his absence, the next chief in rank, the Esogban (odionwere) or any other cliief ranking next, to break it.

The kola nuts may however also be presented to the most senior prince or ENOGIE (Duke) who passes on the authority for breaking the kola nuts to the highest ranking chief or to the Odionwere (Village, Street or sectional head duly-installed), a citizen honoured with a bead by the Oba, or the most senior Benin man present.

The person who breaks the kola nuts chooses his piece first in addition to a whole nut, particularly if he is a palace chief or functionary. Members of the Royal family are not given pieces but whole nuts (unbroken). The presenter or host chooses his piece after the breaker of the nuts, followed by others in strict order of seniority if it can be easily determined.

The Native Benin kola nut has more than two natural lobes, parts or cotyledons. If is three, some may not share it and so it is discarded or given to one person. The commonest is four parts. When the number is five, it is said to indicate prosperity. When it is six more prosperity etc, a kola nut with more than six is very rare, but the significance is more prosperity. And this should be wedged with more drinks from the presenter, NOT MONEY.

The forms of prayers for breaking the kola-nut depend on the occasion. Generally, all prayers are offered to Almighty God, (OSANOBUWA) who is the author of life and who causes things to happen, like the coming of a new day, the blessing of a marriage, the birth of children. It is He who gives good health, long life and success in every endeavour. Prayers may also be offered to the family, town or village ancestors (EDION) or particular deity depending on the occasion, or the setting of religious adherence! The preliminary remark to the breaking of kola-nuts is to announce its arrival like this:
“Eniwanre, Evbee re”

That is “Elders present, the kola nut is here”.
Even when presented to the rightful person, he will still announce and seek the concurrence of all present to exercise this right. The general reply may be “vae”, meaning, “Break the nuts” “yaegha rae” i.e. “perform the right thing to break it”. If he is not the rightful person, attention would be drawn to it. The matter may be’ argued and whoever it favours will have the general authority to perform the breaking formalities. The prayers for the breaking may take a form like this:
Osa Nobua N’oghodua, Okon dudu, No kie Edenere, Uyi owue, maninue, ma kpomwonrue Yi emwiiia Nu uya we ima laho, Ne ‘Uguirna gharo, N’Oyi evbenare. . . gi  owa gha ma nee, n’ oma n’ ima hia gi ode ore gha ma, Rhie afiangbe nee rhie utomwen,  vbe ukhuegbe nee ima hiaorje otue gima gha ma, odaro ma gha rughe, Enwin Nima riemwan ba, to gha gba nima, gi Ima rugh’Odaro, ghei gima mien Idobo, rhi egbe ramwen n’ima etc Oba gua to okperee - Ise.

God Almighty our creator, who made this day possible, we give you honour and Praise, we thank you for everything  you have done for us, we implore you to remain on our side, bless the host (family) who presented this kola to honour us Bless his home and his entire affairs, grant him peace, prosperity, good health and long life,
For us, the visitors or guests, grant us also the same good wishes we have extended to our host, peace in our homes, blessing and progress in our endeavours. May the purpose of our visit, our gathering here, be blessed and successful, grant us all good health of mind and body. Long live the Oba (King) Amen.

The prayers must end with prayers for His majesty, the Oba, after which no other prayers should follow. This is a sign of loyalty and goodwill for the reigning Oba. It is like the British Anthem of “God save the King or (Queen)”. The Amen ISE ends everything before the kola nuts, are broken, in natural lobes, passed round, and shared in the proper order or seniority (not hap-hazard) there is a wise saying among the Binis:

“Eire rhuinwunda Ema, era na ye Ogua-Edion, taa to, nagha rue llele Edo” meaning
“It is not merely for the pounded yam (feasting) that one seeds to attend the elders’ forum, but more importantly to learn of the rich, sustaining culture and tradition of the Edos (Benin)."

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