Kola-nut: A Common Factor

Next time you meet a Nigerian, ask how Kola-nut is used in their ethnic group.
In a country as diverse as Nigeria in terms of the various ethnic groups, it can be challenging to find cultural similarities. Don’t be fooled, similarities do exist. One can spot these similarities if you observe closely. One of those similarities is a seed kernel called Kola-nut. Kola-nut is used by a number of ethnic groups in Nigeria for traditional, religious and ceremonial reasons.

The Different Uses of Kola-nut

Traditional Use

“He who brings kola brings life” – this is a part of prayers traditionally said by Igbo elders when blessing the Oji (Kola-nut in the Igbo language). Among the Igbo ethnic group, Oji is presented as a gift to welcome visitors. It is presumed that if no Kola-nut is presented, the visitor is not welcomed. According to my Igbo friend, Nnamdinho Agbim, anyone can serve the Oji but only the oldest (elder) man in the gathering can break it with a prayer. The host presents the plate of Oji to the visitors, the eldest man from the visitor entourages touches the plate and returns to the host to break and bless it. Once the Oji is broken with prayer, it is passed along to the next oldest man and so on.

Per tradition, the prayer to bless the Oji is said in the Igbo language since it is believed that Oji does not understand any other languages apart from Igbo. Offering of Kola-nut to visitors is also a sign of welcome and acceptance by the Yoruba, Hausa and Itsekiri ethnic groups. Apart from offering Gworo (Kola-nut in Hausa) to visitors as a sign of welcome, it is said that Hausa people consume it on a daily basis.

Religious Use4_namingceremony_yoruba (1)

In the Yoruba ethnic group, traditional religious worshipers use Kola-nut or Obi-Abata (Yoruba name for Kola-nut) as an offering to the gods or the ancestors to guide them. The use of Obi-Abata is primarily by the Ifa Babalawo since it is presumed that Obi-Abata is the favorite food of Ifa. Therefore, to appeal to Ifa or seek his guidance on anything, offering Obi-Abata to him is the way to go. Ifa is the Yoruba orisha (deity) of wisdom, prophecy and ethics. Babalawo is an initiated priest. During the Islamic celebration (Eid), it is common among the Hausa ethnic group to give Gworo as gifts.

Ceremonial Use2-7_Gworo in Northern wedding (1)

Kola-nut is used in various events such as marriage, naming ceremony, death and so on. According To my Igbo friends, Oji is used to kick-off all Igbo ceremonies including traditional Igbo weddings in Nigeria and abroad and child dedication.

Along with other gift items, Obi-Abata is presented by the groom’s family to the bride’s family for the traditional Yoruba wedding ceremony. The kola-nut for the wedding signifies fertility and protection from evil.

Everyday Use

Kola-nut contains caffeine and as a result it’s used widely in all facets of everyday life in Nigeria.  From a school student trying to stay up to study, to a worker needing a post lunch boost.  From market woman to politicians.  It’s indeed a binding force through Nigeria.  It’s farmed and grown all over the country.

Although this article is a snap-shot of one commonality (Kola-nut) among three ethnic groups in Nigeria, Kola-nut is used by other ethnic groups in Nigeria as well not just the three mentioned in this article. So next time you meet a Nigerian, ask how Kola-nut is used in their ethnic group.

Note: Special thanks to Nnamdinho Agbim, Ike Tori Ade and Ifunanya Nwadinkpa for their contribution to this article.


  1. Yorupedia:
  2. Amaigbo Heritage :
  3. Kola-nut for life:
  4. Kola-nut: Nigeria’s seed of togetherness:

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