‘Oji‘, also known as kola nuts, is certainly one of the many practices that unify the Igbo people. It is a precious fruit with enormous cultural significance in Igbo society and other cultures. Kola nut is traditionally offered to visitors to the Igbo nation as a sign of welcome, hospitality and acceptance, along with other items such as indigenous drinks (palm wine, burukutu, among others).
However, before the kola could be offered in ‘Ani Awkunanaw‘ (Awkunanaw Territory) in Enugu State, he must go through complex customary rites led by the person administering the ritual.
Some of the processes are:
‘Ime Oji’ (presenting the kola nut) to ‘Icho Oji’ (passing the kola) to ‘Igo Oji’ (praying on the kola by a spiritual person or elder) to ‘Iwa Oji’ (breaking or cutting the kola ) to ‘Ike Oji’ (sharing kola). The passing of the kola during a gathering is done in a hierarchical order in Awkunanaw. It is the most essential and symbolic aspect of the presentation ceremony of the kola nut, also known as “icho oji”.
In Awkunanaw country, icho oji processes have traditionally been associated with seniority or seniority among all the families or towns that made up the Awkunanaw community. The norm is for the cola to move in ascending order along Awkunanaw’s current hierarchical structure. The kola nut is traditionally offered to the chairman or anchor of any Awkunanaw gathering to families, villages or towns in the Awkunanaw region.
The customary order of seniority in Awkunanaw villages is as follows:
Ugwu, Akegbe Akwuke is the descendant brother of Akegbe Ugwu.
- Eze Umu (Ada Awkunanaw)
Iwa Oji is the cut of the kola nut (i.e. the separation of the lobes of the kola nut) designated for the youngest son of Awkunanaw. The mantle falls on “Obeagu” in a session like this, as mentioned above in the seniority hierarchy. In this situation, the presenter or chair calls in a representative from each group in their hierarchical sequence as the youngest man in that community passes the cola nut round. Also, in an individual village meeting or session, the responsibility for Iwa Oji rests with the youngest person, and throughout an Awkunanaw setting, the responsibility rests with the youngest, Obeagu.
A woman cannot traditionally display, cut or serve the kola nut in Awkunanaw. Women are not recognized in the Kola Nut Rites, so they are not included in the ritual. Instead, they create fire “okwa ose” or “ose oji” (alligator pepper or peanut sauce) for kola consumption. Also, before a woman can dip her hands and take cola, a man or boy must take the cola from the show and hand it to her. Accordingly, in the company of men, women are not allowed to dip their hands in the kola nut tray to take kola.
Icho Oji or Iwa Oji operates or follows the same rules in every town in the Awkunanaw region, which is the old order of seniority among the sons of Awkunanaw.