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THE KOLANUT AS A
PEACE SYMBOL IN IGBOLAND:
TOWARDS A CULTURAL NEXUS OF GENDER CONSTRUCTION AND MEANING
ALOZIE BRIGHT CHIAZAM
UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA NSUKKA
A PAPER PRESENTED AT THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF NIGERIA (HSN), SOUTH-EAST ZONAL CONFERENCE
THEME: SOUTH-EAST NIGERIA IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
HELD AT THE LAW AUDITORIUM EBONYI STATE UNIVERSITY, ABAKALIKI SEPTEMBER 11TH TO 14TH, 2011.
The kolanut a symbolic instrument for peace, conflict resolution and harmony is at
the heart of invariably all forms of human interaction in Igboland. It is strategic in the social, religious, ritual and communion observances of the Igbo people (Otagburuagu, 2010:93). However, the general perception, both in literature and among the Igbo people is that women have nothing to do with the kolanut or oji (Igbo rendition). This view has been articulated by many scholars (for instance Green 1947 and Uchendu 1965). Women thus are assumed to play only a peripheral role in the use of the kolanut. This view however is not entirely surprising because Igbo culture, since colonial invasion, has experienced rapid change. Infact, the
contemporary Igbo culture is merely an admixture of traditional elements and alien features (which neglected the presence of the women folk). There is no doubt that the partition and colonization of Africa led to a pragmatic shift in local paradigms and the significance attached on the agencies of cultural transmissions. Hence, in reconstructing our past and discovering our culture, we need to restore those parts of ourselves that have been scattered, suppressed and hidden. The gender symbolism of the kolanut is one such discovery that needs to be re-examined. This need to re-examine women s representation in specific cultural realities is of utmost necessity because a closer look at the kolanut symbol goes contrary to general perception that women have nothing to do with the kolanut as is evident in the discussion and presentation of this paper. Infact, this paper is of the view that in the use that is made of this peace symbol, men and women s positions and roles are integrated in the kolanut ritual performance in which case the elder, who does not represent any sex group, is a key symbol emerging as the voice of the family or community, as the case may be. This collectivized elder is an embodiment of the historical consciousness of the people and in him; the Igbo woman is incorporated, just as the man, in a tempo-spiritual relationship. The presence of the women, however, is symbolically represented in the kolanut ritual performance as is well reflected in the Earth goddess- a powerful deity in
These symbols have information to convey concerning the way of life of the people at every situation they are presented or the history of the society it represents. attitudes. The Igbo world view and by extension Africa is replete with symbols. This forms the symbolic nexus between the kolanut culture and female representation. has symbolic meaning in Igbo culture and each colour conveys peculiar information when displayed in significant situation or places. ABC or 123 are all symbols just as the cross is a symbol whether talked about. because they are tangible formulations of notions. It is in this sense that the number 6 (six). concrete embodiments of ideas. The black colour is the symbolic colour of funerals in almost all parts of Igboland. quality. for example. On Symbols and the Symbolism of Kolanut Symbol is something such as idea. a symbol is used for any object. This relationship will be explored in this paper but first we have to understand gender and symbols and the symbolism of the kolanut. It should be noted at this juncture that this paper does not attack the traditional norm of the Igbo kolanut ritual as conclusions reached here are purely products of research. conventional or non-conventional that is used to represent something else. Colour. Infact. the white colour is a symbol of purity and joy and in some places in Igboland is worn at funerals of a dead old member. The red a spiritual colour and has a very powerful religious significance. On the other hand. According to Geertz (1973:90). . It is the colour of the cloth used to adorn the table in the shrine. longings or beliefs 1973:91). It is the official mourning cloth at funerals especially the one that involves a person who died at an unripe age. visualized or fondly fingered. or conception. (Geertz. The conception is the symbol s meaning. event. findings and logical reasoning. object. abstractions from experience fixed in perceptible forms. Understanding the participation of the Earth goddess will reinforce our appreciation of the voice of women even in a purely male-dominated affair.2 Igboland. Igbo symbols are sources of insights into Igbo orientations to life. judgments. These are symbols or at least symbolic elements.
Igbo. The reason for the distinction will be made clear when we treat the kolanut or oji symbolism. I Omenala (custom). so also is the kolanut or the oji . Just as colour is symbolic in Igboland. Sequel to this. many appellations have been used to describe the kolanut by different scholars. 2010:95). For most people. There is this popular albeit cheap etymology of the kolanut. For the Igbo people. this is not surprising given the multi-referential nature of Igbo cultural symbols. Indeed. No doubt. This colour is significantly marked out for the Eze Muo or Dibia. In Igbo traditional rituals and ceremonies. it is safe to state that kola acumunitae and kola nitida are both regarded as having the same symbolism in general and private cases except on occasions and serious traditional ceremonies like marriage and sacrifices where only the Igbo kola is used. which has two cotyledons or seed leaves which is the material that is chewed and the Oji Awusa or Gworo Kola nitida. the metaphor of life seems to provide the most accurate picture of what the kolanut means to the Igbo people (Otagburuagu. The kolanut has been basically identified as the peace symbol of South Eastern Nigeria. Thus kolanut or oji in Igbo rendition means Omenala jikotara Igbo tradition that unites Igbo. the kolanut is symbolic and rich in meaning of the Igbo . Oji: O J Jikotara (that unites). the spiritual king or the native doctor respectively. 2010:93). The kolanut and the tree that produces it belong to the class of elements that strongly impinge on the existential realities and the daily communion of Igbo people. Of course. Some of these appellations focus on the spiritual essence of the kolanut. two species of kolanut are common namely Oji Igbo Kola acuminate. Infact. the kolanut is among the foremost icons of culture that exerts tremendous influences on the cosmology of the people (Otagburuagu. which has only two cotyledons. kola acuminate is acceptable. the gworo is not a valid matter: only the Igbo kola.3 It is also worn by chief priest of the local shrine whenever he is at the shrine performing his duty or at the kin s palace or any public place where he is called up to perform rituals or sacrifices to the gods for one purpose or the other.
On the importance of the kolanut. Kola with only one cotyledon is a dumb kola or oji ogbu. spirit beings and deities. Despite Western colonial influence on the socio-cultural fabric of the Igbo. The sacredness of the kola is by nature. life unity and peace (Otagburuagu. the dry wood of the tree is not used as firewood. 2010:95). . chi. It transcends biological and physical dimensions. 1999:118). It is called oji mm æ. and Eke. many profound and mysterious interpretations and formalities are accorded it. the kolanut ritual and practices remain practically unchanged (Ozigbo. Ani to the supreme force. Ene (2001) cited in Otagburuagu (2010:95) elucidates: The importance of the kolanut to the Igbo nation is strictly socioritualistic. kola of the spirits. the kolanut variations and lobe patterns have different implications in Igbo culture. The kolanut is a reserved symbol of serious social intercourse with deep ritual relevance. a symbol of love. From the foregoing.4 culture. it extends far beyond the known world into the unknown world of dear departed ancestors. It is not eaten and as such cannot be broken during ceremonies since it belongs to the ancestors. Generally among the Igbo. the kolanut is the link between reception and speech. Most important. an attitude reminiscent of the direct link between the living and the dead in Igboland. One who gives a deity Onye nyere agbara oji ga enyekwa ya mmiri o ga-eji elofe ya kola has to give him water with which to assist him swallow it. it re-anchors man to the most important deity in our world. Hence we have saying such as: Onye wetara oji wetara ndu He who brings kola brings life . Symbolically also. Due to the symbolism of the kolanut. for example. one cannot help but appreciate the essence of the kolanut in the Igbo cultural heritage. It is one of the elements of the Igbo past that have been preserved to the present. Kolanut and the tree are even regarded as the first tree and fruit on earth. the creator of heaven and earth.
preserve and market kolanuts after the pods have been harvested by the men.5 This is the main reason why the Igbo do not use the kola nitida or gworo for rituals or in serious traditional celebrations. Eke. kola with six cotyledons signifies communion with our na ndi mmadu jiri gbaa ndu. The kola tree no matter its variety is not a tree people can climb any how. Kola with five cotyledons is oji bara mmadu. that is kola of peace and blessing . It is also worth to note that kola lobes are said to have male and female counterparts. it reaffirms that the gods of the major market days. Women are forbidden from climbing. 2010:94). the number four is very symbolic and sacred among the Igbo. oj ikenga. Kola with three cotylydons is called oji ke. So given the symbolic sacredness of the kolanut. Nkwo are all present to release their blessings and fortunes upon the partakers in the kola communion (Otagburuagu. plucking or even breaking the kolanut for any reason. Orie. Amorous activities are not even allowed to take place near kola trees as such acts are said to defile the tree and prevent it from fruiting (Otagburuagu. m m na kw ma that symbolizes increase in procreation. Infact. symbols in any culture form part of representation through which the different groups which constitutes the collectivity try to interpret themselves and also interpret the world in which they are immersed and also the . 2010:94). With regard to the four-lobed kola. planting. Afor. that is. 2010:94-95). protection and good fortune. The smallest ancestors. they are allowed to process. Then. hence the Igbo interprets it as oji ndi mm part or cotyledon is not eaten but is thrown away for our ancestors to eat. significant of abundance and prosperity. kola of the valiant. Some instances will suffice. as a matter of principle. Kola with four cotyledons is called oji udo na ng zi. By the same token. there are restrictions and taboos associated with the kola tree and its fruit. Understanding the Cultural Nexus in Gender and the Kolanut Symbol According to Ladriere (1977) as cited in Madu (1996:113). It is the normal kola also representing cosmic rapport and support (Otagburuagu. they are not allowed to harvest the pods from the tree although ironically. Only warriors or brave men and consecrated or ordained persons are permitted to eat this kola.
Of course. Geertz (1973:89) says: sacred symbols function to synthesize a people s ethos the tone. as it were help to form and synthesize social traditions. even while referring to it. constitutes the paradigm for judging one s action within the social milieu. Religious symbols are polysemic. they have the quality of possessing manifold meanings (Bynum. Thus. Indeed. and quality of their life. which are appreciated and recognized among the culturally distinct users. This is because there is no such thing as a religious symbol that is merely a sign of or a statement about social structure . However religious symbols mean. Among the Igbo. Again this is because as Bynum (1986:7) notes: what people understand themselves to be qua male and female is learned and shaped within culture. symbols have shaped peoples perception. their most comprehensive ideas of order. all symbols arise out of the experience of gendered users. 1996:113) and cultural symbols.6 methods and means by which the collectivity in question strives to acquire knowledge. character. 1986: 2). peace is encapsulated in certain objects like the f . . as an aspect of culture. and religious symbols are one of the ways in which such meanings are taught and appropriated. they never simply prescribe or transcribe social status. ogu and the j and these symbolic peace objects create social boundaries as well as break barriers in male-female relations. a symbol. its moral and aesthetic style and mood and their world view the picture they have of the way things in sheer actuality are. constitutes the lens through which individuals writing about the cultural environment perceive themselves and the world around them hence their position in the society and the significance of their sex identity on their life changes. This social reference of symbol gives it power to affect human behaviour and thus. Infact. On the place of symbols in people s world view. Rather they transmute or change social status. symbols assume a social function that unites language and social facts (Ortigues (1962) cited in Madu.
a fact which de-emphasizes the superiority of the male gender over the female. the Earth on which they live and get good to sustain lives. one of which will necessitate spiritual cleansing of the land. The kolanut constitutes parts of the instruments and mechanisms of conflict resolution and peace building in the Igbo culture. as clearly exemplified in the use of peace symbols among the Igbo. Wealthy members of a community even dedicated ther sons to the earth goddess in gratitude for the high status they enjoyed in this world (Orji. they affect humans attempts at mastering their environment and sustaining group and inter-group cohesion. there is a tempo-spiritual crisis. the Earth goddess (a female) is incorporated. She is held in awe as she symbolizes completeness. and herbs for treatment of ailments. the gender factor relationship comes to play. Consequently. without the invocation of the earth goddess in ritual performances. particularly to conform to societal expectations. is held sacred. Such objects are set apart from others. without the female kolanut. creating social discontinuity as they perform culturally recognized roles. 1976: 33). 1980: 31). It is employed in ritual performances that ensure peace in the traditional society. Notable for the purpose of this paper is the oji or kolanut. symbols in forms of objects are constituted to perform the role of affecting and transforming people behaviour. This can be found in its lobes as kola lobes are said to have both male and female counterparts (Otagburuagu. Infact.7 Because symbols are observable in different areas of human existence. According to Leach. 2010: 94). As far as the traditional Igbo people. both verbal and nonverbal. the kolanut is not complete and cannot even be used in any ritual or socio-cultural performance. meaning depends on contrast (Leach. The kolanut in itself is representative of both male and female. Herein the significance of the kolanut as a cultural peace symbol is seen. It is to the earth that man must return after death. Here. So to the Igbo. . for the survival of the group. In the traditional Igbo rituals using the kolanut. She thus symbolizes fertility and fertility is associated with the female gender and as such she is a woman. the earth is a living and vibrant participant in their daily lives and consequently her veneration.
These rituals as they are performed are not only significant but symbolic. kola acuminate or the oji Igbo is the preferred specie for socio-ritual purposes. The significant place the kolanut symbol occupies in the consciousness and socio-political life of the people. there are four stages of rites that follow before it is eaten. kolanut is not presented to women in any gathering at this stage of ritual . Among the Igbo. according to G. In the kolanut ritual performance. iwa oji (the breaking of the kolanut) and ita oji (the sharing and eating of the kolanut).T. Such an elder is a symbol itself he representing the voice of the community. These are igosi oji (the presentation of kola). The participation of the Earth goddess is the participation of the women just as the inclusion of the ancestors gives room for the male voice. As a matter of fact. g oji (the blessing of the kolanut).8 Now as a female. oji Igbo can also be called oji ugo and ugo means the eagle bird and to the Igbo. Among the Igbo. As a rule. the participation of women in peace building in traditional Igbo society. Igbo welcome is not complete without the sharing of the kolanut. outstanding. the number of cotyledons or lobes in a kolanut is significant. in any social or even religious gathering. The kolanut with four lobes (oji aka ano) is most significant as it is most sought after for religious and ritual purposes. and. fortune. this specie of kolanut connotes fortune. Basden (1937). the kolanut is basic thing in welcoming a visitor. Thus. and the gendered implications of the rituals associated with them can give an in-road into understanding men and women s possession of power within the Igbo culture. and as has been noted earlier. the eagle bird symbolizes beauty. This is reflected even in the kolanut ritual performances as we shall see later. prosperity and good omen. the Earth goddess is representative of the female voice in rituals though the invocations that accompany such ritual performances. a male elder performs the rituals. there are certain stages of rites that follow before it is eaten. thus. it being a symbol of love and hospitality. Among the Igbo. The Kolanut Ritual Performance: Recognizing the Presence of the Female Gender As a highly valued symbol among Igbo people. The issue of species as noted by Ukaegbu (2002:87) states that it is the oji Igbo which is the type Igbo people celebrate its ritualism. Infact.
it does seem to paint the picture of female subordination. as Amadiume (1987) rightly noted there is no distinction between the male and the female genders. Their submissions fail to recognize the deconstruction and de-emphases of the self (gender) for the collectivity in this ritual performance. The seemingly male presence in the kolanut rituals symbolically represents the voice of one who has deemphasized the self for the collective identity. Okparaugo (2004:11) affirms that: This does not in any sense mean that women have no value in Igbo culture. a symbol in itself. women too will also take a piece. Hence. these submissions can be nothing but political statements aimed at denying the women their rightful place in this cultural construction of meanings. is malefemale embodied. We need to understand the point being made here. Here his gender as male pales into insignificance. This is further supported by the fact that in Igbo grammatical construction. more of social character and organization. So the defence has gone. The reason is based on the fact that Igbo kolanut is accompanied with the symbolic act of communication with the spirits of the ancestors. umumbgoto and Oha Ndom. Thus. the elder here. It is the voice of the elder. The denial of women to break Igbo ceremonial kolanut does not mean that men are holier than women. . that is council of women where no man has a saying. and a form where sex identity is suppressed or unavailable. After all. this cultural and religious office belongs only to the male sect.9 performances. except that after the ritual performances when the kolanut plate is passed around for people to take a piece. nor does the language manifest any phonological or lexical features that are specific to gender. Elucidating on this. Emenanjo (1978) has shown that gender is not a grammatical category in Igbo. In the Igbo culture. it is just a matter of division of labour or function. that is reflected. women do break the Igbo kola when they gather in their usual cultural groupings of umuada. While these submissions have been accepted over the ages without complaint from the female gender.
she s fine. he is a representative. there is no difference in gender. the same sentence could be used for both male and female and this makes room for the role of the elder (a symbolic stand-in) to be interchanged without any mental adjustment. There is no gender distinction in Igbo pronouns. the ancestors and the Earth goddess. that lives in heaven or in the Sky. Another example will further buttress this point: na-abia na-abia He is coming (male gender) She is coming (female gender). We can therefore understand the place of women in the kolanut ritual performance. the eldest person has the right to perform this ritual. the content of the kolanut rituals includes (a) showing the kolanut to the people (if it is meant for a group of people). Traditionally. mmadu. They have neutral reference. the people s desires for peace. people etc. (d) informing the Earth goddess that the kolanut has been presented. At this stage. and (f) asking for the general needs of the people. Thus. In Igbo. a symbolic malefemale embodiment. the Supreme Being. good health and long life. the neuter particle (neither male nor female) is used in Igbo subject and object pronouns so that no distinction in terms of gender is made in reference to male and females in speech and writing. As noted earlier. gender is not distinguished on nouns and pronouns. the acknowledgment of the Earth . man. (c) calling on the ancestors to come and partake of the kola. can be translated as it s fine. It is the g oji (praying with or blessing of the kolanut).10 This implies that in gender construction. the gift of children and prosperity. are generally replaced with gender neutral ones like onye. and he s fine. deemphasizing self and standing for the collective identity. However. (b) lifting up the kolanut to the Alimighty God. person. d nma. Noticeably. The oldest person is preferred because he is the custodian of truth and closer to our ancestors and to the Earth. Nouns with gender bias such as nwoke. nd . person. at this stage. The prayer thus presents to God. Thus. Perhaps a stronger defence in establishing this nexus of gender participation lies in a very important ritual performance one that must be done before the kolanut is chewed. (e) stating the purpose of the gathering (if it is known).
nwa enweghi nna motherless. deliver on Nkwo market day. Our ancestors the land (Earth goddess) of Ngwa We use the kolanut to ask for the life of the people here. They will not bear fatherless or Ha agaghi amuta nwa enweghi nne. nku kwaa ya break. let the eagle perch Ke si ibeya ebela. ugo bere Let the kite perch. Both the ones we see and the ones we do not Eji oji l ario ndu mmadu nile no ebe na Ma onye anyi huru anya. She will give birth in Eke market day. Muo l ahia Afor. muo l ahia Nkwo Deliver on Afor market day. Anyi l ario ndu ha ka ha lile nwee ndu. let his wings ga imuta l ahia Eke. This is a prayer adapted to a marriage ceremony: Chineke. who created this world. We are asking for life for them. Let them have life Egbe bere. . and Orie market Whoever refuses that the other should perch.11 goddess in this ritual is of utmost importance in creating this synergy of meaning as it reflects the presence of the female voice in kolanut ritual and thus female presence. O ga inwetara any aku l uba She will bring us wealth and prosperity. O ga imuta nwoke She will deliver males O ga imuta nwanyi She will deliver females The mother gave birth to children. Nwanyi k anyi biara ilu It is a woman that is getting married. onye kere uwa Ndi nna nna anyi ha Ala Ngwa God the creator. An example of such prayer can suffice. ma onye anyi l ahufughi see. she too will bear. muo l ahia Orie day. Nne ya mutara ya onwe ya gakwa imuta Nne ya aghofu nna ya ahia The mother was not a loss to her father. She too will not be a loss to her husband Ya onwe ya agaghi igho di ya ahia O ga ibara ya uru She will be profitable to him.
nwe nchekwube l ogadi otu a We ask all these. completeness and continuity are emphasized in the fact that the bride will bear children on all four market days of the people. as the mother of plants. The earth is a mystical power of which everybody stands in awe because of its prohibitions it forbids bloodshed and so is a sanction of solidarity for the community. the owner of men and custodian of public morality in conjunction with the ancestors (Arinze. and men. Ani in some dialects). It is an institution that has no male equivalent in the culture. the Ala is acclaimed as the unseen controller of the society (Agbedo.12 Ihe ndia ka anyi l ario. 2010: 109). 1970:15). Parrinder (1974: 47) as cited in Agbedo (2010: 109) contends that the earth. The kolanut ritual like the one above also incorporates the people s philosophy of life: the position of a woman and the societal expectation of her. A woman is expected to bear children and without this. she is a loss to her husband. animals. is of great importance to our people. motherhood enhances the position of the woman in the culture. here initiates a bond of unity between the groups involved. Again. Her coming into the family will enhance the family bond and unity on the patrilineage marriage just like the kolanut. Every community even has her own shrine of Ala with a chief priest. the eldest man serves as its chief priest with its shrine located around the egbe plant with a pottery of dish (nwa akere) in which sacrificial items are kept (Agbedo. the Queen of the underworld. Thus. the Earth goddess. with hope they will be Iseeeee So be it This is a simple ritual just performed. It is after Ala that we have other lesser deities in most Igbo . she is the most important spirit after Chukwu. The Earth goddess also known as the Great mother goddess is revered and her invocation creates space for female participation and involvement. He goes on to state that the earth deity. The Earth goddess is a very powerful entity. For the ElugwuEzike people of Southeastern Nigeria. collectivity. 2010: 109). We have to state here that the traditional Igbo religion includes a general reverence for Ala (Ana. Ala is the most important public and private divinity of the Ibo of Nigeria . In most Igbo communities. She is the Greatest Mother Spirit. Most importantly is the invocation of the Earth goddess in the ritual.
1937: 25) Because of the ritualzation of laws and the fear of the calamities which would befall the village whenever the taboos of the earth goddess were violated. Some see it as historical within the context of centralized political formations. The ancestors of course. God. the claim that the Igbo acknowledge a creator. 2010:195). Infact. as a matter of necessity. Chukwu or Chineke. As far as the Ngwa are concerned. offences against her which were regarded as the most serious crime an individual would commit. some refer to Ala as the constitutional deity of the Igbo. It is a female deity honoured as such for giving birth to children and plants all the year round (Okodo. Infact. Thus. Thus. and the invention of the sky (Igwe) gods. or Supreme Being. Besides. 1980: 36). the Igbo belief in dual existence and the interconnectedness between the supernatural and physical worlds views the interaction between inhabitants of the supernatural and physical worlds as a continuum. borrowings from Islam and Christianity. the Ngwa have continued to see themselves as a people who worship a central deity (Orji. be included. custom and ethics (omenala). priviledging men s position. The primordial earth goddess and other deified spirits have shrines and temples of worship and affect the living in very real and direct ways but none are dedicated to Chukwu. 1980: 31). were of general concern and did not arouse partisan debates (Orji. role and the fact that she must. Ala encapsulates both politics and religion in Igbo society by fusing together space. there was no difficulty in determining if an individual who had violated the taboos of his community was guilty. ensures a voice for the Igbo woman. represent the voice for the men and ipso facto. one of the greatest legacies their ancestors left for them is the earth goddess (AlaNgwa) and up till the present time. This cultural construction of gender construction and meanings where the woman has a space has always been silenced in the interpretation of the kolanut symbol and rituals in Igbo culture and by extension in knowledge production. Ala the earth goddess is associated with life. . Meek was right when he stated that the common possession of a shrine of Ala (was) one of the strongest integrating forces in Ibo society (Meek. the Earth goddess Ala represents the voice for the women. is contested. her position.13 communities. fertility and procreation.
a symbol of peace and life. using the agency of the public meeting to reinvigorate interest in. to the Igbo people. For that order to prevail. which is the vital force of being or existence (Nwala. Here again. In this way. life means ndu. the kolanut is involved in certain stages of rite. For instance. and concern for social order. Ndu means existence. the kolanut plays a prominent role in the settlement of disputes and other socio-political disputes. 1985:144). derived from the root word di that is being. directional development is pursued. Infact. sharing. psychological and social wellbeing. the voice of the female is heard. communion. Consequently. is a revitalizing agent. Nwala (1985:144) concludes: To them (the Igbo) life is a never-ending process and its perpetuation is the goal of all activity and aspirations. which includes material. and performances are well monitored. people often say. in settling a marital dispute. in conception is the dynamic quality of material and human existence. the kolanut assumes a symbolic status signifying life to the individual and the people.14 The kolanut aims at perpetuating peace. spiritual. The kolanut. and a meaningful. onye kere uwa Ndi nna nna anyi ha God the creator who created this world Our ancestors . Speaking on the attitude of the Igbo to ndu. Ndu is also existence itself and existence could take various forms either material/spiritual or pure spirit. Here too. it signifies a concrete experience. a sense of belonging. roles are properly distributed. onye wetara oji wetara ndu. Ndu. It is equally important that collective goals are kept in focus. The earth goddess again is the strongest force seen in maintaining peace and settling disputes. he who brings kolanut brings life. Life means wellbeing. love and unity. With the kolanut in hand. both for the purpose of ensuring that divided loyalty does not arise. For the Igbo. life is not as some kind of abstraction. the eldest member of the husband s family can say a prayer that goes like this: Chineke. hospitality and celebration.
okwu sorokwa ya laa with him. Here again. He will carry home his firewood. It is worthy of note here that the Earth goddess is always implored to administer justice and punishment. 1980: 36). the proverb employed admonishes all to be sincere in the settlement of the dispute or else bear the consequences. the female voice is not only heard . dispute whould also go Onye biara mmezi. It is with regard to the role played by the Earth goddess in terms of justice and equity that we have sayings in kolanut ritual prayers as onye biara iweta nkewa. So it is safe to state that in the kolanut ritual. may the earth swallow him up . While these prayers are said for the reign of peace.15 Ala Ngwa The land (Eath goddess) of Ngwa The kolanut has come We use the kolanut to ask for the life of the people here Oji abiala nu Ndu mmadu lile no ebe na Anyi biara maka udo We have come for peace He who comes for settlement and decides to create division Division should follow him. Okwu any ji bia bu okwu udo What we have come for is peace If anybody ties something else in the bunch of firewood Oburu na onye fanye ihe na ime nku Ya nyigbo ya Let him bear the weight He that does not tie anything else to the bunch of firewood Onye n afanyeghi ihe obula na nku O ga evu nku ya laa Iseeeee So be it. She serves as an instrument for sanctioning the Igbo constitution (Orji. animals and crops (Orji. 1980: 31). The consequence may be punishment. curses are placed on anybody standing against the progress of others or on those who wish other evil. which the Earth goddess may inflict on the defaulter. ala rie ya He who comes to bring division. bia nkewa Nkewa sorokwa ya. Serious crimes like murder and incest are not only regarded as a violation of the ancestral laws (ida iwu Ndichie) but an act of abomination against the earth goddess herself and as such the offender would be accused of upsetting the ritual equilibrium in the village which was vital to the fertitlity and growth of man.
2003:7).16 but actively strong. the Earth goddess for good yield in children and produce. the Earth goddess sustains them having consumed them as well. Also. even when no known kola sharing practices among the traditional Igbo societies are female oriented (Opata. In the gender construction of meaning and symbolic relevance. Since the traditional Igbo does not toy with life. for man must die. The earth goddess standing in that representative position has the will and the say. our ancestors are implored. So even when kolanut is mostly a male affair. so the Earth goddess in welcoming them plays a part in sustaining the existence of these ancestors and ensuring that their voices are heard. 1998:105). the people beseech Ala. . She stands in the place of the women. (Ogugua. one cannot help but appreciate the depth of the involvement of the Earth goddess both in the kolanut ritual and other religious and cultural rites. It is the Earth goddess that accommodates the land of the dead and the land of the spirits of which our ancestors all belong to. Ala. life. purely gender-bound (Okodo. which is not a literal nut as far as the Igbo is concerned. So Ala. Needless say. At death. that the relevance of the female gender begins. For one thing. It should be reiterated here that the kolanut has strong religious relevance in the culture of the Igbo for with kolanuts. The prayer for fertility and beautiful harvest is encapsulated in almost all the prayers on behalf of the kolanut. sustains and consumes as well. Understanding this point will help us to appreciate the gender construction of meaning attached to this paper. She bears. she is a powerful and revered figure in Igboland thus reflecting the hidden power and importance of women. the mother Goddess. It is in line with the symbolism of the kolanut. in ritual prayers involving the kolanut. Her crown and respect is depicted especially in the religio-ritualistic and spiritual realm. our ancestors are being received by Ala as they pass on. is a powerful being in sustaining the communion and synergy between the males and their ancestral representatives. we cannot not entirely say that the kolanut is an affair for men and men alone. Now. we have to agree that symbolically and of much relevance. ndu is the very essence of the Igbo existentiality. 2010:197). women are seen and represented in the kolanut ritual performance.
(Okodo. the Earth goddess is this popular expression: Oji ka e ji ese ani aka n anti It is by the kolanut that we pull the ears of the land. Infact. Ala. It is noteworthy that African Traditional religion is a pantheon of beings which include the land better called mother earth. through such prayers. friendship.T Basden calls the kolanut a strange passport. hospitality. the natural and supernatural. Conclusion This sacred fruit under discourse is indeed a most symbolic artifact. Towards this symbolic cultural nexus. unity and peace. the Earth. a female. That is why it is described as the chaplet of the Igbo man (Okodo. So we cannot ignore the powerful influence of the female gender whose voice and representation is reflected symbolically in the Earth goddess. This sacred fruit however is not strange to us. the Earth goddess. the woman stands out not only as participant in the kolanut ritual but as a strong force in deciding the fate of the Igbo people. the deities and even the market days are invited to share in the kolanut communion a prayer communion involving the common and the uncommon. This means that the kolanut is used in voicing or petitioning unto the ears of the land. according to Idowu (1973:137). 2010:100) . and immunity from attack . in turn gives way for easy reconciliation and harmony. 2010:195). cosmic unity between the living and the dead is ritualistically attained (Otagburuagu. spirits and humans. it is treated with much reverence and piety almost afforded the deities. It is on this that the kolanut serves a deep religious relevance. appease the gods or even beseech the Earth goddess. This. The kolanut s strong bonding with Ala. God.17 they pray to God. As a symbol of love. The high position of the kolanut in Igbo culture has so enthralled early European visitors to Igboland that G. In the divination chants of the people. religion is a matter of polytheism. It is presented ritualistically to both animate and inanimate objects. the ethereal and the mundane. 2010:195). it is the centre of the cultural and religious life of Igbo people.
which Western civilization. it is to the symbolic ritualistic protocols that the construction of the nexus between women and the kolanut is created. Although this cultural contact has not in anyway affected the honour and respect accorded the kolanut. . offer. the Christians. represented by the Victorian notion of the woman in society.18 The symbolism of the kolanut has been allotted enough space in this paper. Rather than praying to the ancestors and Ala. But suffice it to state here conclusively that the kolanut ritual is a binding force between the Igbo people and the great Earth goddess of whom much piety and reverence is accorded. It is to this denial that attention must be given to. The various taboos pertaining to women and the kolanut were pointed out as well. The omission of the Earth goddess. This should be acknowledged. we see the Earth goddess standing out as representing the female gender in this nexus. which is the female voice and participation in the new proceeding. most of whom form the greater number of the Igbo populace have modified their prayers. Its ritualistic protocols also explored. the earth goddess. climb. We must however not fail to recognize the influence of colonial contact and Christian religion on the symbolism of the kolanut. In this case. one cannot deny the social change it has evoked. signifies the denial of the female position and voice. embodies a representation that was transferred to Igbo society and many African societies through colonialism. thus omitting the Earth goddess. present. It is understandable that women do not use. harvest or even bless the kolanut but it is certainly a sanctimonious crime that her voice. an all powerful supernatural being is not seen or heard in the symbolic ritualistic protocols of the kolanut. praying to Almighty God and ending with Jesus Christ. While these restrictions stand in their respective positions and are not to be argued on.
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