The Kola tree belongs to the Sterculiaceae family and is indigenous to West Africa. It is mostly found in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria, among other countries. Its primary use outside of Africa is in soft drinks and pharmaceuticals. Also used to make kola-wine, kola cocao, and kola-chocolate.
"One will find the kola nut in everything that has a social or spiritual significance in Africa," explained Dogon High Priest Master Naba Lamoussa Morodenibig. "It has been used heavily from the time of the Pharaohs until today."
Since ancient times, along with gold, diamonds, food, and other material representations, kola nuts have been one of the things that is traditionally used as offerings to Deities. "The search for purity makes the kola nut one of the favorite organic entities for offerings, because it has an innate ability to protect itself and keep itself pure," explains Master Naba.
The Kola nut is very self-contained. It has the rare ability to protect itself from corruption, thus keeping itself pure. It can also be seen as a powerful but humble entity; it does not have the tendency of taking over its surroundings, rather, it stays strong and pure within itself. One obvious physical example of this is the physical changes that happen to the kola nut when it is exposed to corruption. A pure kola nut - one that has not been broken or damaged, stays in its original brownish-red or white shade. But when the kola nut comes in contact with air, the areas that have contacted the air turn red. This change in color of the corrupted parts of the kola nut is an innate protection mechanism that helps protect the purity of the rest of the nut.
The kola nut has many qualities that make it the perfect symbol of African culture and philosophy. Not only is it pure and uncorrupted, but it tastes bitter, making whatever you eat after a kola nut taste sweet. It is also self-protective, protecting itself from infections and other forms of corruption without necessarily attacking anything outside of itself. The kola nut is also a micro-climate inside of itself, meaning that it protects its own moisture/water. The kola nut is perhaps the perfect representation of humbleness and the protection of purity, making it ideal as a symbol of African culture, values, and lifestyle.
The kola nut has many uses in Africa because of the idea of purity, honesty, and lack of corruption that they represent. Some examples of the way kola nuts are traditionally used include:
Healing - Kola nuts are strong energizers, meaning they give energy to the body. A kola nut helps keep the body strong and the immune system strengthened. They carry antibacterial properties as well - one traditional recipe for amoebas has kola nuts as a vital ingredient due to its healing abilities, and a bad case of amoebic dysentery can be cured in one or two hours! Kola nuts help regulate blood sugar levels, making them very useful for those people who have diabetic predispositions. They are also very effective organ strengtheners and tonics, helping to strengthen the entire body system.
Birth - Sometimes a kola tree is planted when a baby is born. The baby becomes the lifetime owner of the tree planted for him.
Naming - Kola nuts are vital parts of naming ceremonies. During a naming ceremony, the parents of the child being named invite people to the rite. The sharing of kola nuts plays a part in taking the Gods and Ancestors as witnesses to the naming of the child.
Initiation - Students often bring their Initiation Masters kola nuts as a gift. The kola nuts show that the student is humble and honest in his search for the knowledge and is working towards becoming pure.
Betrothal - When a man is interested in marrying a woman, he will send 1-3 units of kola nuts (one unit of kola nuts is equal to 29 nuts) to the family of the woman. If the woman's family accepts his offering, the couple is then considered engaged. Sending kola nuts symbolizes the man's purity and honesty towards the family's daughter and ensures that she will be treated justly.
Funeral - Kola nuts are often presented during funerals.
Death - In some parts of Africa, a kola nut tree is planted at the head of the grave of a deceased chief.
Friendship - Sharing a kola nut is seen as the first step in an honest friendship. In some African cultures, it is a social obligation to offer kola nuts to guests.
Spiritual Use of Kola Nuts
Kola nuts are often used in spiritual ceremonies and medicines. The kola nut is considered to be a holy plant because it retains its purity against corruption. A kola nut has a special energy and power that is not found in other elements or entities, making it an important part of many spiritual activities.
Offerings to Gods - Kola nuts are offerings that are appreciated by many Gods. Vegetal and Earth Gods are especially keen on kola nuts. These deities include, but are not limited to : Wsr, Seth, Tefnwt, Hapi, and Qebsenuf.
Offerings to Ancestors - There is a difference between offering one's Ancestors food and offering them kola nuts. The energetic difference between food offerings and kola nut offerings is somewhat difficult to determine. Any food that one offers to one's Ancestors comes with its strengths and weaknesses, or qualities and corruptions. If one keeps in mind that kola nuts are very pure entities, it is logical that kola nuts are, by their essence, more pure offerings. According to Master Naba, kola nut offerings come as occasional or supplemental offerings for one's Ancestors. "A kola nut alone doesn't do very much, but a kola nut that is offered occasionally will help strengthen one's Ancestors very well," he says. "It is somewhat similar to the difference between water and coffee. The energy that corn provides is just different than the energy that a kola nut provides. It is the non-material aspect that reaches the Ancestors, and this difference in the type of energy will come to fill the missing gaps for them."
Kola nuts are also sometimes used like blood offerings - because the kola nut can turn red, they can become a sympathetic offering of blood. Essentially, the kola nut can be offered as a vegetable form of a blood offering to a God or an Ancestor. Kola nuts are also used when working with spirits. The nature of the spirit will determine how kola nuts are used. When working with spiritual medicine, kola nuts are very common ingredients. Kola nuts can be used to help protect against negative spirits and energies, especially when used with a professional traditional healer. One thing is for sure - spirits tend to leave kola nuts alone because of their high level of purity.
Red vs. White
Kola nuts generally come in red/brown and white varieties. While they are both kola nuts, their properties differ. The color of a kola nut can bring different results.
Red nuts are mature. They are strong, virile, and powerful. They generally affect the "outside" more than their white counterparts. They are more potent and give a stronger result.
White nuts are immature. They are weaker and more subtle. Because they are more gentle, they affect the "inside" more so than the outside.
If one is dealing with a negative energy in one's room, a white kola nut can be used to help combat that energy. "White kola nuts are immature, and so they can poison themselves and turn greenish. If a novice puts a fresh white kola nut in a space after opening it, the kola nut will start destroying itself and will take the negative energy with it," Master Naba shared.
A person who is ill may also benefit from this procedure. Having bad dreams? If you are not hearing voices or seeing things, opening a white kola nut as described will help chase the bad dreams away.
Kola Nut Rituals
There are a few spiritual "rules" that should be observed when dealing with kola nuts.
A kola nut should be opened by the elder in the room. This "rule" has less to do with any spiritual law, but more to do with cultural and social values. If one is not the elder in the room but has a kola nut to share, he will give it to the elder so that the elder has the honor of opening and sharing the nut. "This is more about social discipline and showing validation to the elder," says Master Naba. The elder can bless the kola nut if he desires, but it is not required in all African cultures.
"One should be very careful about superstitions when dealing with things like kola nuts," Master Naba shared. "There are many things that are done with kola nuts that are nothing but superstition - they have nothing to do with cultural or spiritual reality. People form cults around kola nuts and rituals associated with them, but these things are not a part of the true traditional spiritual systems." According to Master Naba, when a kola nut is used, the significance is more about the nut rather than the ceremony behind its opening, sharing, or eating.
One important social, and sometimes spiritual, consideration that needs to be noted when dealing with kola nuts is gender differences. One must first recognize that men and women have very different roles in Africa, and generally the two genders do not mix. Men socialize with men and women socialize with women, and the two groups rarely mix when it is not necessary. This being said, it is normal practice for men to eat kola nuts with men and women to eat kola nuts with women. Because there are times, however, when men and women may share kola nuts intergenderally, there are rules that must be followed so that cultural norms and spiritual purity rules are not broken.
A man can give a kola nut to any man or woman as long as he keeps in mind the generational structure (respecting and honoring elders at all times). Women, however, must be careful of their behavior when dealing with kola nuts. Post-menopausal women, for example, are seen more on equal ground as men - Master Naba explains it in this way : "A woman who has reached menopause is no longer susceptible to the bodily corruption that a young woman is, so she can then be seen as on the same level of purity as a man. Because of this, she can deal with kola nuts in almost any circumstance. Whether the kola nut is given for consumption or for an offering, the post-menopausal woman can touch them and participate with them." Women who still have their monthly cycles, however, are seen differently : "A woman who has not reached menopause simply does not maintain the level of purity that is needed when dealing with spiritual things," says Master Naba. A young woman, then, must be careful with her actions surrounding kola nuts. While it is harmless for her to give a man a kola nut that is meant for consumption, it can be very harmful both socially and spiritually for her to deal with kola nuts meant as offerings. "If the kola nut is ceremonial, a young woman must not deal with them outright because it is offensive to the man and also to the spirits around the man," Master Naba explained.
For example, if a family unit receives kola nuts as an offering or part of an engagement ceremony, the offering is dealt with by the man of the house. He may decide to divide the kola nuts up and then give a portion to his wife/first wife or the matriarch of the house, who will then further disperse the kola nut(s) among the women. A pre-menopausal woman must never be the first to deal with ceremonial nuts.
The importance of kola nuts in traditional culture and spirituality simply cannot be measured. One must be careful when dealing with kola nuts in a spiritual manner, but if the basic "rules" are followed, kola nuts can be used spiritually by even a novice.