Africa is sanctified with many special spices that play vital roles in the cultural, religious and traditional practices of its offspring and each of these, have a special value and meaning. The cola nut also called “Nut of Life” driven from a unique tree originally from tropical rainforests of Africa is one of the most important and highly respected by Africans in fulfilling their cultural, religious and traditional demands.
These nuts have different colors ranging from white, red to whitish brown. It also has other special and extraordinary varieties that grow in a form of three splits joined together and others spilt half way without separating. Each of the above is believed to have a different representation and manner to be utilised particularly in West Africa. Research has revealed that the white nut helps in seeking for success and peace; the red represents long life and solve difficult/challenging situations while the whitish brown helps to ease difficulties.
The one that has three joint parts and the other spilt half way are identified for special circumstances only. Cola nut is often chewed by individual or use at the ceremony in some of the West African countries such as The Gambia, Nigeria, Guinea and Sierra Leone among others. It is used in religious offering during supplication, ancestor worship, naming ceremonies, weddings, courtship, and funerals. It is as well present to guests and elders as sign of honor and respect. Others also chew it to subsidize hunger or as addiction.
When the cola nut is harvested, one can find inside the shell about 7 or more round /square seeds in another white seed shell that contains the cola nuts. When chewing, the first taste of the nut has a very bitter flavor, but fades as one continues chewing. This nut has become an African export product that has reached beyond expectation as it is now found in almost all parts of the world.
Many might not know or must have forgotten the true value of the nut, but it is a blessing to its origin as it has a high representation of discipline and respect for elders in the West African society. When a child or youth wants to seek blessings from an elderly person, want to make research about history, hear amazing fairytales or an offender seeking for forgiveness, it is recommended to present them with at least one or more cola nuts to win their hearts and achieve their goals. Two or more white pieces are also recommended to give out to an elderly person when traveling a long journey for guidance and protection during the course of the trip. It is clear manifestation that cola nut can bring you eternal blessings that money can never get you.
However, African forefathers believe that we are all products of cola nut for every important step that contributed to our coming to life is graced by this nut. In justification of this point, one can see that cola nut is ever present from a man’s courtesy to marry a new wife, marriage and naming ceremonies. In our society, when a new child is born in the Islamic religion, 14 cola nuts are used for the christening of the child if it’s a boy and 7 if it’s a girl. So also when one die.
Cola nut business
Though cola trees are not much in The Gambia, the rate of its business is almost the same as other countries where it is mainly found due to its high consumption by the people. It can be accessed at various markets, shops within the communities and from street peddlers, but the Serrekunda Market is one of the busiest centers of cola nut business. According to cola nut vendors, the cola nuts are imported from Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry and Sierra Leon where most of the white nuts which are always at high demand come from. The market price for the cola nut fluctuates within D125.00 to D200.00 (US$2-5) per kilo as they also sell per piece for as low as D2.00 and at most D10.00 depending on the size and type.
Reflecting on the inconsistence of the market price, Yaya Bah a well-known supplier at the Serrekunda Market stated that it is sometimes hard to get cola nuts from the above mentioned countries particularly the white one that has more demand than the other types. As narrated by the vendors, costumers hardly buy cola nuts with three joint parts and the one split half way for these varieties are believed to be used on very rare occasions. Yaya inherited cola nut business from his father. He has been in the business for over 20 years; he started as a street peddler to selling with a large basket on the streets of different local markets and now an importer and supplier. To him, selling cola nut is the most interesting activity in the world as he described the cola to be a special gift from God to Africa.
In various opinions gathered, Sulayman Sonko said cola tree was one among the first God has planted in the world with a wide secret revealed to our ancestors. Some of the secrets he said are; it promotes peace and tolerance, encourages respect for elders and leaders, blessing and success as the list goes on, a child who always presents cola nut to elders will never fail in life.
Wuyeh Manneh in her own view said African forefathers used to move with cola nuts when embarking on a long journey without sufficient food or water and when they feel hungry, a few bites of the nut helped them to relief their hunger till they finally meet their destination without collapsing or get weak.
Cola nut, according to Ahmadou Jallow, is a gift to Africa many people like chewing it for no special reason but he knows it is somehow good for the health but excess of it could be bad as well. Health wise, the white seed shell that contains the cola nuts can stop diarrhea or stomach ache when chewed and the leaves with a mixture of other herbs is said to bring luck when one take bath with it.
Individual views about this unique nut vary but the general perception is cola nut is one of the biggest and exceptional gifts God has given to Africa and the saying goes that “he who brings cola brings life!”
by Saffiatou Colley