(Cola nitida) Tropical West Africa is its real habitat, but it has been introduced into many parts of the world, because of the commercial value of the kola nut, which is a source of flavour and caffeine in many "cola" drinks (Schery). They can be eaten, too, and are recognised as valuable fatigue- or hungerinhibitors (Harley), either chewed or boiled to make a beverage (Emboden. 1979). Students take them before an examination, and they are given to horses before a race. Kola is also a sexual stimulant, so it is said, and promotes conception in women (Lewin), but excessive doses act as a depressant (Schauenberg & Paris). A Kola leaf, with leaves from three other shrubs, all ground up with black soap, are ingredients in a Yoruba Ewe cure for madness (Verger).
Kola nuts, or kula, to give them their African name, are also included as magical elements in many medicines, as in Yoruba practice, which requires sweet or bitter elements. Kola is taken to be bitter, while used as complete foods they are sweet (Buckley). They are used, too, in simple Yoruba divination procedures. The split segments, usually four, are thrown, and the different configurations are interpreted as positive or negative answers to a question (Buckley). In addition, two of the four lobes are known as male, and two are female (Awolalu).
But eating kola is more important as a recognised social institution, like chewing betel elsewhere, or drinking tea. They have their role, for instance, in Igbo culture, not only socially, but ritually as well. They are symbols of luck, social distinction and prosperity, and it is a great honour to be offered the best nuts. What Uchendu calls a "four-cotyledon kola nut" is most important for ritual purposes, for four is a sacred number among the Igbo (they have a four-day week, for instance, and in divination, the number four "count" is auspicious). The kola nut is the greatest symbol of Igbo hospitality - to be presented with a kola nut is to be made welcome, and the presentation itself is an important ceremony. It is the host's privilege to give the nut, which is passed through a chain of men who represent different segments of the lineage, until it reaches the principal guest, who then starts a relay through his own party, until the nut finally gets back to the host who then ritually breaks it and eats the first share, to demonstrate that it is wholesome and free from poison. Then each member of the guest's party, and finally each of the host's party, take their shares (Uchendu).
The nuts are classified according to colour, red, white or pink. White are preferred, and command a much higher price, besides having special significance in the ritual (Dalziel).
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