Recalling a question posed in June, I have just recently happened upon an on-line source attributed to Theresa Emenike which discusses briefly some general classifications and
aspects of the the significance of kola nuts in an Igbo context : http://www.amaigbo.plus.com/files/orji.html
--- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, DZ Levine <davidzl_2000@...> wrote:
> I realize this isn't directly related to African art but is important to the culture of West
Africa. This information may be old hat for most of you but it may be novel for some.
When I went to West Africa for the first time it was new to me.
> Kola nuts come in many varieties. Most common are the red and the white kola which
are firm, white-fleshed, somewhat semi-circular with flat sides. Also common but not
quite so popular is bitter kola, which is a smaller and a slightly curved spindle-shape with
a brown skin.
> Kola contains considerable amount of caffeine, one of a group of chemicals termed
xanthines which are pharmacologically quite active. Another xanthine is theophylline which
is used in Western medicine to treat asthma. I suspect that kola contains other xanthines
as well as caffeine since it has different effects than many other caffeine-containing
substances (coffee, cocoa, etc.) It has greater mood-elevating and appetite-suppressant
capabilities. It also may act as a general tonic (?) and may have fat-burning capabilities
(according to Wikipedia).
> The flesh starts out white but quickly turns orange with chewing and stains the teeth,
especially any areas where there is tartar buildup.
> It is more than a recreational chew, though. Kola is a vital part of most ceremonies and
exchanges. Contractual arrangements are initiated and sealed with gifts, among which
kola is almost always part of it. For instance, when an elder is approached for information
or teaching a gift of kola signifies respect. In the cultures I came into
contact with, If a man is interested in a woman for marriage he will have his
representative speak to the woman's family and present them with kola and some money
to initiate the process. I would periodically bring my kora teacher, Alhaji Kuyate, bitter
kola as a sign of respect and affection. At naming ceremonies kola would be given out to
the guests. If one visits someone in mourning one might bring a gift of a quarter-kilo of
kola and some money as a gesture of sympathy.
> When I first met Jalibah Kuyate one of the members of his band had just died. I brought
him a package of kola wrapped in leaves and 200 dalasis (~$10) as a gift. He said, "Oh,
you really understand our culture!" (Certainly an overstatement but welcome, anyway.)
> If anyone has any additional information on kola I'd love to hear it.
> David Levine 360-535-3875
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