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The breaking of kola nut & Cutting of kola nut tree

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To Esan people it is practically correct to say that the kola nut tree is sacred, for it bears the kola nut which is used at all occasions of purification, worshipping ancestors or juju blessing, swearing on juju revoking oaths, installation of Edion etc. No host has welcomed a visitor until he has first apologized for the scarcity of kola nut and then producing some. There is nothing to beat kola nut in converting a shy, glum gather into one of active argument. Even where they have been produced at the appropriate time and the correct man was asked to break them, there was bound to be some arguments over age, clan or over ITEKPEN (correct channel findings)

Usually with people of common descent the oldest in the gathering breaks the nuts and since till this day many Esan know no birth certificate and depend upon wars fought or place farmed when someone was born, any attempt to decide the oldest in the gathering is followed by brink arguments.

This question of breaking of kola nut particularly in modern times when politic has divided homes, villages and clan, has generated a lot of acrimonious arguments especially when there is a gathering of all Esan where member of village gather there is an understood system of deciding who breaks the nut- usual age of settlement of cultural affinity decides. In Ugboha for instances, where there are four villages Ekebho and within it, Emaudo, must break the nuts. In a gathering of Uromi and Uzea, Uzea man has the honour, being senior of the founding brothers. Among Irrua people, Unogbo (Amese’s Ijie) automatically takes precedence over Kola-nut breaking.

Since the declaration of Akenzua 1st (1710-1733) making Ikhihibhojere the Ojirrua, the OKAIJESAN about 1723, in a mixed of gathering; It is Benin man that takes precedence, no matter his age, if no Benin man, it is an Irrua man that has the honour. I spent a considerable time trying to get any unanimity who comes next but found no older after Irrua. Some say if it is a gathering of Uromi and Ubiaja an Uromi man breaks the nut if the venue is in Ubiaja and vice versa. This to me is a recent arrangement, for Uromi and Ubiaja were perpetually at each other’s throat in those days: actually Ubiaja Eguare moved from Oyomoh Ubiaja to the present site because of incessant head hunting!. The truth is various communities had their agreement on order of breaking of nuts. Such agreements could only be made where there was an Okoven-and since Okoven in only possible between two adjacent village even in different clans and not between clans themselves, the non-existence of order among Esan clans can be understand. The important thing to remember is, there was never a rush until a peaceful tracing of the correct man to perform the important duty of breaking of the nuts was made.

There was nothing in Esan land one wanted to do that was complete without kola nut: the only tree that bears these cultural precious nuts must itself be a treasure, hence to cut any such tree down  was equivalent to doing the owner a grave harm, willful attempt to impoverish him. This understandable when one realizes that it takes up to ten years for the tree to start bearing fruits. Even where the owner has given his witnessed consent for the tree to be cut down, as for example when it is standing over a building site no one may cut it unless the owner holds the cutter’s hand to make the first stroke !

Here is a convenient place to say a few words about the breaking of kola nut which is so culturally unifying and fundamental in Esan. Since the accession of Alhaji Momobu II in 1971 he had pursued the recognition of his Okaijesan title in a manner than his grandfather, Momodu I who was rightly recognized as the Senior Onojie (despite Okojie of Ugboha’s untiring challenge in the thirties). After the death of Chief Okojie of Jjgboha, Momodu 1st  made.known to the British administration 1939, his desire to be recognized as the Okaijesan; both the British and the other Enjie opposed it, although the following  year he was chosen to represent. Esan Enije at the Abeokuta conference of Chiefs. With the determined- efforts of Momodu II bitterness erupted between lrrua and the rest of Esan Enijie-led by Onosegbe II of Ewohirni. It is this bitterness that led to attempt to break the age old order of kola nut braking inEsan, to the extent that at meetings of Fsan elders- initiated by Chief Anthony Enahoro and held in zuma Memorial Hospital, Irrua,, under the chairmanship of Dr Gbelokoto Okojie OFR. Vigorous attempts were made to abolish the service and use kola nuts at Esan, gathering. The unfortunate resoIution of I.PU. at Ewohimion  on 21st December, 1991 and an earlier conference held, at Ugbohaon l9th March, ,l991, to the effect that from then on kola nuts should  be broken by the oldest . Onoije at a gathering must have followed unawareness of the Esan words of wisdom - AKHA LU EBE El KA, LU KHE AKI KHA MIEN EIBE ABHA SE MIEN KHE, (when you start doing what was never done before, you, start seeing .things.-which, were never seen before)

I as a traditionalist found these attempts and resolutions shocking short sighted and kept me wondering if these Esan people are ignorant of the Esan proverb - AKHA RANMUNDE ,OGHIAN ORIA RU ELO, EI YE MIEN ELO RE DAGHE OMOE ORLA - if through-hatred [for an enemy you blind yourself, you will  not be able to see your friends!. The question for these Esan agitators for a change Is the universal used of the kola nuts in Edo land good thing? Does it serve a, cultural purpose? Does, it show maturity on patriotism to start abrogating our ancient customs each: family, each town community gets aggrieved’?”

It is commendable to observe that at every major Esan gathering in Esan or even in Benin, Uromi, the single largest community in Esan land, Ubiaja, Igueben and Ugboha (as evidenced by Chief John Eko at Enahoro initiated Irrua meetings), have consistently-given unequivocal baking to the Esan tradition on the use and breaking of kola nuts by Irrua.

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