Iwa Ọjị ceremony is the Igbo practice of praying over kolanuts, breaking them and sharing them to be eaten by all present as a sign of peace.
It is usually the first order of the day when hosts are receiving guests. It is also done in public events.
It can be compared to the British tradition of
having tea with guests or the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
The specific brand of kola nut which is used for Iwa Ọjị is called obi abata.
Like other kola nut variants it is bitter in taste. But it is so relished by the Igbos that they can be seen chewing it with gusto during Iwa Ọjị ceremonies.
So important is the kola nut breaking ceremony in Igbo social and cultural affairs that a lot of conservative Igbos would feel unwelcome in your house if it is not performed when they come visiting.
The kola nut as a metaphor
Even among the more liberal Igbos who don’t keep kola at home to welcome guests, the kola nut itself (Ọjị) has become a metaphor for any drink or refreshment used to welcome guests. The host would ask, “Kedu oji m ga ewetalu gi”, meaning, “What kola (refreshment) can I bring for you?”
How Iwa Ọjị Is Performed
During the Iwa Ọjị ceremony, the oldest male present holds a piece of kola but and says a prayer for the wellbeing of everyone present, to which others answer ‘iiseeh’ (the Igbo version of the word ‘amen’). This prayer is called ịgọ ọfọ.
It usually starts with the prayer, “Onye wetalu Ọjị a wetalu ndu”, meaning, ” He who brought these kola nuts has brought life”. People then respond with the word ịseh.
Another popular prayer made in ịgọ ọfọ oji is, “Egbe bere, ugo bere. Nke si ibe ya ebena, nku kufuo ya”, meaning, “Let the eagle perch, let the kite perch. The one that says let the other not perch, let its wings break. ” This is a nod to the Igbo belief of ‘live and let live’.
After the prayers are said, the kola nut is split into parts and distributed among those gathered. A kola nut that breaks into seven equal parts is considered a very very good omen. Like when you see a shooting star.
The Igbos have many interesting traditions which are fun to witness or take part in.