Giving and receiving kola nuts is a traditional exchange of friendship and respect. The nut of a kola tree plays an important role in the social and culture life in The Gambia and Senegal. A caffeine-containing nut of evergreen trees of the genus cola, most common in Western Africa and the Atlantic coast area of Central Africa, are highly valued for its qualities. Kola tree is reaching up to 20 meters in height with leaves up to 30 cm in length.
Kola nuts are consumed by breaking them open and into pieces, then chewing the kola nut pieces as one chews gum. Sometimes a knife is needed to cut the nut into pieces. The stimulative effect is similar to a strong cup of coffee.
Besides the fact that Kola nuts contain caffeine and act as a stimulant and anti-depressant, they are also thought to reduce fatigue and hunger, aid digestion, and work as an aphrodisiac and have healing properties. The pods are also used to ease labor pains; seeds to relieve diarrhea. The roots are used as a chewing stick to clean teeth and freshen breath.
Kola nuts are very important during certain social occasions such as naming ceremonies, funerals, wedding ceremonies, and other important traditional events. It is also commonly used when asking someone’s forgiveness and to unite families and groups in society. Its vitality elsewhere can be also used as a valuable gift to show respect and could be exchanged as a ritual gift. Some also use it for charitable purposes, rituals performed by religious healers, while others use it as food.
If you are visiting a village, a little bundle of nuts makes a good present to offer the Alkalo, or the village chief, when you first meet him.
In wedding ceremonies, kola nuts serve as an evidence in tying both parties together. Kola nuts are often given by a groom to the parents of the bride. They usually share them amongst the attendants after usual prayers and some counseling remarks.
Kola nuts are also given as a gesture of friendship and hospitality in some parts of Africa. So do not be surprised if you will receive a gift, when visiting someone’s home.
Kola nuts are sold at any local market, different corner shops and street vendors in small and large quantities. The fruits of the kola trees have different colors; pink, white, yellow, beige and red. The first taste is bitter, but sweetens upon chewing. The price is negotiable, but you should know that each nut is priced according to its size.
A traveler with a kola nut will often offer a piece to the others nearby, whether he knows them or not.