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Monday, January 21, 2013

Always Coca-Kola?

by Rhogan

Our National Volunteer, Fatawu, is from the District of Savelugu just north of Tamale. It is one of twenty districts in the Northern Region of Ghana and comprises of various rural communities each with their own traditional Chiefs.

I was fascinated when Fatawu told me that to acquire some land in one of these communities it would cost peanuts. Not peanuts literally, but an offering of a certain number of kola nuts which should to be presented to the Chief as a gift. The gift of kola nuts does not give you complete lawful ownership of the land; land ownership has many grey areas in traditional Ghanaian communities and it seems the land is merely ‘borrowed’ for however long a period a person needs it.

I was not disappointed by this news as I now had a new fascination to harass Fatawu about - kola nuts. I’d never heard of them. What did they look like? Why are they so valued and where do you find them? After propelling many questions at Fatawu and the other national volunteers, plus a brief Google session, I had quenched my thirst for knowledge on the treasured kola nut.

[caption id="attachment_52" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Kola nuts Ghana Kola nuts[/caption]

Quenched may be the right word as, I imagine many already know or have assumed, the kola nut at some point in time contributed to the flavouring of Coca-Cola and other cola flavoured beverages. It appears that it is no longer an ingredient included in the recipe for Coca-Cola yet its use is still prevalent throughout Western Africa.

The kola nut seems to be less popular with younger generations but is still very popular with elders, particularly those from traditional communities. Chewed in many West African cultures, either individually or in a group setting, the nut is said to have an initial bitter taste that sweetens after chewing. It contains caffeine and is generally used to restore vitality and ease hunger pangs. It is also offered during significant life events such as naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals. However, frequent chewing of the kola nut can lead to stained teeth.

I still have not sampled the kola nut myself, but I have been assured that it can be purchased at Tamale’s market. Therefore, I think it may be helpful to acquire some as a friendly gesture for when we start to visit communities of the Northern Region in the near future.