The Culture of Cola: Social and Economic Aspects of a West African Domesticate

The Culture of Cola: Social and Economic Aspects of a West African Domesticate

Length: 1525 words (4.4 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
The Culture of Cola: Social and Economic Aspects of a West African Domesticate

The area of study known as "economic botany" is a wide-ranging one, but is most often concerned with the relationship between humans and the plants they utilize for food and medicine and raw materials for shelter, tools and other material needs. Less often mentioned, although not entirely neglected, are those plants that may be seen primarily as being of less obvious and direct material benefit to the people who use them. The nut of the cola tree provides an example of such a plant product, one of limited nutritional or material use, but being of very great social importance. Among the various cultures using it, the cola nut plays important cultural roles in virtually every aspect of life, from birth to death.

The cola tree belongs to the Sterculiaceae family and is indigenous to West Africa, especially the nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, but is found eastward to Gabon and the Congo River Basin. The genus Cola is comprised of about forty species, but the most commonly used are Cola verticillata, C. anomala and C. nitida, with the latter two being of the greatest economic importance (Lovejoy, 1980). Cola is related to the cacao tree, but is taller (up to 30-40 feet), and has smooth bark with longitudinal cracks and dense foliage with large, leathery oblongate leaves alternate on large petioles. It has small cup-shaped flowers borne in clusters on short pedicels in the leaf axils. Both male and hermaphroditic flowers are found, although the latter are functionally female since the anthers are not pollen-shedding. The fruits are borne on young branches and form a star-shaped cluster of pods, usually numbering five, with each follicle bearing 4-10 chestnut-sized seeds. C. nitida is dicotyledonous, while C. acuminata has more than two cotyledons, and may have six or more (McIlroy, 1963).

Traditionally, the nut is used as a masticatory in a manner similar to that of betel-nut. Its popularity is due to the large amounts of caffeine and smaller amounts of theobromine, kolatin and glucose it contains, all of which act as stimulants and may be mildly addictive (Lovejoy, 1980). Its stimulant effect also makes it useful as an appetite suppressant, and it was often used as "iron rations" for armies on the march, allowing large distances to be traveled while carrying a minimum of food (Sundstrom, 1966).

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"The Culture of Cola: Social and Economic Aspects of a West African Domesticate." 24 Feb 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

African Americans And The Civil Rights Movement Essay

- Slavery, as well as other historical movements, frames ‘black’ in a destructive light. The history of a post-slavery United States, is ripe with discriminatory and dehumanizing anti-black systems: laws, practices and events: a thwarted Freedmen’s Bureau, Black Code laws passed immediately after the Civil War, sharecropping and debt slavery, Jim Crow laws (1876 – 1965), redlining and reverse redlining (1934-present), eugenics reform (1929 to 1974), a segregated military, etc.; terrorism: local lynch mobs, bombings of affluent Black communities (e.g....   [tags: African American, Black people, Race, Racism]

Research Papers
1124 words (3.2 pages)

African Art And Its Aspects Essay

- African art is very unique in many aspects. African art is traditionally abstract, and beautiful in its own way. Many people believe that African art is so different that judging it based on the scale of the rest of the world is useless, due to the fact that African art is not like anything else in the world. African art seems to have never gotten the proper discovery it deserved, and here’s why. The process of the discovery of these artifacts were poor. The archeologists who found the arts were educated and wealthy white European men who just wanted to “try it”....   [tags: Art, Modernism, Arts, Leonardo da Vinci]

Research Papers
938 words (2.7 pages)

African And African American Studies Essay

- A Paradigm is a struggle to define, develop, and defend the disciple. Within African American studies we see different examples of Paradigms. As expressed by Maulana Karenga, in Black Studies, a paradigm is an analytic, empirical, and ethnical framework for studying, understanding, and explication African American life in its historical and current unfolding. Throughout this week we have discussed various paradigm that refer to the black experience. Each one is both unique and important to the to the development of African and African American Studies....   [tags: Black people, African American, Afrocentrism]

Research Papers
1000 words (2.9 pages)

Essay about Popular Culture And High Culture

- Introduction According to Gans in his book Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste (1974), people make choices from the available content provided by a homogenous society and the relationship between the choices exist because they are based on similar values and aesthetic standards. This constitutes why there are diverse taste cultures and taste publics in America. Rather than belonging to one taste culture, I consider myself an omnivore because I “often make cultural choices from any menus (9),” meaning that I embody bits and pieces of different taste cultures....   [tags: Culture, Popular culture, High culture]

Research Papers
1038 words (3 pages)

Essay on The National Museum Of African American History And Culture

- Martin Luther King once said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war, that peace can never become a reality... I believe that truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” By this he meant that even the most subtle different nuances in skin colors can easily tear humans apart. However, King expresses his optimism by developing the idea that racism can be fought with solidarity, peace, making racial equality a reality....   [tags: Black people, Race, Racism, African American]

Research Papers
1173 words (3.4 pages)

Essay about A Look At African American Political Policies and Social Status

- When looking at African American political policies and social status both in their native country and in America, it is important to see where their practices came from. First, when looking at the rich history of Africa, it is necessary to examine the African values. In Africa, their value system consisted of, “affiliation, collectivity, sharing, obedience to authority, spirituality, acceptance to fate and past time” (Pinderhughes, 1982, p.91). This is the framework the African people knew before coming to the America’s via the slave trade....   [tags: African American History]

Research Papers
827 words (2.4 pages)

Social Aspects About Sexually And The African Context By Busangokwakhe Diamini

- Throughout history we have learned numerous social aspects about sexually and the influence it has toward different cultures around the world. The identity of homosexuality is an important topic in history because it uncovers the change of perspective within a culture and how those cultures manage to respond back to those adjustments. In the article “Homosexuality in the African context” by Busangokwakhe Diamini, the author talks about the identity of homosexuality of both genders in Africa and how it was seen normal when an African individual dated the same sex....   [tags: Homosexuality, LGBT, Sexual orientation]

Research Papers
2124 words (6.1 pages)

Music and the American Culture Essay examples

- Music has played a vital role in human culture and evidence based on archaeological sites can date it back to prehistoric times. It can be traced through almost all civilizations in one form or another. As time has progressed so has the music and the influences it has on people. Music is an important part of popular culture throughout the world, but it is especially popular in the United States. The music industry here is, and has been, a multi-million dollar business that continues to play an important role in American popular culture....   [tags: Culture ]

Research Papers
1632 words (4.7 pages)

The ‘60s: Culture and Music Essay

- Throughout history, music have defined or depicted the culture and social events in America. Music has constantly played an important role in constituting American culture, where people have expressed themselves through music during flourishing and turbulent times. In the 1930’s, Swing music created a platform for audiences to vent their emotions in the midst of Great Depression and political unrest. Such strong relationship between music and culture can be seen throughout history, especially in the sixties....   [tags: Culture ]

Research Papers
1486 words (4.2 pages)

Essay about Aspects Of A Negro Life

- Aspects Of A Negro Life Through his political activism and his artwork, Douglas dramatically changed the way other artists viewed African Americans. Politically, he helped found and served as president for the activist organization that drastically assisted with employing thousands of artists. he 1920s and 1930s brought drastic changes to the lives of many African Americans. Geographically, they migrated toward the urban, industrialized North, not only to escape racial prejudices and economic hardships, but also to attain higher social and economic status....   [tags: African American Culture Essays]

Research Papers
1790 words (5.1 pages)

Related Searches

Other uses include refreshing the mouth, due to its unique bitter taste, alleviating thirsts, and use of the twigs of the cola tree as "chewing sticks" to clean the teeth and gums (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1985).

Commercially, its use is limited to flavoring in cola drinks and in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, and it is exported to Europe, the United Kingdom and North America for these purposes. Beverages such as kola-wine, kola cocao and kola-chocolate, and one interesting sounding concoction called "Burroughs and Wellcomes Forced March Tabloid" were once tried in Britain, but were short lived. Oyebade (1973) states that "a few hundred tons annually are exported for this market (p. 417), but Lovejoy (1980) says that by 19101, exports had already reached 1000 tons. At any rate, off-continent exports appear to absorb only a minor part of the world production, estimated at 175,000 tons in 1966, with about l20,000 tons of that produced in Nigeria (Lovejoy, 1980). The vast majority of cola production is utilized within the African continent, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. This may explain why the introduction of the crop to South and Central Americas, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and Malaya (McIlroy, 1963) has never caused severe competition with African production.

Cola is normally grown from seed and in commercial groves is planted 25-30 feet apart. The tree begins bearing at four to five years of age, reaches peak production after ten to twelve years, and may continue to bear nuts until 70-100 years of age. The nuts are harvested monthly during September-June and sometimes in July by climbers with knives on long sticks. The seeds are extracted from the pods and processed by Sun-drying or piling into heaps for "sweating" (Masefield, 1949; McIlroy, 1963). It could be argued that the domestication of the cola tree arose because of the vast importance the nut has in social interaction. Like coffee and alcoholic beverages, the food value of the cola nut is negligible (although it does have relatively large amounts of calcium; Johnson and Johnson, 1976), but it plays a part in many situations as a sort of social "lubricant." In many areas where other stimulants are not available, such as in regions influenced by Islam with its prohibition on alcohol, the cola nut may substitute for them, and it is in such places where the ritualistic role of the crop may be most evident, particularly if the nut is imported (Sundstrom, 1966). Vast trading networks existed in Africa, perhaps even before the 13th century, to supply the great demand for this product, and indications of the domestication of the trees in plantations are found in written records from the 16th century (Lovejoy, 1980).

Among the countless uses of the nuts in cultural settings include birth ceremonies in which a cola tree may be planted for the newborn, who will remain its lifelong owner; and death rites in which a tree is planted at the head of the grave of a deceased chief. Proposals of marriage may be made by a young man's presentation of cola nuts to the prospective bride's fathers, and her acceptance or refusal may be conveyed by a reciprocal gift of nuts, with the meaning-depending upon the quality and color of the nuts. Wars have been declared and avoided by the ritual presentation and exchange of colas, insults or compliments exchanged by varying the color of the nuts offered, since they come in reddish and white varieties, with white being the most desirable. An audience before an important figure of authority may involve the offering of high-quality cola to show respect, and in many areas it is a social obligation to offer cola to any guests, lest an insult be given. Often the sharing of cola nuts is a necessary prerequisite to business dealings involving strict etiquette in presenting, dividing, and eating the fruit.

Cola figures prominently in religion and magic, being used as offerings to deities, in love potions and in forecasting the future by observing how pieces fall upon the ground. It has been used as an "ordeal" in determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of an offence, a process in which the accused may ask for the nut to poison him or her if they are guilty. In some areas it is a component of the oath-taking process. The nuts may serve as symbolic currencies used to pay debts of a mainly ritual nature. In this senses divorce has been granted by the payment of one cola nut, or an adulterer may pay for an infidelity by giving cola. As a symbol of wealth, the possession and use of cola nuts may be a matter of prestige, as related by Sundstrom (1966:145), "The more fashionable type of Wolof youth never goes outdoors without a supply of cola to treat any friends he may meet. It is considered chic to have some chewed particles of cola adhering to the corner of the mouth, thus negligently indicating a surfeit of cola." It is clear that this particular plant product has a cultural importance all out of proportion to its material value as food (for discussions and further examples see Sundstrom, 1966; Hauenstein, 1974; and Lovejoy, 1980), There is no reason to consider such social importance as any less "economic" than the importance of maize as food or bamboo as building material, however. The particular value of cola may be that it keeps the wheels of everyday society and commerce turning smoothly, as a tool of communication and ritual. It appears to play roles in processes which in our own society involve such disparate cultural items as notary publics, business lunches, greeting cards, juries, ambassadors and legal contracts, among many others. It probably became popular centuries ago for its stimulant properties and remains so partially for this reason, but it has become so interwoven into the social fabric of much of western Africa and beyond that its cultural functions now compete with, and may overshadow, its original uses.

Literature Cited

Hauenstein, Alfred. 1971. La noix de cola: coutumes et rites de quelques ethaies de Cote d'Ivoire. Anthropos 69:457-493.

Johnson, E.J. and T.J. Johnson. 1976. Economic plants in a rural Nigerian market. Economic Botany 30:375-381.

Lewis, W.H. and P.F. Elvin-Lewis. 1985. Medical Botany. Wiley and Sons, New York.

Lovejoy, Paul. 1980. Kola in the history of West Africa. Cahier d'Etudes Afriques 20(1-2):97-134.

Masefield, Geoffrey. 1949. A Handbook of Tropical Agriculture. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

McIlroy, R.J. 1963. An Introduction to Tropical Cash Crops. Ibadan University Press, Nigeria.

Oyebade, Tola. 1973. Some aspects of developmental physiology of the Nigerian kola (Cola nitida) fruit. Economic Botany 27:417-422.

Sundstrom, L. 1966. The cola nut. Functions in West African social life. Studia Etbnographia Upsaliensia (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell) 28:135-149.
Return to