Who are the Tiv of Benue State Nigeria?

The Tiv are a group of people who live in West Africa. They constitute approximately 3.5% of Nigeria's total population, and number over 6 million individuals throughout Nigeria and Cameroon according to 2014 estimates. The Tiv are the 4th largest ethnic group in Nigeria.  Most of the language's Nigerian speakers are found in Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba States of Nigeria. A few Tiv are also found in Cross River and Adamawa States of Nigeria and in the southwestern Province of Cameroon. 

Tiv History

The Tiv came in contact with European culture during the colonial period. From late 1907 to early 1908, an expedition of the Southern Nigeria Regiment led by Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Trenchard's came into contact with the Tiv. Trenchard brought gifts for the tribal chiefs. Subsequently, roads were built and trade links established between Europeans and the Tiv.

The geographical position of the Tiv, according to Laura Bohannan and Paul J. Bohannan (1969: 9) and Rubingh (1969: 58), is between 6° 30' and 8° 10' north latitude and 8° and 10° east longitude. The Tiv shares borders with the Chamba and Jukun of Taraba State in the northeast; Alago in the north , with the Iyala, Gakem and Obudu of Cross River State in the south; and the Idoma and Igede of Benue State to the west. There is also an international boundary between the Tiv and the Republic of Cameroon at a southeastern angle of the ethnic group’s location. 

There are numerous submissions about the origin of Tiv people. We are, however, in agreement with Torkula (2006: 1) that: “Although different views are held about the Tiv origin, the version that commands popularity and currency is that which traces their origin to the Bantu people who once inhabited the Central African continent, in the Shaba area of the present Democratic Republic of Congo.” The popularity and currency of this version is due to the assorted pieces of evidence supporting it. One such piece of evidence is linguistic. R. C. Abraham (1934: 6–7), for instance, compiled a list of 67 Tiv words and juxtaposed them with the words of Bantu Nyaza showing a striking similarity in both phonetics and semantics. Based on that, Abraham (1934: 5) concluded that the Tiv were “real Bantu” and subsequently that they came from the Congo. Another linguistic piece of evidence has to do with the present writer’s family name of Tsenôngu which is Tiv and which when ended with an “o” (as done by many Tivs without any semantic harm) is the name of a town of 300 000 people in the present Democratic Republic of Congo. Such pieces of linguistic evidence testify to the fact that the Tiv actually migrated from the Congo; from there they passed through several places before settling in the Benue Valley, their present location. The main occupation of the Tiv is subsistence farming. They regard yam farming as their birthright and commit themselves to its work with religious dedication.
 Social and Political Organization

Most Tiv have a highly developed sense of genealogy, with descent being reckoned patrilineally. Ancestry is traced to an ancient individual named Tiv, who had two sons; all Tiv consider themselves a member either of Ichongo (descendants of son Chongo) or of Ipusu (descendants of son pusu). Ichongo and Ipusu are each divided into several major branches, which in turn are divided into smaller branches. The smallest branch, or minimal lineage, is the "ipaven". Members of an ipaven tend to live together, the local kin-based community being called the "tar". This form of social organization, called a segmentary lineage, is seen in various parts of the world, but it is particularly well known from African societies (Middleton and Tait 1958). The Tiv are the best known example from West Africa, as documented by Laura Bohannan (1952) and by Paul and Laura Bohannan (1953); in East Africa the best known example is the Nuer, documented by E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1940).
The Tiv had no administrative divisions and no chiefs or councils. Leadership was based on age, influence, and affluence. The leaders' functions were to furnish safe conduct, arbitrate disputes within their lineages, sit on moots, and lead their people in all external and internal affairs. These socio-political arrangements caused great frustration to British colonial attempts to subjugate the population and establish administration on the lower Benue. The strategy of Indirect Rule, which the British felt to be highly successful in controlling Hausa and Fulani populations in Northern Nigeria, was ineffective in a segmentary society like the Tiv (Dorward 1969). Colonial officers tried various approaches to administration, such as putting the Tiv under the control of the nearby Jukun, and trying to exert control through the councils of elders ("Jir Tamen" [wink] ; these met with little success. The British administration in 1934 divided the Tiv into Clans, Kindreds, and Family Groups. The British appointed native heads of these divisions as well. These administrative divisions are gradually assuming a reality which they never had originally.

Members of the Tiv group are found in many areas across the globe, such as the United States and United Kingdom. In these countries they hold unions, known as MUT (Mzough U Tiv, which rhymes with Mutual Union of Tiv in English), where members can assemble and discuss issues concerning their people across the world, but especially back in Nigeria. The arm of the MUT serving the United States of America is known as MUTA (Mzough U Tiv ken Amerika, or Mutual Union of the Tiv in America), for instance.


Tiv Oral Taditions

According to Emmanuel Tyough(2006), author of Akaa-A-Tiv, based on oral traditions, Tiv people can be linked to one man. In the beginning, there was a man in Congo in the heart of Africa, who was known as “Takuruku Anyamazenga”, he lived with his wife “Aliwe”, their two sons Tiv and Uke. This tradition has it that Tiv was a very industrious son and was dedicated to the instruction of his father, while Uke on the other hand was a nonchalant fellow. When Takuruku became advance in age and death was imminent, he called Tiv with the intention to bestow on him the traditional blessing. However, Tiv in his characteristic manner went to gather fire wood to stack the fires at his dying father’s side.
While he was away, Uke who has been eavesdropping on his father and elder brother went to his father and impersonating Tiv, he obtained the blessings of his father. Tiv returned shortly after and found to his chagrin that his younger brother by stealth had obtained their father’s benediction of leadership meant for him as the firstborn.
“Takuruku was disappointed, when he discovered that Uke had taken advantage of his failing health and sight to steal his brother’s birthright. Thus in atonement to Tiv he sprinkled earth on the hoe of Tiv, and promised him that his farm would prosper and that he would live to feed his charlatan brother, soon after this “Takuruku” died.
Tiv in his stead had three sons who were known as “Gbe”, “Ipusu”, and “Ichongu” respectively and a crippled daughter known as “Anadenden”. The first son “Gbe” is purported to have left home at a very early age leaving his younger brothers “Ipusu” and “Ichongu”, who carried on their father’s lineage and became the patriarchs of the Tiv clan.
The terms of “Ipusu” (uncircumcised) and “Ichongu” (circumcised) are significant to the Tiv because legend holds that Tiv was uncircumcised until one fateful day while he was working on the farm with his son “Ipusu”. A sojourner was passing through and they got into a conversation in the course of this, the man sought to know how Tiv had begotten a child without being circumcised. Tiv replied that he did not know what circumcision was but would like to be shown.
The stranger then showed Tiv his penile organ and he was impressed, Tiv enquired if he could also be circumcised to which the man agreed but on a condition that a token fee of a chicken be paid to him, Tiv readily produced the fee and was circumcised. Then he requested to be taught the method of circumcision, that he may circumcise his race from generation to generation and for this service the fellow charged another fee of two chickens and a pullet which Tiv promptly paid and was taught the art of circumcision along with the medication to control the bleeding after the incision.
When Tiv recovered from his circumcision his wife became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Tiv named the child “Ichongu” because he was born after circumcision and the elder son he re-named “Ipusu” because he had been born before his circumcision.

Another oral legend on the origin of the Tiv people contains that God whom they call Aondo was a direct progenitor of their tribe, with him is joined the personality of Takuruku. This legend holds that Takuruku was the younger brother of Aondo and the first man in the world.
 Takuruku had left heaven and come to live with his wife Aliwe. For a long time his diet consisted of only fish then one day, Aondo came down from heaven to visit with his brother and said to him ‘I will show you new kinds of food’ taking from the bag slung over his shoulder some Maize grains, he offered them to Takuruku who ate them and found they were good.
He thanked Aondo and asked if he had more of the same food. Aondo then produced a maize cob and asking Takuruku to break off the branch of a tree proceeded to show him how to fashion a hoe and how to plant seeds. Aondo then returned to the sky.
 However the crops of Takuruku withered from lack of rain. Aondo then invited Takuruku to the sky to advise him on how to ensure a bumper harvest but he declined the offer. Aondo again provided him with the maize cob, millet and yams.
As fate would have it, Takuruku was in no better situation than before because he still lacked the knowledge of rain making. This has remained the secret of Aondo and he guards it jealously, but he sent down rain for Takuruku’s crops on the condition that the latter should acknowledge his precedence.
In passing from this life in death, Takuruku returned to the sky and became the assistant of Aondo. Although he still lacked the knowledge of rain making, it is his duty to remind Aondo when the rains are due and he is responsible for the fertility of mankind, crops and animals in the world.

Tiv Music and Communication

Locally made musical instruments were traditionally used for political and ceremonial communication. The key instruments are as follows

This is an instrument used to convey specials messages to the people of the community.  Such messages as the newborn child of the King, his naming ceremony, the crowning of a new king, to gather people together during the marriage ceremony of the king and the king’s son’s marriage ceremony. This instrument was used to convey all the messages to the people to assemble at the square for the ceremony, as well as when there is an enemy attack on the community, a warning sound of the Kakaki is blown to alert those whom can defend the society and every citizen to be alert.

A light wooden instrument, it was used to pass messages to the people of the village, probably for the invitation of the people for a particular meeting of the elders at the king’s palace or for the people to gather at the market square for a message from or by the king.it is now used as an instrument to indicate the death of someone.

A heavy wooden instrument carved out of mahogany trunk. It is used especially during festivals of masquerades, yam festivals with music to pass messages for the ceremonies, celebration of good harvest for the year.

It is used together with Agbande (drums) combined with Ageda at festivals to pass a message across to the people for a call for the display of culture.

It’s an instrument like a violin, used for music and dances in conjunction with Agbande (Agbande) at festivals and dance occasions, sometimes to announce the death of a leader or an elder of the community, during this period it is played sorrowfully for the mourning of the dead, most time it is played funerals.


A set of crafted wooden musical instrument used to compliment agbande at festivals, this is particularly large and it is played by the young men of the community, the special drum beats communicates special messages and music for the festivals to come and during the festivals, for instance, signifies a royal occasions such as the coronation and funeral.

Ortindin (Ortyom)
Usually he is chosen by the elders of the community to do errands for the elders and the leader of the community. He is sent out to the heads of the neighbouring families for a crucial meeting at the head of all the leaders of the community.

Kolugh ku Bua
This is an instrument made out of cow horns, like in my community, there are farmers' associations that use this instrument when they have job to do, probably they are invite to make ridges on a piece of land, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the association will use this medium to wake up the members for the work they have for that day.

Indigenous communication was not only vertical, from the rulers to the subjects, it was also horizontal. Individuals communicated with society through physical and metaphysical means. A farm owner, for example, may mount a charm conspicuously on his farm in order to stress private ownership and to scare off human intruders.

The fear of herbalists and witches influenced social behaviour considerably.

Rainmakers communicated their power to disrupt events through various psychological means. Village sectors in Africa communicated mostly via the market-place of ideas contributed by traditional religion, observances, divination, mythology, age-grades, the chiefs courts, the elder's square, secret and title societies, the village market square, the village drum(gbande) men, indeed the total experiences of the villager in his environment.

Unlike the mass media, access to the native media is culturally determined and not economic. Only the selected group of young men or the elders can disseminate information generally. The young only disseminate general information about events and the social welfare of their communities using the media mentioned above.

Some of the Tiv people of Benue state (particularly those living in the urban areas) still practice some of this traditional system of communication, using the KAKAIS, AGBANDE, INDYER, ADIGUVE and ILYU etc., nevertheless the increase in the western world media is threatening the cultural communication system.


Family life