The Tiv have one of the most unique forms of traditional marriages that you will find in Nigeria. Tiv marriage forms can be seen through four basic phases. The earliest form of marriage which the Tiv performed was call yamshe, marriage by exchange. A man who needed a wife located another man who had the same need. They then exchanged their sisters or daughters as wives. Next, there was the kwase-ngohol , kwase tsuen , or kwase kôrun, basically marriage by capture. This was divided into two. There was, first, the forceful snatching of a woman from her parents house, market or during travel. This was what was known as tsuen kwase. Literally translated as snatching a woman. This type of marriage was the cause of many inter-clan wars in Tivland (Makar 1994: 141, see also Akiga 1939: 137). It therefore became necessary to have the second form of this type of marriage. Akiga (1939: 141) has referred to this form as the “honorable marriage by capture: the iye.” Wegh (1998: 55) correctly describes it as follows, 'iye' began with a young man accompanied by his friends going into another country (district) to find a wife. The target in this case was no longer married women, but the unmarried girls. There the young men stayed with a man whose mother was from their own country [district]. They then sent out friends, or relatives, as go betweens, who scouted for girls of marriageable ages, and selected one for the young man. Once the young man had received all necessary information, he made the initial contact with the girl. [Now he visited the girl’s house,] then the wooing of the girl began. This could go on for months. Ierve (s.d.: 25) too has added to our insight of iye by noting that usually the young men that formed this group and went to another district were, often, each looking for a wife. They also always went with dances. The girls who came to watch the performances often indicated their interest in some of the young men by choosing to dance with them. Ierve goes on to note that if an iye outing was successful, sometimes one man came back with many wives. But most of the times, the girls did not elope with their fiancés immediately. Whenever they finally eloped, however, the father or brother of the girl was usually compensated later with a girl. Thus, the iye marriage type was eventually like the yamshe exchange marriage.
The third phase and form of Tiv marriage was what Rupert East (in Akiga 1939: 159) said the Tiv used to call kwase u sha uikya, marriage by purchase. Akiga (1939: 159) explained this further: a woman was “bought as a slave and then married. Women of this kind were mostly purchased from the Utyisha, from the Dam, and from more distant clans.”
Finally, the Tiv married by kwase-kemen, that is, marriage by bride price. This came about in 1927 when the colonial administration abolished all other forms of marriage and insisted that marriage should strictly be by the payment of bride price. Thus, a man, on choosing a girl, would demonstrate his marital intentions to her and her people by taking gifts to them and providing other needful services to them as well. This went on till the girl’s family, satisfied with the suitor’s cumulative goodwill, asked him to come and pay the bride price. Today, this form of marriage has developed into quite a number of processes. Whatever the processes in any district, the marriage contract is based on bride price. It needs to be added that in many cases, especially now, the suitor often elopes with his fiancée. The bride price and other things are usually done afterwards.
The Tiv traditional marriage dance
Whatever type of marriage was done, there was always an artistic celebration of the matrimony. There were two types of marriage dances. The first was the one that took place immediately a bride was brought to the groom’s place. This was usually called kwasekuhan or kwasegeren (literally, celebrating the bride or ululating for the bride respectively). This can still be found, though in a less zealous form, in some Tiv villages. But the second type of the marriage dance is, in my estimation, 99% extinct. This was the dance that took place much later when a man decided that he should demonstrate his wealth by hosting the Ivom or Dam ceremony. This was a nuptial dance done only by men who were wealthy. Even then it was not every wife that attracted this dance. Unless a woman came from a particularly long geographical or cultural distance from her husband’s, this dance was not organised in her honour. The Ivom or Dam marriage dance was therefore not for every woman. And definitely, not every man had the wherewithal to marry from a geographical or cultural distance long enough to host the dance; besides, the hosting cost for the occasion was rather forbidding. Our focus here is not on the Ivom or Dam marriage dance. We are concerned only with kwasekuhan, the marriage dance performed immediately a bride was brought to the house of the groom’s age mate or the groom’s house.3 This dance was the most common and the most important. Whoever married and did not host it was usually disregarded in his community. Besides, the dance was also an honour to the bride. It was an artistic way of welcoming her to her new home and getting her acquainted with the environment. Thus, failure to host a marriage dance for a bride was a shameful thing for her. It disabled her from holding her head high among her fellow women. This dance was therefore a necessary tradition. Indeed, it was impossible to think of marriage without it.
The dance usually took place at two settings. First, it was done in the house of an age mate or distant relation of the groom to whose house the groom took his wife for that purpose. The bride passed the night there but hardly slept at night because singing and dancing were on until dawn. There was more singing, drumming and dancing when the bride was, in the evening of the following day, taken to the groom’s house. Brides were customarily brought home at evening, when people had taken their dinners and were relaxing outside to while away time before going indoors to sleep. This was when the angwe proclamation was heard at the top of the announcer’s singsong voice.
The angwe, having fixed wordings with only the names of the persons mentioned in it changing to suit different marriage situations, was nuptial news stating who had married. It was the Tiv traditional system of mass communication specifically for marriage. So the angwe [tidings] announcer always went slightly ahead of the party coming with the bride. The following were the words of the angwe: Tidings gbeee … tidings! Chief! Tidings ooo … Tidings! Whose tidings is it? It is the tidings of Tako Gbor Ndor Kunya! It is the tidings of Achulu Gbor Ndor Kunya! Whose tidings is it? It is the tidings of Iornenge Akpa! Tidings walk about gbee … gbee … gbee … (Ululations).4 The ululations concluding the announcement were usually done by the group (made up mostly of women and girls) escorting the wife, a bit in front of whom the tidings announcer was going. This group started performing some nuptial poems right there on the way. People from surrounding compounds now rushed to the road where the angwe was heard and joined the party. Others went to the house of the groom and waited there, singing and dancing. They knew the groom by the names in the angwe. For example, lines 4, 6, and 8 above contain the names of elders whose son has married. It would therefore not be difficult to trace the groom’s house. In some places, there were no musical instruments at all but in others, the following made up the nuptial musical ensemble: the indyer or ilyu (jumbo or medium-size) slit-log drums, the open-ended gbande drum, the double-ended genga drum, the kwen metal gong, the gida woodwind, the tsough rattles etc. These instruments notwithstanding, singing, and not musical instrumentation, was the most important aspect of the Tiv marriage dance.