The TIV People

The TIV people were first written about during Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Trenchard’s expedition of Southern Nigeria in the fall of 1907.  However, the Tiv ethnic group and their  habitation dates back to 900 BC.

The Tiv people are one of the largest minority ethnic groups in Nigeria numbering nearly six million individuals residing in the middle belt States of Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa and Plateau.  Tiv populations can also be found in Cross River and Adamawa States and in the central African country of Cameroon.  In pre-colonial times, the Hausa ethnic group of northern Nigeria referred to the Tiv as “Munchi”, a term the Tiv people considered very derogatory.  The Tiv people possess rich agricultural lands and as a result, they have an active farming population that depends on agricultural produce for commerce and lifestyle.


The Tiv tribe is said to have their ancestral home among the Bantu speaking people of present day Democratic Republic of Congo.  Both groups share similarities in vocabulary, physique, dance style and use of musical instruments.  The regional separation of the Bantu and Tiv groups can be attributed to the early discovery of copper and iron to produce agricultural tools and weapons that improved living conditions, thus culminating in a population explosion.  As a result, unearthing these minerals necessitated cultural dispersal into splinter groups and an exodus of Tiv descendants to other parts of Africa.people

Migration from the Congo hinterlands took Tivs and their descendants to different regions until most of the dispersed group eventually settled in the Benue Valley circa 1750.  This dispersed group came from the eastern Cameroonian hills into the area called Swem which is considered to be the ancestral home of the Tiv tribe.  Swem lies in the south eastern border regions between Cameroon and Nigeria.  These border regions are today known as Ugbe in present day Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State.

The Benue valley is located in central Nigeria with the Tiv land bordered on the northeast by the Idoma tribe and on the south/southeast by the Igede people and Cross River State respectively.  The Tiv land is in a watershed plain of the rivers Benue, Katsina-Ala, Guma and Aya, punctuated with flat and isolated granite hills such as Mkar, Ushongo, Womondo and Binda (bordering Cameroon Republic). The land is also at the limit of the guinea savannah and has a seasonal rainfall of 60 inches.  Furthermore, the alluvial soil of Tiv lands provide the most fertile land in Nigeria for the cultivation of yams, millet, cassava, beniseed and soybeans.  Benue State is of course the major producer of soybeans in Nigeria, accounting for over two-thirds of the country’s production.


A Tiv Wedding Image Credit:
A Tiv Wedding
Image Credit:

The suitor pays a bride price (kem kwase) to the bride’s family through an intermediary (or suur kwase) in the form of gifts on behalf of the suitor.  These gifts include soft drinks, bags of salt, red oil, a necklace for the prospective mother in-law and the like.  The bride-to-be is then presented to the suitor as his wife and accompanied by some delegates, typically women, to the family house of the groom.  In Tiv society, arrangement for marriage is quite elaborate. In pre-colonial Tiv society, a man searching for a wife was often encouraged to seek a woman known to posses qualities such as good morals, respect, honesty and good family background just to mention a few.  The marriage arrangement begins with the introduction of both families, after which the suitor is expected to assist the bride’s parents in farming.  This marital understanding is done to prove to the in-laws that the suitor can take care of their daughter and more importantly, support the extended family if the need arises.

The Tiv have different manners of marriage which include; Exchange Marriage (Yamshe), Elopement Marriage (Kwase U Yevese Amin), Leverage Marriage (Kwase U Toon), Marriage By Self-Imposition (Kwase U Nyoron) and Marriage by Convenience (Kwase USha Ime Mnger).


The social organization of the Tiv is founded in kinship traced exclusively through the male.  The ancestry is traced to an ancient individual named Tiv, who had two sons,  Ichongo or of Ipusu.  All Tiv consider themselves members of either Ichongo or Ipusu and each group is divided into several major branches and smaller sub branches. The smallest branch, or minimal lineage is the “Ipaven”.  Members of Ipaven tend to live together, forming the local kin-based community being called the “tar”.  The concept of tar is the architect of the Tiv social system which traces their descendant to a single ancestor.  This form of social organization called a segmentary lineage is seen in various parts of the world but is particularly well known from African societies.


A typical Tiv compound is made up of the head of the compound (Orya), his wives and children, his younger brothers along with their own wives and children.  Tiv compounds also sometimes include distant relatives, in-laws, or extended family.  The compound is oval in shape with a designated large central space for group activities such as dancing, meetings or funerals.  A compound is typically named after the head of the compound and in the event of his death, the oldest person in the compound would become the next Orya.


Tiv religious thought is hinged on three basic concepts: Aondo, Tsav and Akombo.  These concepts work together for stability, harmony and communal well-being.  Aondo lived near the earth but was forced to retreat into the skies after he was struck by a woman pounding food.  Aondo is therefore considered to be the hand of God in the physical setting as in rain (Aondongu noon), thunder (Aondongukumen) lightning (Aondongunyiar) and sun light (Aondo ta yange).

Tsav is a reference to a cosmic potency internalized in man as part of his personality which manifests in people in different forms. In some people, it appears like the crown of a cock and covers the heart of the individual with claws.  In others, it is dwarf like with no claws (Kpum utsa) while in other people, it is a small point projection from the heart which gives the possessor some awareness of the supernatural called ‘Ishima Nomsoor’ (a man’s heart).  Those who possess Tsav are called Mbatsav (singular, Ormbatsav) and their activities are theoretically geared towards good governance (tar soron), personal comfort, security and communal well-being.

Akombo is the third basic concept in Tiv religion and can be defined as unique mystical forces deployed to ensure a balanced and healthy tar (community) in which individuals are at peace with each other and the physical components of the environment are regulated and protected from “damage”.  Each kombo (singular of akombo) is represented by an emblem which could be any relic ranging from a potsherd to a carved piece of wood.


According to Tiv oral history, the life of every human being in the visible world has an end.  Ku (death) is the gateway to enter the invisible world of spirits and ancestors.  There is Ku dedoo (good death) and Ku ubo (bad death); however, the only people that gets full funeral rites are the ones that experience Ku dedoo.

Funeral rites begin with an advance message to Takuruku (great ancestor of Tiv people) using musical instruments called Idyer or Ilu.  The great ancestor is usually informed of the death by an informant, (BebaTaVer), who emphasizes the need to Takuruku to wait and receive the dead person into the ancestral world.

On the day of burial, the body of the deceased is washed by elderly women to enable the person to get into the spirit world neatly and well dressed.  The body is then covered with traditional cloths and under normal circumstances, the corpse would not stay more than twenty-four hours.  In every traditional burial of the Tiv people there is always a discussion on the cause of death called Ku orun.


Locally made musical instruments were traditionally used for political and ceremonial communication.  tiv-pipeThe most notable instruments are briefly highlighted below:

  • Kakaki: This is an instrument used to convey specials messages to the community such as the announcement of royal births, deaths or marriages.  The sound of the Kakaki also serves as a warning/alert of any imminent threat or attack on the community.
  • Ilyu: A light wooden instrument used to pass invitational messages for a particular meeting of the elders at the King’s palace or a gathering 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.
  • Indyer: A heavy wooden instrument carved out of mahogany trunk used especially during festivals of masquerades or yam festivals accompanied with music to deliver messages for the ceremonies or celebration of good harvest for the year.
  • Gbande: Agbande (plural), a set of wooden crafted drums used to communicate upcoming festivals or royal occasions such as coronation and funeral.  They are particularly large drums played by the young men of the community typically used to complement other musical instruments.
  • Akya: It is used together with Agbande at festivals for theatrical displays of the Tiv culture.
  • Adiguve: Similar to the violin, the Adiguve is used in conjunction with Agbande at festivals and dance occasions.  However, played solemnly, it is used to announce the death of a leader or an elder in the community.
  • Ortindin: The Ortindin is a messenger usually chosen by the elders of the community to run errands for the community.