Tiv People and Their Culture


Tiv are an ethno-linguistic group or ethnic nation in South Africa. They constitute approximately 3.5% of Nigeria’s total population, and number over 6 million individuals throughout Nigeria and Cameroon. The Tiv are the 4th largest ethnic group in Nigeria. Tiv language is spoken by about 7 million people in Nigeria, with a few speakers in Cameroon. Most of the language’s Nigerian speakers are found in Benue State of Nigeria. The language is also widely spoken in the Nigerian States of Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa,cross rivers as well as the FCT Abuja. It is part of the Southern Bantoid Tivoid family, a branch of Benue-Congo and ultimately of the Niger-Congo phylum. In precolonial times, the Hausa ethnic group referred to the Tiv ‘Munchi’ a term not accepted by Tiv people. They depend on agricultural produce for commerce and life.


The Tiv came into contact with European culture during the colonial period. During November 1907 to spring 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.

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.

The Tiv ethnic group is the fourth largest Ethnic group in Nigeria after the three Major Ethnic groups.

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. 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.

Before the introduction of printed material, radio, film and television, mass communication in Nigeria was done through the indigenous people with the use of traditional political systems of communication. The rulers and the chiefs governed their ethnic communities and communicated with them through various channels.

Tiv Music and Communication

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

1. Kakaki

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.

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2. Ilyu

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.

3. Indyer

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.

4. Akya

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.

5. Adiguve

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.

6. Gbande

Agbande (plural), 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.

7. Ortindin (Ortyom)-Messenger

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.

8. Kolugh ku Bua-Cow Horn

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 is not only vertical, from the rulers to the subjects, it is also horizontal. Individuals communicate 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 influences social behaviour considerably.

Rainmakers communicate their power to disrupt events through various psychological means. Village sectors in Africa communicate 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.

The Tiv people of Benue state still practise 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.

Many of the communities in Benue state still use these instruments to convey messages to the people of their community, and it is helping a great deal, since there is a language barrier to the people with the introduction of the western world means of communication, using the western language (English) to convey information


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