Who are the tiv?


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 Gbande (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.


Tiv marriage



​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.


Tiv Clothing

Tiv Traditional Attire

 There are many types of Tiv traditional attires worn today.  Each designed specifically for a different occasion. The most popular of them is the A'nger. The Tiv people are uniquely identified by their black and white native attire which they proudly adorn themselves with anywhere they are found at home or abroad.
Beside the A'nger there is also the Tugudu cloth, which is used strictly for burying dead ones. The  Ivvavtyo, which is mostly worn by women, and many other other brands of fabrics like the Lishi, Gbev-whaa, Godo, Gurugu, Chado, Deremen and Gbagir. The technique of weaving depends on a simple technology that is slow but efficient for its needs and does not take more than one person to weave, dye and package for sale. It is a highly respected industry which has created a local economy for the people. Although the clothes are now done in the cities like Makurdi, the Benue State capital for easy accessibility by lovers of the native fabric, the traditional Tiv settlements remain important places where trading takes place because many buyers believe the best qualities are the ones made in these communities.​


Traditionally, the A’nger fabric (black and white stripes) is used  for important occasions like political meetings, church service as well as burial ceremonies and weddings.  According to sources the black color signifies that the Tiv people have their roots as black people from Africa while the white signifies peace, loving and accommodating.’ Another way of viewing the black and white features of A’nger is in terms of the peaceful nature of the Tiv people in general. In this way, the black and white symbolically represent the nature of the zebra in the wild. A zebra in the animal kingdom is one among the most peaceful, harmless and beautiful looking animal. The Tiv people are naturally peace loving and hardworking wherever they find themselves.
The colors also symbolize honesty and sincerity in speaking or dealing with issues. 
Apart from the various Tiv clothing, the Tiv people also have a bag  called "Kpaabor" and a pruning shear added to its cultural attire. The bag signifies a leader that can take responsibility for and bear all things. 
A Tiv dancer wearing A'nger and holding Tsa Nyinya(Horse Tail). 


The Tor Tiv


The Tiv had always been extremely decentralized with no single ruler. Leadership was based on age, influence and affluence. When the British came to Nigeria they divided the Tiv into Clans, Kindreds, and Family Groups in 1934. The British appointed native heads of these divisions as well. They then created the office of Tor Tiv  in 1947, appointing Makir  Dzakpe as the first holder of this title, in order to have a "traditional ruler" to speak for the Tiv people.

These are the names of the Tor Tiv's so far.  His Royal  Highnesses Orchivirigh Makir Zakpe, Tor Tiv I (1946 to 1956), Orchivirigh Gondo Aluor, Tor Tiv II (1956 to 1978), Orchivirigh Akperan Orshi, Tor Tiv III (1979 to 1990),  His Royal Majesty, Orchivirigh Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula, Tor Tiv IV (1990 to 2016) and His Royal Majesty, Begha u Tiv, Orcivirigh Professor James Ortese Iorzua Ayatse V (Present Day Pictured  on the right)

The Tor Tiv palace is located in Gboko, and is the official residence of the Tiv people. The palace is rich in historical artifacts and it tells the story and history of the Tiv people. You can also learn a lot about the past ways of the earlier settlers in the area and gain insight into the cultural and traditional way of the native folks, including past wars and kings of the people.


Past Tor Tiv's


 His Royal Majesty, Orchivirigh Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula, Tor Tiv IV (1990 to 2016) 


 Orchivirigh Akperan Orshi, Tor Tiv III (1979 to 1990) 


 Orchivirigh Gondo Aluor, Tor Tiv II (1956 to 1978) 


 His Royal  Highnesses Orchivirigh Makir Zakpe, Tor Tiv I (1946 to 1956) 

Tiv Family


Traditional Family Life

The Tiv tribe traces its descent paternally but a few maternal ancestors appear further back in the family tree. Authority among the Tiv lay basically at the compound level and was vested in the oldest male member of both the nuclear and extended families in a form of gerontocracy. A compound is made up of the Compound Head (Orya) his wives (Kasev) and children (onov), his younger brothers with their own wives and children. Occasionally the compound includes people who come to live among them as distant relatives or in-laws to some other members of the extended family. A compound is known by the Compound Head"s (Orya) name and in the event of death, his first born son or his surviving most elder brother succeeds him. However, if his surviving brothers are younger than his first born son then the son would succeed him. The principle is that the most senior man by age is expected to become the next Compound Head (Orya).
A compound is designed with a large space in the center for group activities such as dancing, meetings and funerals. It takes an oval shape and the Compound Head with his children occupy the upper end known as Ityough ki ya, the Ate is the common sitting room for reception of guests. The second eldest man to the Orya resides at the lower end of the compound known as Ityo ya.
 The compound is a social unit where the young are socialized into the culture and taught the implications and repercussions of violating the cultural norms of the tribe. Socialization is carried out via a process of deliberate teaching such as the castigation of a child who has committed what was considered against the ethics and code of conduct of the tribe. ​Traditionally, every married woman has her own hut, at least after the birth of her first child.

 Decisions affecting the compound had to be arrived at by consensus and if any member of the compound strongly disagreed with any decision of the Orya, he had the option of breaking away to form his own compound and this served as a check on the power of the Compound Head.​

 Property including utensils, animals and crops were regarded as being possessed in common, but as predominantly in the charge of the eldest male member for the benefit of the community.

If a younger brother wanted to sell an animal, he should first ask his elder brother in direct line and by not doing this, the younger brother commits no offense but a breach of etiquette and filial piety.
Brothers of the same parents may use one another’s entire property in common but where there are children of different wives as in a polygamous setting, they don’t have this right automatically but must first ask permission. (Move Europeans to back)
The only exception was that wives were the personal property of a man when he is alive and members of the compound or village had no right of promiscuous intercourse with each other’s wives.
The desire to rear a large number of children to provide labour on the farm was so great that an old man, when wooing a young girl would often induce her into marriage by telling her that she would only be marrying him in name as the real husband who would consummate the marriage was one of his strong young sons or grandsons.
On the death of an elder, the older widows continued to live in the compound as before and were supported by the heir, who also became the custodian of the younger widows and their marriageable daughters.

Modern Family Life
These days the Tiv live all over the world.  New cultures  and ways of life have been adapted in order to servive.  Inter marriage, societal changes and migration to different parts of the world have led to a diluted/not traditional way of life.  

Riddles and story telling was a very popular recreational activity when there was no technology, but as the world becomes more and more saturated with technology, social media and the likes we are seeing that riddles and story telling are becoming extinct in most Tiv homes.


Tiv Religion

Additional Information



Tiv Traditional Religion

​​Tiv taditional religious thought is hinged on three basic concepts. These are Aondo(God), Tsav(Supernatural) and Akombo(emblem of mystical force) — all of which work together for stability, harmony and communal well being (see Wegh 1998).  Though Aondo is the Tiv word for God, the Tiv do not have a personal relationship with Him. As explained earlier, Aondo used to live nearer the earth but was forced to retreat into the skies after he was struck by a woman pounding food. 

There is however a deep acknowledgement of the hand of God (Aondo) in the physical setting as in rain (Aondo ngu noon), thunder (Aondo ngu kumen) lightening (Aondo ngu nyiar) and sun light (Aondo ta yange).

According to Wegh (1998 p.42) though the relationship between the Tiv and Aondo may seem “remote” to outsiders, the Tiv acknowledge that most of the actions necessary for the existence and sustenance of life are carried out only by God (Aondo). This world view leaves the day to day regulations of relationships between individuals on the one hand and between individuals and the cosmos on the other hand to  Tsav  and Akombo. Tsav is a reference to “a  cosmic potency internalized in man as part of his personality” (see Rubingh 1969). Gundu (1980) has argued that it manifests in people in three different forms. The first and most potent form appears like the crown of a cock and covers the heart of the individual with “claws”. The second is a dwarf type with no “claws”. (Kpum utsa) while the third type is a small point projection from the heart which gives the possessor some awareness of the supernatural. This is called ‘ishima nomsoor’  (a man’s heart) by the Tiv. Those who possess tsav are called  Mbatsav (singular is  Ormbatsav) and their activities are theoretically  geared towards good governance (tar soron), personal comfort, security and communal well-being. Practically however, the extent to which any ormbatsav can be beneficial to society in the context of his activities is a factor of the type of tsav “growing” on his heart and particular  akombo being manipulated at the point in time. This is probably why Bohannan (1965) argues that tsav is morally neutral and can be deployed for either good or bad. If deployed for good, society is assured of a potent social control mechanism. On the other hand, if it is deployed for evil individuals can be bewitched  — leading to sickness and sometimes death. Other malevolent aspects include crop failure, bad dreams, ill luck, barrenness and the like.

The third basic concept in Tiv religion which is akombo can be defined as some 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. Though an acceptable classification of the whole range of akombo is yet to be done here, the Tiv see  akombo in two major categories. Category one is  akombo a kiriki (lesser  akombo) while category two is  akombo atamen (greater  akombo).  Each ailment and socio-economic component in society has its kombo with full compliments of emblem and a structured process of “restoration” (sorun) when its foundation is undermined or violated by people who come into contact with it. Each kombo has its master whose specialty is in ensuring a viable role for the kombo in the community.  He does this by “restoring” (sorun) the  kombo’s  equilibrium if and when it is violated, thus, neutralising the damage that would otherwise have been visited on the violator or even the whole community as the case may be. 

Most Tiv have converted to Christianity, and a lesser number have adopted Islam; but their traditional religion, based on the manipulation of forces (akombo) entrusted to humans by a creator god, remains strong. 


A historical perspective.


Historically speaking, Swem was not always worshiped or venerated by our ancestors.
The story of Swem the deity or a symbol of religious importance to the Tiv society goes back to  Swem a mountain or group of mountains bordering Cameron and part of Cross River and Benue State. These mountains can be seen when you visit Ikyurav-ya, the same mountainous region  extends down to Shangev-ya down to Obudu cattle ranch. The Mountain was a shield to the Tiv people who found the surrounding mountain as a protective shield from their enemies in times of war.

However history has it that, as the population of the Tiv people continue to grow, Swem could no longer accommodate them therefore the next alternative was to move out of the area.

 Swem Karagbe according to Tiv oral tradition was the leader of the Tiv people during their short stay in Swem. During his leadership, the Tiv nation prospered, and there was no war from external enemies.  According to history there was few incidents of sickness and those who fell sick were cured by the  water fountain that was located in the middle of the mountain which was surrounded by Ayande.  There was peace and crops  flourished.

When the Tiv people left Swem for other lands, Karagbe  had already passed away. They were confronted with several challenges including tribal war between them and other tribes within the Benue plain. It was at this time that they remembered Karagbe's leadership style and said let us go back to Swem Karagbe. They went back, dug the grave of Karagbe, cut his head, ground up his skull into a powdery form and put it into an earthen ware pot. After several incantations, the earthen ware with the content in it become Swem. This is the origin of Swem. The power behind Swem is vested in the hands of the most powerful medicine man in the Tiv society. After hundred of years The powdery substance of Karagbe skull have been replace by mere ash which form tho basic contents of Swem mystery.



In Early times, the two prominent churches were the  N.K.S.T Church (fondly referred to as "Ortese") and the Catholic Church (fondly referred to as Fada).  So if you were a Christian, then you were either Ortese or Fada. Later on came other churches such as the Anglican, Ecwa and then in recent times there has been an influx of many other  Pentacostal churches (fondly referred to as the "Halleluja") in Tivland.  

N.K.S.T stands for the "Nongu u Kristu u i Ser u sha Tar," translated "Universal Reformed Christian Church," a Christian Reformed church based in Nigeria.  The church has its headquarters at Mkar-Gboko in Benue state but has spread all over Nigeria. The members are predominantly the Tiv speaking tribe but other tribes in Nigeria belong to this church. It was first introduced in Sai on 17 April 1911 a village in Katsina Ala local government area of Benue state, Nigeria. The beginnings were slow — only 25 baptized Christians in 25 years. In 1960, due to the apartheid system, the South African missionaries were no longer tolerated in Nigeria and had to leave. In their place the SUM–Christian Reformed Reformed Church of North America, a branch related to NKST, gave it strong support until about 1985. In 1957 the church was formally organized as an autonomous, self-supporting, and self-propagating church with first four indigenous (Nigerian) pastors. A full translation of the Bible into Tiv was completed and dedicated on 4 November 1964. The church also has a synod that meets twice in a year. The Church has seven institutions of higher learning: 1. The Reformed Theological Seminary Mkar, 2. Reformed Bible College Harga, 3. School of Nursing Mkar, 4. College of Health Technology Mkar 5. School of Medical Laboratory Sciences Mkar, 6. School of Midwifery Mkar, 7. The University of Mkar.

The NKST church has a following of over a  Million  and over 137,115 baptised and professing members. It has a well organised Women Fellowship with 44,514 members. The women fellowship has built one of the most beautiful guest houses in Benue State at Mkar near the Church Secretariat. NKST church has 693 pastors since inception with 572 who are still alive, and about 121 have rested in the Lord. NKST has 4,143 churches all over Nigeria, with 360 well-established congregations. Some of the congregations conduct their services in English, e.g. NKST Anglo- Jos, Plateau State. The church also has 9 hospitals, and 352 primary health centers. It has 53 secondary schools and 500 primary schools.


The Roman Catholic Diocese of Makurdi was established as Apostolic Prefecture of Benue from the Apostolic Vicariate of Western Nigeria in July of 1934. The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi currently has over 100 parishes in the state and is still growing.  The church also own several schools and hospitals. 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MAKURDI DIOCESE The ecclesiastical territory which is today called Makurdi Diocese was part of the newly formed Prefecture Apostolic of the lower Niger between 1889 and 1920. The Prefecture covered the entire land area within the east of the River Niger and to the South of River Benue. In 1920, its status within the Catholic Church was raised to that of Vicariate Apostolic of Southern Nigeria though maintaining its boundaries.

The missionary priests who first evangelized in this area were French Holy Ghost Fathers in 1880. They were joined by Holy Ghost Priests and brothers from Ireland, and it was the latter who from 1911 began to make contact with the Benue in the Northern part of the Vicariate.

The strategy to evangelize the lower Benue was hinged on the notion of the Tiv Mission. The idea was to launch an evangelizing drive from Ogoja in Cross River State. In February 1917 Propaganda Fide appointed Pere Dourvry Apostolic Administrator for the whole of Cameroon, a daunting task which he however carried out commendably well. Douvry was nevertheless always anxious to return to Nigeria to carry out a project that seems to have haunted him for many years, that was to bring the gospel to the Tiv people. He returned to Paris in August 1920 and resigned as Apostolic Administrator. Joseph Shanahan, the Vicar Apostolic, for the Tiv project visited Pope Benedict XV in September 1920 and presented Pere Douvry who the Holy Father gave special blessing for the Tiv Mission. Father Douvry was succeeded by Father Eugene Groetz. 
In 1929 Father Joseph Soul one of the General Councillors, came to the Vicariate for an official visitation. At the end of his visit he found time to spare, so he visited Obudu and from there moved into Tivland. Soul spent a short time among the Tiv, but impressions he had did not leave him when he returned to Paris. He kept thinking about the abandoned state of the Tiv and all other people of Northern Nigeria.

Father Soul's visit to Tivland was however providential. The accidental visit resulted in the Spiritans finally deciding to make some serious attempt to evangelize the people of the lower Benue, the Tiv, Idoma, Igala and other smaller groups. The task was taken up by German Spiritans, and by 1930 the first contingent of four priests and two brothers arrived, exactly 45 years after Joseph Lutz and his companies established themselves at Onitsha. Their Apostolic zeal and energy were such that by 1934 the areas of the civil territory of Benue province, Northern Nigeria was made into the Prefecture Apostolic of Benue with its centre first at Makurdi, and later at Otukpo. The German priests and brothers made tremendous efforts and covered the whole area from Idah on the River Niger to Wukari near the boundary of Benue and Adamawa provinces. A major setback though came following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 as all the priests and brothers being German nationals were obliged by British authorities to leave Nigeria. By 1945 when the German fathers were replaced by those from the English province, Bishop Heery described the Benue as the most promising Mission in all of Nigeria after Onitsha-Owerri.

In 1959 Monsignor James Hagan, the Prefect Apostolic of Otukpo was made a Bishop and in 1960 he transferred his Cathedral seat to Makurdi, thus becoming the first Bishop of Makurdi. The Tiv Mission project had metamorphosed into the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi. Ill-health however, obliged him to resign in 1966. This led to the emergence in January, 1968 of Bishop Murray as the second Bishop of Makurdi.

For 21 years that Bishop Murray administered the Diocese the church experienced phenomenal growth in various aspects of ecclesial life. This is evident in the increase in the numbers of religious, diocesan priests, and seminarians. The hope of a truly indigenous Church became more realized when the then Father Athanasius Usuh was ordained the first co-adjutor Bishop of the Diocese. Since Bishop Usuh was installed on 21st October, 1989 as the Bishop of the Diocese after the retirement of Bishop Murray, the Church in the Diocese within his jurisdiction has continued to experience tremendous growth in terms of manpower and general development. This is evident in the creation of Otukpo Catholic Diocese in 1995 and Lafia Catholic Diocese in the year 2001. On November 28th, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Msgr. William Avenya as the Auxiliary Bishop of Makurdi Diocese. On December 29th, 2013 Pope Benedict XVI created Gboko and Katsina-Ala Dioceses out of Makurdi with Bishop William Avenya and Monsignor Peter Adoboh as local ordinaries. Yet there are six deaneries comprising eighteen (18) parishes, seventeen (17) Catholic Missions, and ten (10) Chaplaincies, most of them covering a vast area in the Diocese.

Today the Diocese has a total number of Fifty Three (53) indigenous priests and five (5) deacons and thirty-two (32) Seminarians. Most of these priests work within the Diocese, while others are pursuing further studies in Rome, USA, and Nigeria. Some are teaching at the major seminary in Makurdi, the Benue State University, and colleges, while some have been assigned to pastoral work in Abuja Archdiocese and Lafia Diocese. 

On July 8, 2014 Pope Francis appointed Father Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe cmf as the Coadjutor Bishop of Makurdi Diocese. He will be ordained on October 4, 2014 at IBB Square in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
The Charles Lwanga Preparatory Seminary formerly at Aliade, has moved to its permanent site in Makurdi. The Diocese is also involved in Medical/Health ministry as well as Education and Communication apostolate. Education which is an indispensable instrument par excellence for effecting individual liberation and national development is equally given great attention as evident in the many schools owned by the Diocese. The publication of The Catholic Star Newspaper of the Diocese to satisfy the yearning for information dissemination in and outside the Diocese shows the importance the Church has attached to society building.

It is indeed a thing of joy to say with the great Apostle Paul "Thanks be to God who has done this.I planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the growth (I Cor.3:6).

First Mass in the Diocese - 1930
First Missionary - Revd Fr J. Kirstein
First Bishop - Rt Revd J. Hagan, CSSp
Second Bishop - Rt. Revd D. Murray, CSSp

Bishop Emeritus- Rt. Revd A. A. Usuh

Current Bishop Most Revd. Chikpa Wilfred Anagbe, CMF

Area - 23,150 sqm km
Population of Diocese - 978,188

For more information on Churches in and around Tivland, please look at our RESOURCES page. 


A video about Tiv people