Two Tiv young women displaying the beauty of ange (the Tiv traditional attire).


By Charles Ideho 

Tivland is home to one of the largest ethnic nationalities in the geographical area of Nigeria called North Central Region (or Middle Belt). Naturally warm, welcoming and predominantly Christian as a people, the Tivs are found largely in Benue State. Its borders not only extend to parts of Nasarawa and Taraba States, but also to the northern part of Cross River State, South South Nigeria and part of Western Cameroon.Tiv women are some of the most beautiful in Nigeria, as they possess some very striking feminine features that are nice to behold. While the men are muscular, the women are robust-looking and usually of average height. The commonest complexion of the Tivs is chocolate, though it is not uncommon to find some of them light complexioned.

Map of Benue State.

Tivland (situated on the low land area of the Benue River with average annual rainfall of 1250mm and average annual temperature of 27.5°c) is very fertile and supports farming, which forms the major factor of Tiv life, particularly in the rural areas.  

The ancestral bond of the Tiv people is evident in the common language (Tiv) spoken in the respective states where they live. And it is estimated that the total population of the Tiv people is well over six million (not officially confirmed though) spread across the four states. 

Historical Background

The Tivs are said to be one of the last tribes to arrive Nigeria (though there was no Nigeria at the time) from their ancestral home in the Bantu region of Southern Africa to their present day location in the Benue river valley. Though the time of their settlement is unknown, the claim has it that the Tivs migrated into Nigeria through the route of the Bantu movement from Southern Africa to the Congo, Central African Republic, and Cameroon. They were said to have arrived Nigeria through this route, which used to be one of the most difficult territories in the entire continent of Africa. The route was described as a place full of heavy mangrove forests; regions full of uncultivated countryside, with a lot of wild animals; environments full of varieties of mountains and big rivers. 

When they arrived, the claim maintained, many historical empires that already existed in the region challenged them. But their natural toughness as a people helped them to survive severe conditions of the region until they organised themselves into what is seen today as the Tiv ethnic group. 

However, another claim supports what is similar to the story of the biblical Isaac and his two sons, Esau and Jacob. Unlike some ethnic groups that easily trace their ancestral homes to other lands, the Tivs, according to the claim believe that they descended directly from God (known in their language as Aondo). 

According to the account, Gbaa Aondo (Son of God) had two sons, Orii (the dark-complexioned one) and Nyian (the fair-complexioned one). Gbaa Aondo, being a farmer, expectedly involved his two sons in farming. However, it was Orii that was the hard working one, while Nyian was very lazy. When Gbaa Aondo became very old and stricken in years, he told his sons of his desire to bless them as part of the legacy he wished to give them and their coming generations. Aware that his father loved his brother more, and would most likely not receive the better part of his father's blessings, Nyian disguised and appeared to his father as Orii, by taking advantage of his father's sight which had by that time become very poor. As a result, he got the choicest part of the blessings reserved for his brother, namely the knowledge of science and technology and other technical know-how, and fled home to the present day white man's land. 

Meanwhile, upon returning home from the farm and approaching his father for his own blessings, it became apparent to Orii and his father that Nyiam had tricked them to get the blessings meant for him (Orii). By that time it was too late to do anything about it. As compensation, Gbaa Aondo then pronounced blessings that would make Orii a very successful farmer and a creative textile maker. After the death of Gbaa Aondo, the descendants of Orii were later to found the present day Tiv nation. 


The Tivs are predominantly farmers and they depend on farming for subsistence. Among major crops cultivated are yams (cultivated extensively), Soya beans (the state actually accounts for about 70 percent of Nigeria's Soya beans production), sorghum, potatoes, peanuts, maize, millet, beans, okra, peppers, onions, tomatoes, citrus crops like oranges, grapes, tangerines, and a host of other fruits including mangoes of various species. They practice hoe cultivation, crop rotation and fallowing. They also rear animals like goats, sheep, while cattle rearing is not quite common.

Fresh tubers of yam used in preparing ruam iyor (above).

Oranges are also grown in abundance in Tivland.


The ancestral homeland of the Tivs is Adikpo, a town in Kwande Local Government Area in the South Eastern part of Benue State.

The Tivs organise themselves in communities comprising family units and neighbourhood compounds called “ya”, with each compound containing an extended family, a husband and multiple wives. These compounds are scattered over the rural areas. Many of such compounds make up a village, while many villages make up a clan. 

The number of wives a man has is dependent on individual’s wellbeing. While some have two wives, a good number of them have more, with each wife having her own hut in which she lives with her own children. When a husband needs to have one of his wives, she visits her husband’s hut, which is the main one in the compound. Of course a roster of which wife may sleep with her husband on certain days is kept, in this regard, and respected by all.

There has been a myth that when a friend visits a Tiv man, he may give one of his wives to him to sleep with, as a demonstration of his love for their friendship.

However, upon enquiries from a university Professor of the Benue State University, Makurdi, a Director of the Benue State Arts and Culture, as well as an 80 year old community leader in Adikpo, who himself has four wives, this myth was debunked. According to each of them, it is the Tiv's hospitality that has been misunderstood over the centuries. 

When a friend comes calling, a Tiv man, in order to make his visitor comfortable, he instructs one of his wives to ensure the comfort of his visitor, by cooking for him, if he was staying for a couple of days, and such other areas that would make the visitor really comfortable. But sex is not one of the ways to make the visitor comfortable.

"Is there any man alive who would give his wife to another man to sleep with and return to that same wife afterwards?" the 80 year old man asked. "Of course, not. It's our hospitality that has been misunderstood. That practice is not anywhere in Tivland," he added.  


A typical Tiv settlement with huts at the background.

A modern Tiv house found mostly in Tiv towns like Makurdi and Gboko. It’s an improvement on the traditional huts above. 

Their homes are round huts built of bricks (sometimes burnt bricks) with cone-shaped thatched roofing. Each compound consists of a number of such huts (the number of which depends on the size of individual families) built in a large circle on a parcel of land with a fairly large one standing in the centre of the circle of other huts. The hut in the centre serves as a rest room for recreation and receiving visitors. Meanwhile, where a hut is absent in the centre, a family could choose between planting a mango tree and any other shade-giving tree to serve the same purpose.  

In Benue State where live majority of the Tiv people occupy fourteen out of the twenty-three local government areas, while the Idoma people, occupy nine. 

The Tiv-speaking local government areas in Benue State include:


    1.               Buruku         

    2.              Gboko                       

    3.             Guma            

    4.             Gwer             

    5.             Gwer West               

    6.             Katsina-Ala  

    7.             Konnishisha

    8.             Kwande

    9.             Logo  

   10.           Makurdi

   11.           Tarka

   12.           Ukum

   13.           Ushongo

   14.           Vandeikya 

In Nasarawa State, the Tivs are found in Lafia, the state capital and its environs, while in Taraba State, local government areas like Bali, Takum, and Wukari are home to the Tivs. In Cross State, a minority of them are found in areas around the northern part of Ogoja and Obudu.


The founder of the Tivs is said to have two sons, Chongo and Tusi, whose descendants now produce the present day monarchs, called Tor Tiv. The monarchs are selected on rotational basis after the incumbent passes on. Succession is by selection among the qualified families rather than automatic ascension to the throne by the first son of the paramount ruler. And because of this, the position of a crown prince for succession is non-existent in the Tiv monarchical system.


His Royal Majesty, Begha u Tiv, Orcivirigh Professor James Ortese Iorzua Ayatse, Tor Tiv V, the Paramount Ruler of Tiv nation and President, Tiv Area Traditional Council as well as Chairman, Benue State Council.


Because of the absence of a crown prince, qualified families outside that of the departed monarch are required to present candidates. In some cases, a particular family may present more than one candidate to increase its chances of securing the position. And because the process of succession is based on fair play and impartiality, for instance, the current Tor Tiv, His Royal Majesty, Begha u Tiv, Orcivirigh Professor James Ortese Iorzua Ayatse, Tor Tiv V, the Paramount Ruler of Tiv nation and President, Tiv Area Traditional Council and Chairman, Benue State council wasn’t expected to emerge from the family of the late Tor Tiv, Chief Alfred Torkula. Selection of candidates is not usually based on age, as candidates presented may not necessarily have to be the oldest members of any given family. 

After due consultations among interested families, the names of individual candidates presented are then forwarded to the highest court in Tivland called Ijir-Tamen, which screens the candidates thoroughly. When each of the candidates has been duly screened by the Ijir-Tamen, whoever it decides should be the next paramount ruler among the contesting candidates, becomes the Tor Tiv. The candidate chosen is then sworn in afterward by the same court before the state government endorses it.


The local administrative system in Tivland is based purely on leadership by age. And before the present day Tiv monarchy came into existence, what appeared like today's district heads in Tivland called Tor Agbande carried out administrative roles. And such roles include ensuring safe and proper conduct of all, settling disputes within their lineages, and other customary roles. But over time, these Tor Agbande evolved to become heads of each local council, known as Ter. In Tivland, there are fourteen of such Ters as council heads. These include:

Council                               Local Administrative Head
Buruku                               *Ter Buruku

Gboko                                 Ter Gboko
Guma                                  Ter Guma
Gwer                                   Ter Gwer
Gwer West                         Ter Gwer West
Katsina-Ala                        Ter Katsina-Ala
Konnishisha                       Ter Konnishisha
Kwande                              Ter Kwande

Logo                                    Ter Logo
Makurdi                              Ter Makurdi
Tarka                                   Ter Tarka

Ukum                                  Ter Ukum

Ushongo                             Ter Ushongo
Vandeikya                          Ter Vandeikya


*Ter in Tiv language is "tay".


The Ters (pronounced tay) are like kings and actually have palaces, where they oversee the affairs of the local council under their supervision through the assistance of clan heads and family heads.


In Kwande council for instance, there are about four clans:







And each clan comprises a number of compounds, which are further made up of families. The number of compounds in a clan and the number of clans in a particular council depends on the size of the clan or council respectively. While a Tyoo heads each clan, an Ortarev oversees each compound. 

There are also those called Tor Kpan (tax collectors). Their principal function is to collect taxes from the people. When such taxes are collected, each Tor Kpan hands his over to the Ortarev under whom he operates, the Ortarev keeps a portion and forwards the rest to the Tyoo in his clan who then keeps a portion and sends the rest to the Tor Tiv. 

You will notice that in the process, the Ters are left out. The reason is that the position of the Ter is political. So it is when any local council has needs of the tax for development that the Tyoo concerned sends the tax to the Ter. Otherwise, they are bypassed. 

The Ortarev has a council of elders, which assists him in running his domain. The elders are very powerful as their decisions on matters are far-reaching. 

The administrative hierarchy in Tivland is as shown below: 

Tor Tiv
 (Paramount ruler)



(In each council)


 (Clan Head)



(Household Head)


Tor Kpan

(Tax Collector)


Festivals in Tivland are called Amaar (dance or staging of an event). Most festivals do not have fixed periods and do not involve rituals, as they are basically done as occasions warrant and are mainly to celebrate one achievement or another. Some of the notable festivals are:


This festival is celebrated in honour of a beloved wife. In this case a husband may decide to honour his wife for being trustworthy, fruitful, and peace loving. On such occasion, the husband would purchase a number of beautifully made ange (the Tiv traditional dress) and other beautiful gifts for his wife, invite everyone and make merriment, by inviting traditional dance groups to entertain guests. Ruam iyor (pounded yam) and burukutu (Tiv locally brewed drink) are usually served in abundance.

 In some cases a wealthy husband may decide to celebrate this annually. 


Ikyashakombo is a combination of two words, namely Ikyasha (celebration) and Akombo (deity). As the name suggests, it is the celebration of a deity. Ikyashakombo is staged primarily for the repose of the spirit of a departed soul. 

In essence, when a Tiv man or woman dies, it is believed that unless Ikyashakombo is staged for him or her (whether he/she died twenty years back), his or her soul would not be at rest.  It is in such an instance that the festival is organised in Tivland. And when Ikyashakombo is to be celebrated, the community concerned is notified ten days earlier and everyone is forbidden from committing any crime, fighting, or indulging in any form of immoral behaviour. In some cases, everyone may be forbidden from engaging in sex, including married couples, and no one is permitted to marry within the period. The reason for this is to ensure that the community is cleansed of all activities considered spiritually improper and keep both the land and people pure.


This is a celebration of achievement. A successful farmer may decide to celebrate his achievements in farming and invite his age mates, his in-laws, his sisters and the entire community and entertain them. It is similar to the Ortiv wan amaar, as drinks and food are also served in abundance, amidst dancing and other forms of merry-making. The farmer or whoever is organising the festival uses the occasion to inform everyone how he has prospered in whatever activities he engages in.


This festival is celebrated to appease the gods (akombo). In the event of an outbreak of epidemic like measles, small pox, chicken pox, cholera, etc, the elders would confer and consult the gods to determine the cause of the epidemic. It may be that a particular deity is angry with the community over an offence. When such an offence has been determined, sacrifices would be made to appease the gods to prevent reoccurrence. By its nature, the festival is not celebrated by everyone but only those who are vested with such responsibilities, like the priests and community leaders.


This is the celebration of creativity especially in cloth weaving. In the festival, traditional ange weavers enter a weaving competition. The competition involves harvesting wools from the farm, spinning the wools, laying them on the loom, weaving the best pattern possible. Usually, anyone who is able to weave the best cloth from the first stage to the last is awarded a prize. The competition is aimed at encouraging creativity in arts and crafts in Tivland.


The Tivs have many systems of marriage. And in all of them, family values play a very important role. The most important ones are:


Yanshe is simply exchange, and by implication it is marriage by exchange. As the commonest and most fascinating marriage system in Tivland, the system operates like barter. When two persons desire to take wives, they approach each other to exchange their sisters as wives. For instance, if a certain man desires to marry the sister of another man, he should be ready to give his own sister's hand in marriage to the man whose sister he seeks to marry. In this way fairness is not only achieved, but it also helps in eliminating the prospect of having to pay high bride prices, which may discourage many from getting married, thereby causing them to indulge in unacceptable sexual conducts. 

However, in the event of a wife not being able to become pregnant for her husband during their marriage, her husband may decide to divorce her and withdraw his own sister from the home of the sister’s husband. In that case since his own wife whom he got in exchange for his sister in the marriage agreement has failed to raise children for him, the ownership of her sister's children from her own marriage is claimed by his family, and the children become his.


The reason for this is that since both men are supposed to be their sister's respective guardians, both are expected to ensure their sisters's reproductive fitness. And since she could not raise children for her husband, it means that her brother must have caused his sister ill luck. No excuse is entertained because it is believed God has given every woman the natural gift for child bearing.


This form of marriage is what the Tivs refer to as kwase u'eren akudu abashi, which means marriage by payment of bride price. The system came into existence with the introduction of money (gold, silver, cowries and other forms of Jewry) as a means of exchange. In this case, the family of a bride may be at liberty to request the family of a prospective groom to pay bride price before their daughter's hand could be given in marriage. Apart from the monetary form of bride price, the prospective groom may be required to present other gifts like a live cow, or any other animal of the bride's family's choice.


This form of marriage did not enjoy the popularity of others and it is no longer in existence in Tivland today. In this system, a very prosperous farmer, a good dancer, or a creative cloth weaver may take a wife as a result of being very successful in his trade. However, this form of marriage became unpopular with the introduction of money as a means of exchange in Tivland.


The music of the Tiv people is unique, and it is called kwaghkuhan. It involves the use of heavy percussion and wind instruments, which give it the elegance and flexibility that it requires. This peculiar music is not common elsewhere in Nigeria, hence its uniqueness.

Tiv dancers performing the swange dance.

Some musical instruments used in performing the Tiv music (kwaghkuhan).

Although Tiv musicians are not popular outside Tivland, however, the most visible one has been Zakky Adze, a Lagos-based musician, famous for bearing a police-sized flashlight all day. There is of a Lagos-based musical group called Zulezoo, comprising two young men of Tiv origin who, a couple of years back, took the Nigerian music industry by storm with their album, titled Kerewawa. The single was quite popular on radio stations across Nigeria. Of particular interest is the fusion of the Swange Dance and the contemporary hip-hop dance in their musical video. Swange dance involves twisting the entire body in an upward-downward and downward-upward movement.   

The most popular Tiv dances include:

  • Ingyough
  • Swange
  • Anchanakupa
  • Some of their notable traditional musical instruments include:
  • Gbande (a big drum)
  • Kwen (gong)
  • Kunkun (a small drum, beaten on both sides)
  • Kakaki (a long trumpet)
  • Genga (bass drum)


The attire is called ange, and they are woven in locally made looms. The design comes in different designs, creatively woven and made beautifully.

A Tiv cloth weaver working at a local loom in Tse Dzurgba, near Adikpo in Kwande L.G.A.

A dyeing pit, where the designer creates

Ange weaving is slightly difficult. However, with increase in creativity, a weaver could make four pieces of ange including dyeing, in a day. The cost of a piece of ange depends on the quality of thread used and the patterns. The average price is N5,000 (about $10) per yard. Meanwhile, the ones that are made especially for the rich could cost as much as N20,000 (about $50).

A Tiv elderly man wearing the ange cloth wrapped round his body.

A typical young Tiv male in his traditional attire (l) and his female counterpart (r).


The Tiv believe that when someone dies, he goes to Kumun Utamen (heaven) and is received by Tar Kuruku (Jesus) and led to Anyam Azenga (the ruler of heaven) who will then assign a place for the dead person who has just arrived heaven. The Tivs do not believe in the existence of hell as they hold strongly that everyone that dies goes to heaven where Anyam Azenga has prepared a place for him in eternity.


Just like in many other ethnic groups in the country where meals like rice, eba and egusi as well as fufu are common, such are also found on the table of the average Tiv family. However, there are meals that are common only to the Tivs that you are not likely to find their similarities elsewhere in Nigeria. 

The most important ones include:


Ruam iyor is simply known as pounded yam. Although this is also quite common in some parts of southern Nigeria, to the Tivs, Ruam Iyor is a principal delicacy. It is not uncommon to find an average rural Tiv family serving a three-square meal of Ruam iyor daily, as an indication of their love for this all-important Tiv meal. The reason for this is probably because of the general belief in Tivland that a typical Tiv man is not complete if he does not own a yam field. Expectedly, a Tiv farmer usually takes pleasure in cultivating a yam field as part of his cultural heritage.

Young women preparing ruam iyor (pounded yam), a delicacy in Tivland.


The number or pieces of yams to be prepared depends on the number of guests to be served. The outer layers of the yams are peeled off and the yams sliced. The sliced pieces are then cooked on a stove, gas or electric cooker, or the local fire hearth (depending on the social status of the family). When the yams are well cooked, after about twenty minutes, they are immediately transferred to a large hollow wooden object called mortar, where two people often beat the cooked pieces of yam with pestles (crushers) continuously for between five and seven minutes to form a whitish mash of substance called Ruam Iyor or pounded yam. The Tivs prefer to eat this with locally prepared soups, the two most popular being Nune and Gbodi.


It is the same thing as Locust Beans Soup. The soup derived its name from the abundance use of locust beans in the soup. A strict compliance with the recipe certainly would eliminate the use of either meat or fish, because the use of locust beans serves the same purpose. It is a delicacy which all Tiv people take pleasure in eating. 

Recipe for Nune Soup

  • Locust beans
  • Water
  • Pepper
  • Onions
  • Salt to taste
  • Seasoning (optional)


Gbodi soup, made from okra flour is another Tiv delicacy. The soup is often served with ruam iyor. Fresh okras (grown in abundance in Tivland), when harvested are sliced, dried for a number of days. When they are properly dried, they are pounded in a mortar. They are sieved afterwards, and the powered substance is used to cook the soup. 


  • Okra flour
  • Water
  • Pepper
  • Onions
  • Fish or meat
  • Salt to taste
  • Seasoning
  • Burukutu

This is a locally brewed Tiv drink, which is made from guinea corn and millet. It plays an important role during ceremonies in Tivland.


It is soaked in water for some time, until the grains are beginning to germinate. The grains are then ground at a mill and sieved. Afterwards, it is boiled on fire. When it has cooled, it is then taken as beverage and is believed to contain blood-building ingredients. 

Meanwhile, when it is allowed to ferment for more than one day, the beverage becomes alcoholic and if taken excessively, it intoxicates.

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