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Social and Religious Values Behind Tiv Traditional Marriage

SYSTEMS

The social and religious values behind the Tiv traditional marriage are based on the segmentary lineage model. The Tiv social organization revolves around the absence of state formation. What I mean by state formation here is different from the western notion of state. In the western state formation, there is a strict structured pattern with organs either elected or appointed like the prime minister, presidents and governors et cetera. This scenario was very shocking and interesting to Charles Forbes Gordon, “who in 1907 was the first to British official to travel extensively in Tiv country, was impressed by the lack of real authority among the Tiv, though he noted that it was possible to call together many Tiv in a short time.”[1] In his word as reflected by Adrian,

The clans are divided into sections in which there is one who is spoken of as the headman, but his position is to a great extent honorary, and unless popular or feared, has little authority in the section outside his own cluster of villages…In their relations, however with government, the recognized headman of the section has generally been pushed forward, but it is seen apparent that he is only there as a figure head, and that each individual (the only unit) may hear what is going on but not bind himself, in spite of their representative having seemingly done so.[2]

The earliest British officials, “notably Abraham (1940s), Downes (1933), depicted Tiv society as a gerontocracy with certain amount of ritual specialization, into which chieftaincy had come as an alien and inappropriate transplant.”[3] The Tiv from the onset had no organized state formation as the western and other groups.  Part of the reason for this situation is to be found in MacBride’s remark, “The Tiv have many heritages, the function and relative importance of which are not immutable.”[4]  There is no one strictly marked out path to leadership. However, the Tiv give esteem to men of standing much more readily than they give obedience. Though, due to western influence, the idea of organized leadership and authority is now gradually being introduced and practiced in Tiv land. In real situation, “the Tiv are a classical example of a segmentary society which the basic political units are grouped and contraposed around a genealogy.”[5]

The Tiv social structure is built upon and welded together along blood lines that keep evolving. This elementary unit grows into a family, and the family grows into a community, and the conglomerate of various communities give rise to the emergence of the social cultural ethnic group, called Tiv.  Marriage is the most important unit of Tiv society, spanning years of expansion into the Benue valley, accompanied by rapid population growth, wars and proximity to commerce (all those features, which are usually held to explain the formation of the state) apparently left the Tiv an uncentralized yet strongly self-conscious ethnic category.

According to Ralph Baker, “The Tiv are in a Family State … we see the family in its various stages from the immediate progenitors to the patriarch of his family group, and from him to the kindred group, which is an original family group split up into lesser family groups…”[6] The aforementioned explanation in relation to Tiv cosmology of other states, for example, are determined geographically: states, counties, townships, cities, villages. The divisions of Tivland are determined genealogically: clans, sub-clans, kindreds, family groups, and households. Every village contains a family group. Several villages are joined in a wider family group. Several sparsely populated family groups make up a hamlet, several hamlets make up a kindred, and then, several kindreds then clan. The clans trace their origin back to the father of the tribe, Tiv. The people are very conscious of their relatives and can trace back their ancestry for several generations. The word “brother” or “sister” has a much wider reference and entails a much more complicated social relationship among the Tiv. Baker thus describes the Tiv as “clannish in the most elementary sense.”[7] Tribal loyalty or loyalty to one’s clan is the most fundamental feature of the Tiv social organization. It emphasizes the fact that, “blood is the basic tie among the Tiv, everyone knows.”[8]

This attests to the fact that, all Tiv believe themselves to be descended from an eponymous ancestor located some fourteen to seventeen generations back in their genealogies. Legends of origin and the cultural and linguistic homogeneity of the Tiv tend to add credence to such a view in broad terms. Most Tiv groups, for whatever purpose they are formed, are defined in the idiom of common descent. Three distinct forms of grouping are distinguished by their different appeals to the Tiv genealogical charter.

3.1 The Three Distinct Forms of Tiv Groupings:

The first Tiv grouping to consider is the nongo, literally ‘line’ or ‘queue’, which, ‘may be used to enquire after or describe the component segments of any lineage. The span of the ‘line’ to which nongo refers, can only be determined contextually.  The concept manifests the quality of total relativity of the classic segmentary lineage model. The Tiv describes the nongo relevant in a specific context by citing the name of a prominent man of the grouping involved. Nongo refers to span rather than depth, to living members of the group rather than to the ancestor who defines the segment in opposition to a similar segment consisting of the descendants of his brother.[9] This designation lends the nongo referent an ambiguity with respect to the descent groupings, defined ancestrally, and the political groupings, defined territorially. As Laura Bohannan explains, this ambiguity “gives an idiomatic appearance of unity to the lineage and politico-territorial segments” and is “essential to the strength of Tiv political loyalties.”[10]

The second group, agnates is significant for a particular group called his ityo. The referent of ityo, like that of nongo, is defined contextually. The ityo differs from the nongo in being defined by depth rather than by span. Its usage is further restricted since:

“… ityo cannot be used to describe the component segment of a lineage It is a personal and particularist (hence exclusive) term of identification, stating some individual’s place among the Tiv by identifying that lineage, filiation to which gives him his political citizenship, his rights to land and residence, delimits those persons who may bewitch him and whom he may not marry, and appoints the place of his memory after his death. Only his being sold into slavery can sever him from that place.”[11]

A third set of categorizations refers to the ‘spatial and social arrangements of political segment’.[12] Two concepts are involved: the segment, ipaven, and the land which it claims, tarUipaven (Plural); Ipaven (singular), according to Michel Verdon, “are minimal lineages segments which they also depicted as forming increasingly larger lineage segments up to the apical ancestor of all the Tiv.”[13]  The segment, ipaven, is distinguished from the local descent group, nongo, in two ways: it appeals to political rather than lineage values and it does not segment continuously. Below the level of the minimal tar, or discrete territorial unit, Tiv usually claim that the ipaven does not segment. The term nongo may be applied within the minimal tar, but it need not refer to a territorially discrete group, and it is unlikely to do so. The ipaven must always be represented territorially through its occupation of a tar; the relation between the minimal segment and the minimal territory is one-to-one.

The nongo referent’s ambiguity is in part responsible for masking this disjunction between the two modes of genealogical reckoning. It allows contextual adjustments and compromises to be made, which ensure that the substantive and ideological relations between the segments remain aligned. The three sets of categorizations thus depend to different degrees on the pure concept of descent: the ityo is the closest to an ideal descent group, the nongo additionally recognizes the factor of personal influence, and the ipaven considers occupation of an exclusive territory. Ethnographically this outcome is quite unusual.

These complex homogeneities of Tiv culture and persistence of Tiv identity are quite remarkable features, considering their decentralization and the high degree of differentiation found among Tiv. The segmentary lineage model might suggest that Tiv exclusiveness is an expression of the lineage system at full strength, opposing all Tiv to all others. This is undeniably true, but it only illustrates one bit of Tiv ideology in terms of another bit. More persuasively, Tiv exclusiveness can be seen as a by-product of the practice of marriage by exchange of women. Marriage by exchange of direct sisters could be interpreted as a form of descent through both the men and women of the patrilineage. Substantively, marriage by exchange ensured that Tiv society was endogamous with respect to its own women.[14] Recounting an early movement away from the ‘bush tribes’ (the small tribes to the south and east of present day Tivland) prior to the eruption of the Tiv into the Benue plains, Akiga vividly describes the refusal of the Tiv to recognize reciprocity in women with non-Tiv, and the fracas that resulted.

The Tiv married women from the neighbouring bush tribes, and had children by them, both sons and daughters. When their sons grew to manhood and their daughters reached puberty, the Bush People cast their eyes upon them, and demanded that the Tiv should now give them their daughters to marry in return. When they refused to do this, the Bush Men were angry.’ What!’  they cried.’ Why are these Tiv becoming so assertive?  We used to give them our daughters to marry, thinking of our children who were yet unborn; why will they not give their daughter to our sons?[15]

A further movement by the Tiv away from the Ugbe and Iyonov which were considered as  bush people elicits only the “phlegmatic remark from Akiga that it was occasioned by “trouble over the question of women.”[16] He comments that it is “almost unknown for a Tiv woman to marry outside the tribe, although men, especially in the border clans, will take non-Tiv wives.[17]”  Laura and Paul Bohannan record a similar phenomenon in the former, Eastern Region of Nigeria, where Tiv had expanded and settled among the Ogoja tribes (known to the Tiv as Udam). Although Tiv men “usually married Udam women, they refused to allow their women to marry Udam men.”[18] Tiv women were enjoined to marry within the tribe, but Tiv men married women from non-Tiv tribes when the opportunity presented itself. In short, Tiv expansion was in part fueled by drawing in women from their neighbors, while Tiv exclusiveness was maintained by endogamous marriage for their own women.

The generation of a form of endogamy assures exclusiveness at the level of the tribe, while equality is maintained through a fluid system of social inequality, which is normally inheritable for a maximum of three generations. By allotting to a rival patrilineal category the role of igba,[19] the extent of hierarchization within the ityo is severely circumscribed in the sense that the woman has a recourse to the igba that empowers her, and inequality is made a transient phenomenon while the major struggle is to maintain equality. The simplest way in which the system could be centralized would be through monopolization of rights in women, as happened in some systems akin to that of the Tiv. Indeed, we may suppose that at the borders of expansion against foreign tribes, the taking of female prisoners or purchase of foreign wives temporarily may have permitted such a process. Moreover, institution at the micro-level systematically turned over such advantages through a definition of quintessential Tiv-ness based on marriage by exchange, which was the sole means to acquire wives.

Despite the obvious variations in the Tiv traditional marriage systems (some of which have been considered in the previous chapter), they were held together by a very complex system of values all of which were internalized and accepted as part of the Tiv world view. Though it has not been possible to articulate all these values, the following were the most dominant and having the most impact on these Tiv Marriage systems.

3.2 Marriage Practices:

3.2.1 Ishior (courtship).

Courtship arrangements in Tiv society proceed cautiously, and often slowly. Great care must be taken that all goes according to the prescribed tradition. Among the Tiv, the marriage event does not take place at one moment of time. The period of courtship may not only be long; it must also be accompanied by careful procedures and negotiations. Moreover, that one has married and brought home one’s wife, does not mean that everything is over. Since marriage in Tiv society is alliance between two families, it is only sensible that the alliance is kept alive by mutual relationship and concerns.

Courtship in Tiv traditional society usually goes on for months. The would-be husband visits his wonov (in-laws) from time to time, taking gifts for his ngokem (mother-in-law), and terkem (father-in-law). These gestures are meant to cement the relationship and to help make the negotiations easy for the would-be husband.

Due to the sensitivity and importance of marriage arrangement in Tiv culture, a man does not just go out in search of a woman to marry. According to Shagbaor Wegh, “a man is often shown his future wife by a friend, or a member of his family, in most cases a sister.”[20] In Tivland, eighty percent of the men married their wives on the recommendation of friends, or members of their families.

As the ishioor (courtship) progresses, the two families also try to see that there are no impediments to the marriage. Wegh, insists that “[t]hey have to ascertain that the marriage will take place according to the Tiv exogamous principle.”[21] For if it is discovered later that the marriage took place within the forbidden degree of consanguinity, it would be declared invalid, and both parties would have to appease the community. Thus, owing to the communitarian aspect of marriage, and the desire to avoid endogamy, when a man, and a woman meet far away, from their homes, marriage may not take place until their two families get, to know one another, and normal procedure is followed.

During courtship, the father of the woman has the responsibility of making sure that his daughter does not only have the security of physical sustenance and happiness where she is to be married, but also protection against those who may have evil intention towards her. For this reason, every woman about to marry has her tien (paternal uncle) whose duty it is not only to act as a go-between, but also as a protector of the woman. She is also provided with a ishuur (literally: guarantor; he is the man on whom the woman leans, turns to for support and protection). The ishuur, according to Wegh, “actually acts as the father’s representatives.”[22] Based on the religious and social intricacies involved in the marriage affairs, the Tiv consider that a youth does not stand alone and make final decisions about marriage.

3.2.2 Bride price or Bride wealth.

In Tiv culture, like any other African culture, one of the most important aspects of marriage transaction is that of marriage payment, which is made by the bridegroom or his family to the family of the bride. In Tiv culture, “this payment does not imply chattel status for women as it has been misinterpreted by many groups. Among the Tiv this payment is best understood as bride wealth.”[23] Marriage payment in whatever form it takes in Tiv culture does not represents the woman as exchanged commodity. Bride wealth in Tiv culture is to show the woman dignity in her new home, the home of the bride. According to Wegh, one of the renowned Tiv scholar,

Bride wealth is the appropriate term employed to explain the Tiv understanding and situation about marriage payment. Since the Tiv themselves avoid regarding their marriage payment as a commercial transaction, bride wealth as a term does a lot in downplaying the commercial element in the marriage transaction.[24]

The Tiv are very careful to avoid using the kind of language that would suggest in a marriage payment setting that a woman is being bought. In Tiv culture, one does not buy a wife. One must kem one’s wife; literally, one should accumulate one’s wife through a gradual process of negotiation.  That is why in Tiv culture, bride wealth is not paid once and in entirety. It is an ongoing process; bride wealth is negotiated and set.  It is regarded as a point of equilibrium between the two families, who have formed an alliance.

The function of the bride wealth in legalizing marriage in Tiv traditional society is so important that no one considering marriage imagines he can do without it. It may be postponed, but never dispensed. It provides a kind of social security for the children born in that marriage union. Furthermore, it renders legitimacy to the children as belonging to the family that paid the bride wealth. In a long run, bride wealth helps in the stabilization of family alliance between the two families.

3.2.3 Ivaa Paven (divorce).

Ivaa paven, literally means ‘the dissecting of marriage.’ It designates the final process in which marriage is terminated. However, in Tiv practice and understanding of marriage, divorce is quite difficult. There is separation between husband and wife. This could happen for various reasons. Divorce in Tiv is never an easy and clear-cut affair. Marriage in Tiv society is not just a man and woman affair. It is not based on a purely personal matter. It is a communitarian affair. By marriage, two families are brought together in a bond of friendship. Commenting on this understanding, Wegh attests, “for the Tiv say that when you marry, your wife’s people become your own people and this saying applies to the woman as well.”[25] So thinking of divorce will amount to undoing the bond of friendship which the two families have nurtured for many years. It may also mean that children will also be left behind without a mother’s care which is crucial to their physical and emotional development. As stated earlier, Divorce is rare in Tiv culture, however, whenever there is divorce, the children are left under the custody of the father.

3.2.4 Family [Extended family].

While for Mbiti “death takes life while marriage creates life,”[26] another Tiv proverb says, “A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers.” This articulation puts marriage not only at the center of human life, but also creates the impression that being unmarried is both a taboo and disgrace, not only for the immediate family but also for the whole clan and community. In ensuring the survival of the marriage, Tiv marriage is characterized among other things by extended family interventions. Married life for Tivs is communal. It is geared towards building a large extended family system.  Marriage in Tiv culture certainly promotes family/ extended family system.  Elijah Magezi Baloyi, observes that, “one of the causes of the escalation of marital problems in an African context currently is neglect or ignorance of the tradition of extended family relationships.”[27] Among other things, traditional African marriage customs are characterized by the relatives of the husband and of the wife establishing close relationships. That is why Mbiti argues that “marriage in the traditional African view is an affair involving more than two people.”[28] An understanding of the origin of many customs (including marriage) of the Tiv as well as other African people is to understand what communalism is all about. The Tiv as well as other African people cannot live in isolation, hence the saying “I am because we are” has not only been popularized but has become a reality of everyday life.

The family map is an essential building block in Tiv culture. The most important aspect of family in the culture is the extended family system. According to Dayo Olupade, “this extended “family” phenomenon is particularly useful in the absence of a government safety net.”[29] She contends, “As we will see, horizontal networks in and across the Africa can save lives, build businesses, and light the darkness. The African family also includes its vast diaspora—an important asset for financial innovation, and influence.”[30] This position truly captures the Tiv understanding of family and extended family systems.

Family, loosely defined, in Tiv understanding carries built-in incentives and efficiencies. It is both a weapon and shield; and luckily, it is abundant and free.

Though Family is a term of art[31]—certainly not limited to blood relations—”the family map of Africa defines and supports life without a state safety net.”[32]  Olupade Dayo, contends, “it anchors diverse development solutions, from health care delivery to off-grid energy sales.”[33] She reiterates, “the first feature of Africa’s Family map is not charity, but solidarity. Family is grounded in positive affiliation—recognizing yourself in those around you. Such solidarity transforms identity into action.”[34] For example, in Tiv culture, one of the essentials of a customary marriage is the consent of the in-laws to hand over the girl for others to receive her. In Tiv custom, immediate parents are not allowed to hand their child over in marriage themselves, but someone from the family would hand over the girl which is a good sign that not only the parents agree with the marriage but that it also has the consent of the whole family. This brings about the solidarity element in Tiv culture. It indicates that Family intervention is an African tradition which had been in practice and is continuing to be practiced by some even today.

The birth and raising of children in the family: The Tiv traditions and customs of raising children in the family context can he summed up by Mbiti in Masango: “It takes a village to raise a child.”[35] Mbiti’s idiom matches the Tiv: “Wan ka u tyo”, literally meaning “a child does not belong only to his or her biological parents.” The implication of these sayings is that once a child is born, he or she must belong to a family, clan or community. Since in traditional society African people never left anything related to family to an individual, children were also believed to belong to the community.  Hence every elderly person in the community was responsible to ensure that children in that community were raised to respect community values.  Thus, in Tiv cultures, and because of extended family, there were no street children or homeless children in Tiv tradition.  Every child belonged to a family or community. Among other things, this meant that even children in a single parent’s family would enjoy the benefit of having other extended parents in the community. The love for one’s fellows and respect for identity are therefore the two main natural characteristics of extended family relationships.

This type of family map expands the definition of caregiving, which helps in solidarity.Along with solidarity and communal intelligence, a third aspect of the family map is reached. The microscopic connections that link Tivs together in towns and compounds also support extended kinship networks that span the entire globe. When there is no appropriate intervention from the extended family networks, some marriages experience separation cases because of barrenness.

The case of barrenness and a second marriage(s): It is noteworthy that initially the requirement of motherhood came from the family. It is a traditional family and community concern that if one is barren, there will be pressure from the family and the community. According to Tiv tradition, it should be the same people (members of the extended family) who were sent to pay kem (bride price) who should now be sent either to arrange for the second marriage or for the goods to be returned if the wife has not borne children, and the marriage contract is being dissolved. This must be understood from the African context where women are usually to blame for barrenness even when medical tests have not yet been done.

In this way, we also learn that even the decision about seperation or second marriage was supposed to be a collective one rather than being the decision of the husband and his wife or the couple. The influence of the elders in this regard would carry more weight than the couple’s decisions. Although this was logical in view of their influence when the marriage was arranged, this was another form of dictatorship which would not allow the couple to face their own challenge/ Rather, they would sometimes be told what to do against their will.[36]

Inheritance of property: Among the Tiv like most African tribes, decisions about inheritance of the deceased person’s belongings should never be an individual responsibility. The elders of the extended family, even the clan itself, are part of the decisions about who should inherit what in the family. It is a consensual agreement. Here certain widows lose what belongs to them if jealous family members do not support the widow for some reason. The belongings of the deceased are confiscated until everyone is present before the family albeit community decides on how an inheritance is shared among the beneficiaries. It is my belief that this practice also helps to avoid tension and fights among the remaining members of the family. However, it is important to note how traditional collective decisions are sometimes not only used for self-enrichment, but also to selfishly betray and subject other people to suffering. This attitude should be discouraged to promote social justice and equity.

3.2.5 Polygamous values.

Polygamy in Tiv culture is/was very meaning for various causes. According to Akiga, “the Tiv practice of having several wives may be due to a variety of causes, but there is one main reason, namely the desire to find a family.”[37] In Tiv culture, however successful in life a man may be, “if he has no heir to his house, to the Tiv he is a useless person and a standing butt for their scorn….so also a woman, if she does not bear children, falls in Tiv esteem, however excellent she may be in other ways.”[38] Children are very important in Tiv culture; because they are there to carry on the family line after the death of the father.

In Tiv society men may have many wives at the same time and all of them will live in one compound, although they would be in their separate houses. However, two wives do live together in one house. In the past, a house was a round hut, with one room or two rooms. Today, a house is a modern building with several rooms, and several wives can live together in one house having one husband.  In Tiv society also, there are some men who are monogamists for certain reasons while women are monogamists naturally. Thus, a young woman gets married to a polygamist or a polygamist without prejudice, and willingly too. According to Dzurgba, “she is happy to get married to a man who has already married even four wives.”[39]

In Tiv culture, polygamy as an institution of marriage was considered important as a source of manual labor for the production and distribution of goods and services. The wives engaged themselves in childbearing to increase the manual labor force of the polygamous family. Thus, the man’s wealth or economic prosperity and a high social status or social class is measured by the number of wives and children as well as the large farms which produce large quantities of foods and various types of vegetables.  He is then, “associated with money, property, power, nobility, honor, respect and reputation.”[40]  In Tiv language, “the man is simply referred to as shagbaor or zegeor (“the great man”). His first wife also occupies a high-class position and she is referred to as shagbakwase or zegekwase (“the great woman”).”[41] In this context, the institution of marriage in Tiv culture is socially, economically, and politically important, giving credence to polygamy as a credible system of marriage in Tiv culture.

3.2.6 Non-Materialism

Non-materialism is one of the most obvious beginning of the value chain running through most of the different traditional systems of marriage in Tivland. Exchange marriage in spirit and content de-emphasized materialism since the crucial thing in the marriage was the simple exchange of sisters by the two men connected to the exchange. Even after the introduction of marriage by capture and marriage by bride price (kwase ngohol and kem), no man could legitimately be said to have married unless, he also gave his sister to his in-law in exchange for his wife. Due to this very reason, no man could purely because having paid the bride price on a woman, ever hope to keep her (and her children) unless and until he had given his sister in exchange for the wife. This had the tendency of playing down the significance of kem (whether in cash or kind) and the value (in material terms) placed on the head of the woman by the father. Virtually anything could be accepted as kem including “ijov” (mushroom). Thus, husbands could hardly regard their wives as mere objects (or slaves) and each strived to give her the best of treatments in the fear of a parallel retaliation against his sister. This point cannot be overemphasized, if we note that some women under persistent scorn from their colleagues for the inability of their husbands to complete and seal their marriages through exchange had sufficient reasons to desert their husbands irrespective of whether material things could have gone into their marriage.

3.2.7 Chastity and Fidelity

Traditional Tiv society places a lot of importance on the virginity of the woman before marriage. Care was taken to ensure the virginity of girls. A girl who married without virginity attracted shame not only on herself but the parents. Pre-marital sexual life was strictly condemned and looked upon as an abomination. In the past, “the ‘ingbianjov’ (virginity guardian) ritual was often performed on daughters.”[42] This involved tying of beads of snail shell on the waist of all daughters. Therefore, in Tiv culture, an unmarried woman wore ikyoor (the shell of a snail) on her neck as a sign of her virginity and chastity. With this, “a young man would be afraid to have sex with her. Any man who had sex with girls who undertook the virginity guardian ritual would presumably become impotent or sterile.”[43] In Tiv tradition, Men values their potency and were always afraid to come near girls who had virginity rituals. It was then very unusual to find a girl who had sex before marriage. The husband was always the first to sleep with the girl and break her virginity. The snail shell could only be removed by her husband after consummation of marriage. According to Wegh, “if the husband found that he was the first to know his wife, he took a she-goat known as ivo akoor(goat-snail) to his ngo-kem (mother-in-law) in appreciation of the mother’s role in bringing up her daughter.”[44] With this strong sense of sexual morality, most people still have poor understanding of the Tiv cultural norms.

Many of the popular views regarding fornication and adultery in Tiv society are based on a poor understanding of the deep-rooted values of chastity and fidelity underlining the Tiv cultural moral norms. But from the above, it is quite clear that chastity was/is a cherished value here. There were also clear incest taboos that set the boundaries within which sexual relationships were allowed or sanctioned. Details of these boundaries have been clarified that every breach of incest was sanctioned ranging from the ritual of burning to stigmatization.

Similarly, even where incest boundaries were not of the essence, stiff sanctions existed against rape and fornication. Each girl at puberty underwent the “ikyoor” ritual to forestall rape and ensure chastity. In the event of rape (or fornication) the “aggressor” was required to propitiate the ikyoor akombo without which, he runs the risk on the one hand, of persistent ill luck while the woman (victim) on the other hand could have problems ranging from irregular menstrual circles to inability to conceive. Consequent upon these sanctions, prior to the actual exchange process, each woman was given the opportunity to confess whether she had been sexually violated to set the records straight and get the “culprit” to propitiate the ikyoorakombo and cleanse the woman before marriage.

The same exemplary level of faithfulness was expected of the woman in marriage. She was expected to abstain from both ijimba (loose manners) and idya (adultery). There existed stiff sanctions against infidelity and no man could violate the chastity of his neighbor’s wife and still expect the approval of the society, since such violation was capable of killing friendship and undermining filial love. Age grades had strict codes against members caught in compromising situations with the wives of other members. The culprits were heavily fined (and asked to “wua tia”) and stigmatized. As a way of reinforcing sanctions against adultery, it was believed that if an adulterous person was wounded in a hunt or war, his friend (or brother) whose wife, he had, had an adulterous relationship with, attempted to help, instead of surviving, he would surely die. Though, all these were effective deterrents, aggrieved individuals probably not satisfied with these sanctions, still went as far as poisoning or stabbing those going out with their wives.

3.2.8 Respect for Elders

Elders had a pride of place in all Tiv traditional marriage systems. They were saddled with the responsibility of distributing angor to their children and brothers. Young men literally depended on elders for wives and no person could separate himself from the authority (of elders) and obligations imposed on him by the society and hope to get away with it. Though the youths resented the pride of place of the elders, charging it was being misused, it proved to be an efficient social control value ensuring stability and intergroup harmony.

3.2.9 Fairness (Principle of Equalization)

The Tivs main purpose of marriage is procreation. In the old days, it was almost impossible for a childless marriage to continue.  This was most common with the exchange marriage. Commenting on this arrangement, Akiga said, “the most probable explanation of the Tiv exchange marriage is that it represents an unconscious attempt to reconcile the patrilineal and matrilineal principles of equalization.”[45] Akiga contends that , “this law of equalization is the logical corollary of the theory each of the exchanged woman bears children on behalf of the other.”[46] Fairness as a core value of Tiv pre-colonial marriage systems was reflected in the essence of exchange marriage itself.

The whole idea of marriage was to retain the reproductive force within the community and there was no better way of doing this efficiently than through the exchange of sisters. In the rare cases where one couple involved in the exchange had fewer children, it was mandatory for the couple with more children to give those with less, a daughter who was used to exchange a second wife for the man. This process of equalization also applied on the death of one of the women to a particular exchange arrangement and any man resisting it ran the risk of having his wife and children recovered by an aggrieved “tien” (exchange partner).

This principle was so rigorous that, if one of the exchange women bore more children and the other remained barren, the family into which the latter was married had the right to annul the contract and demand the return of their daughter together with her children! This problem was sometimes amicably resolved by giving another girl to the community, which had a childless wife.

Furthermore, if one of the women bore more children than the other, another solution was to be found. The community with fewer children asked their brother-in-law to give them one of the daughters to exchange for another wife. The request was willingly granted. The law of equalization was applied only when the number of children was excessively unequal. If one of the women bore six daughters and two sons, and the other bore three sons and two daughters, the law was enforced. More emphasis was laid on the number of daughters, because the community, which had more daughters, would certainly have more wives in the future, and increase at the expense of the other. The Tiv word for the practice is dugh, which literally means to deduct or subtract. An equalization daughter still belonged to her biological father. Her father retained the right to perform fertility akombo for her. At her husband’s home, she was called by her paternal clan.

3.2.9 The Igba Factor

The igba is the son of any female married outside the kindred. He is a non-agnate. In the words of R. M Downes, “he has a peculiar position due to the fact that he is the closest relative from outside the kindred, and is safe from the machinations of witches in these kindred, as a witch can only work amongst the family spirits.”[47] He is thus used in all rites and other actions where another might run a risk of pollution. The position of the igba in Tiv culture has a lot of advantages. Downes contends, “He may take, by day, what he wants from the house of his mother’s relatives and will not be interfered with.”[48] However, he will never interfere with any woman in his mother’s relative’s compound. The igba factor sets the parameters of good relationship between the two families.

As pointed out earlier, within the igba, the children of an exchange marriage were considered more important than others. They could aspire to positions of temporal and spiritual leadership and were the only legitimate heirs of their parents, with a voice in the assembly of their father’s kinsmen (ityo).[49] In time of stress and conflict, they stood as bridges between their father’s kinsmen and their mother’s kinsmen. They also acted as emissaries. These children could thus forestall crisis and begin to take those steps that bound communities and neighbors together because of marriage.

3.2.9.1 The Widow’s Factor

Protection for widows was a core value of the Tiv world view. After the death of their husbands, they had the latitude to decide who amongst the eligible children (brothers) of his deceased husband was to be her new husband. Once the person she preferred also consented, he becomes obligated to protect the widow (and her children) working towards their welfare all in furtherance of the interest of the deceased. Within the Tiv culture, “all the children, the widow delivered after the husband had died would still be considered the children of the late husband.”[50] The essence of this was to continue the family line of the deceased brother. However, a widow who did not wish to marry his late husband’s brother or son (from another wife) would be allowed to return to her parents and remarry whoever she desired.

As can be seen from the varied social factors above, marriage among the Tiv, bears a lot on social and religious values. It is defined within the totality of the Tiv worldview. Marriage union among the Tiv is much more than a union between a man and a woman. To prove this point, late paramount ruler Alfred Akawe Torkula (Tor Tiv IV) insists, “though in some societies, marriage is acknowledged to be in existence once there is both sexual and economic cooperation (union) between people of the opposite sex, and even same sex, amongst the Tiv, such union does not necessarily imply marriage.”[51]

To fully appreciate the Tiv concept of marriage, one must first understand the way they conceptualize the family. The Tiv word for the family is “tsombor.[52] According to Wegh, ““Tsombur” is also the word for the umbilical cord, which joins mother and child before birth.”[53] Conceptualizing the family as “tsombur” is “acknowledging its organic unity and the common blood implied in its composition.”[54] Consequently, “the Tiv family which is also the basic genealogical unit can comprise the couple and their children or the man, his several wives, their children including their wives after several generations.”[55]

The family is therefore, “theoretically speaking an “endless” line of relations and offspring tracing their descent to a common ancestor.”[56] Waya insists,

Marriage to the Tiv is therefore more than a sexual and economic union. It is also a strategy to perpetuate the family through having more and more children. This strategy also allows the development of complicated group alliances aimed at maintaining societal equilibrium and cohesion.[57]

Marriage today among the Tiv is caught between two worlds: tradition and modernity. However, despite the impact of western education and modernity, Tiv traditional marriage remains an indisputable value. Despite the obvious variations in the Tiv marriage systems (some of which have been considered) they were held together by a very complex system of values all of which were internalized and accepted as part of the Tiv world view.

However, considered, a closer look at the social and religious values behind Tiv traditional marriage system reveals that, marriage is not a one-off process like in some cultures especially the Western European culture. In the Tiv culture, it is a continuous process which brings out the fact that dialogue is very essential. A community of beings needs to be in constant dialogue so as to enhance continuity and better growth. Marriage goes beyond a bond or a contract between two physical beings. Among the Tivs, marriage is rather a union between two different families which assures a better bonding of the entire society. This puts everybody on alert on the need to carefully nurture and foster union. ‘United, we stand.’ This principle guard and protect the Tiv marriage institution and values.

Nevertheless, with in Tiv social and religious values, there are some issues that Tiv traditional marriage system needs to address through dialogue with the church and modern society.  For example, marriage in Tiv culture is about child bearing. Women should not be subjected or considered a machine for producing children. Marriage in Tiv culture should go beyond this understanding; but should embrace the value of complementarity and wellbeing of the spouses. Also, the gravity of punishment arising from the handling of issues or matters related to the value of chastity and fidelity should be revisited. The element of revenge or vengeance arising from, aggrieved individuals probably not satisfied with these sanctions, still went as far as poisoning or stabbing those going out with their wives should be discouraged or abolished. Forgiveness and reconciliation should be encouraged and promoted.

Lastly, the issues of polygamy in Tiv Catholic church also need to be reexamined. With the advent of Christianity, many Tiv sons and daughters have come to believe that monogamy was the ideal form of marriage, but they also realized that circumstances could make such an idea unrealizable. And polygamy itself may not always be a matter of one’s free choice. The socio-economic and cultural circumstances that create polygamy need to be examined with an open and sympathetic mind before one could begin to understand the phenomenon of polygamy in Tiv society.

Overall, it must be noted that the marriage institution like anything else, is not spared from the wave of social change affecting Tivland. In pre-colonial Nigeria, there were several forms of marriage as shown in chapter two. The most common one at that time was the exchange- marriage. This involved people exchanging their sisters for wives. Money or material things were not involved. Now, things have changed as bride price has been introduced in the wake of colonialism. The age at which girls now get married has also changed.


[1] Adrian Campion Edwards, “Seeing, Believing, Doing: The Tiv Understanding of power” In Anthropos, Bd. 78, H. ¾, 460 accessed 07-03-2017 www.jstor.org.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. 461

[4] Ibid. 461

[5] Ibid. 464

[6] Ralph, David Baker. “The Evangelization of the Tiv Tribe.” Reformed Journal 8, no. 10 (November 1958), 15-20.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The nongo grouping does not strictly defined by blood lineage. For instance, an association of various individuals coming together to form faming group, hunting or a dance with some natural endowed skills. He does /she does not necessary have to belong to the same blood lineage.

[10] Laura and Paul Bohannan, The Tiv of Central Nigeria. (London: Hazell, Watson &Viney, Ltd, 1953), 42.

[11] Ibid. 38.

[12] Richard Fardon, “Sisters, Wives, Wards and Daughters: A Transformational Analysis of the Political Organization

of the Tiv and Their Neighbours.” Part I: The Tiv””, In Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 54, No. 4 (1984), 2-21,88, accessed February13, 2016.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1160393.

[13] Michel Verdon, “Segmentation among the Tiv: A Reappraisal” In American Ethnologist, Vol. 10. No.2 (may, 1983), 291. assessed 07-03-2017, www.jstor.org.

[14] The endogamous nature of Tiv exchange marriage assured marriage within both the clan and the Tiv tribe.

[15] Benjamin Akiga, Akiga’s Story: The Tiv Tribe as Seen by One of its Members. Trans Rupert East (London: Oxford university press, 1965), 21.

[16] Ibid. 49.

[17] Ibid. 21.

[18] Bohannan, and Bohanan, The Tiv of Central Nigeria, 5.

[19] The patrilineal role of the igba in Tiv Marriage system is meant to empower the woman in situations of inequality and insecurity—like issues allotted plots of lands, sickness, and childlessness.

[20] Shagbaor F. Wegh, Between Continuity and change: Tiv Concept of Tradition and Modernity (Enugu-Nigeria: Snapp Press Ltd, 2003), 101.

[21] Ibid. 102

[22] Ibid, 103.

[23] Ibid. 107.

[24] Ibid. 107

[25] Ibid. 112.

[26] John.S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 105.

[27] Elijah Magezi Baloyi. “The Impact of the Extended Family on One’s Marriage: An African study.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 148, (March 2014): 18-32. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 14, 2016).

[28] John S. Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion 2nd edition (Sandton: JHB Heinemann, 1991), 108

[29] Olupade Dayo, The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules & Making Change in Modern Africa, (Boston: Mariner Books), 2014), 70

[30] Ibid.

[31] Family as a term art implies that a family is a system bringing all the component together of father, wife, and children in to a wider extended family system which eventually leads to hamlets, kindred, and clan.

[32] Olupade Dayo, The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules &making Change in Modern Africa, 70

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid, 70.

[35] M J S Masango, “African Spirituality that Shapes the Concept of Ubuntu”, In Verbum et Ecclesia 27, no 3 (2006), 930-943.

[36] Here this work argues that the family should only advise, not decide or dictate, because of the possibility that the husband will marry a second wife not for love, but for childbearing. Husbands crave for children especially male children whom they believe would continue the family lineage, and inherit their property.

[37] Akiga, Akiga’s Story: The Tiv Tribe As Seen By One of its Members. (London: Oxford university press, 1965),312.

[38] Ibid. 312

[39] Akpenpuun Dzurgba, On the Tiv of Central Nigeria: A Cultural perspective (Ibadan-Nigeria: John Archers Publishers Limited, 2007),108.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Dennis A. Ityavyar, The Changing Socio-Economic Role of Tiv Women, (Jos-Nigeria: Midland press Ltd, 1992),35.

[43] Ibid. 35

[44] Wegh, Between Continuity and Change: Tiv Concept of Tradition and modernity, 119.

[45] Akiga, Akiga’s Story: The Tiv Tribe As Seen By One of its Members. (London: Oxford university press, 1965),103.

[46] Ibid. 103

[47] R M Downes, The Tiv Tribe, (Kaduna-Nigeria: Government printer, 1933), 22.

[48] Ibid. 22

[49] Ityo in the first place refers to the patrilocal relations. In this sense Ityo means members of any extended family who have a common male ancestor. Ityo is also used in a wider context to imply kindred, clan, district and even all the Tiv people. We also use Ityo to differentiate patrilocal from matrilocal kins. Every Tiv has Ityo. When a Tiv says, ‘Ityo Yam’, he means that he is a son of Tiv. If a Tiv is speaking to a group of his fellow Tiv, he simply addresses them as his Ityo. He does not make any difference in this case even if his maternal relations are in the group.

[50] Dennis A. Ityavyar, The Changing Socio-Economic Role of Tiv Women, 38

[51] Alfred Akawe Torkula, “The concept of Tiv Marriage,” accessed 30/5/2018.www.Fatyoitiv.org.

[52] Wegh, Between Continuity and Change: Tiv Concept of Tradition and modernity, 125.

[53] Ibid.

[54] David Waya & Augusta Akanume, “Evaluation of the Tiv and Igbo marriage systems” in Journal of Culture, Society and Development, Vol.29, 1917 accessed 30/5/2018, www.iiste.org

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid

[57] Ibid.



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