Tiv people are an ethnolinguistic group or ethnic nation in West Africa. They constitute about 2.5% of Nigeria’s total population, and number over 6 million people throughout Nigeria and Cameroon.The Tiv are one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria (4th in pop?). But Tiv language is spoken by more than 6 million people in Nigeria, Cameroon and the diaspora.

Swange- the name given to the traditional dance of the Tiv-speaking people.The dance is characterized by rhythmic contortion in slow mode & vibrant display, typical of African dance forms.It is heavily percussion- based, aided by a traditional horn (al-gaita), which blows in an unbroken succession for as long as the drumming, singing and dancing is going on.

The Tiv people, who are some of Nigeria’s biggest Agricultural producers are mostly found in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba. Outside Nigeria, they are found in neighboring Cameroon. The estimated population of Tiv people in both Nigeria and Cameroon is 6 million people as stated above.


Tiv society, marriage is the discernible and most encompassing reality of life. It is something of sacred obligation and any adult that refuses to marry is seen by the society as either cursed or abnormal. Marriage being a social institution has societal values, most of which are the socio-economic and religio-political values.

Tiv people consider any gesture or favor done to parents-in-law as part of kem (dowry) and could always say that kem kwase ngu been shie mon ga (the dowry cannot be paid at once). Marriage in this context is therefore, a community affair which involves a long period of preparations. The bride is chosen by members of the family based on moral standard, hard work, and level of obedience, politeness and honesty of the man involved. Sometimes, the choice of a woman for marriage is done considering her background or family lineage of the woman in question. This is why a Tiv man would tell a person looking for a woman to marry, “go and marry from so and so family” or vice versa because “so and so family is good.” The Tiv person believes that if such a woman is not from a disciplined home or good family, she could be a problem to her husband and the society where she is married at large. Other people also express the fear that the offspring’s of such an undisciplined woman might introduce the gene of wickedness in their community or family. This makes the Tiv people to be inquisitive and selective in choosing a place and family to marry a woman since marriage is a serious commitment.

Even in the case of divorce where a woman is abandoned to stay on her own, she is still called by her former husband’s name. And if she eventually dies, her remains are buried in the compound of the former husband, especially when there are children born to the former husband. Before the coming of Christianity and western civilization, people cherished polygamous marriage. But with the tide of socio-cultural change brought about by cultural integration, most Tiv people now prefer monogamous marriage to a polygamous one. Even though the traditional Tiv people view polygamous marriage as more appropriate because of their belief that a man’s prestige is measured according to the number of wives, children and farms, which he has. Yet, due to Christianity and modernization contemporary Tiv people are made to see polygamy as an archaic way of life that is worthy of renunciation. These facts accounts for the problem involving different forms of marriage in contemporary Tiv society.


Tiv marriage forms can be seen through four basic phases. The earliest was 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 / tsuen / kôrun, marriage by capture. This was divided into two. There was, first, the forceful snatching of a wife from her husband that in Akiga’s words (1939: 38) was usually done by some “scoundrel[s]” who could fall on a travelling couple and take the wife and sometimes, even harass her husband. This form of marriage, by which the Tiv themselves lost many of their women during their migration, caused many “inter tar [that is 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, though inexhaustibly, thus: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 gobetweens, 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 Utyusha, 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 unnecessary of enumeration here. 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.



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