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ETHNONYMS: Munchi, Munshi, Tivi


Identification . The Tiv (sing. Or-Tiv) are a group of about a million people who live on both sides of the Benue River, 220 kilometers from its confluence with the Niger, in Nigeria. "Tiv" is the name of the common ancestor from whom all are descended. In Hausa they are called "Munshi" or "Munchi."

Location. The heartland of Tivland stretches from about 6°30 to 8°00 N and from 8°00 E to 10°00 E, although Tiv settlements are also found north and east of that area. In the southeast, Tivland borders the foothills of the Cameroons, from whence the Tiv say they originally came. Some hills, especially in southern Tivland, are as high as 1,200 meters. The undulating plains of tall grasses (as much as 3 meters high), dotted with savanna trees, lose elevation until they reach the Benue, at about 100 to 120 meters. The Tiv, who are an expanding people, are well along in their occuptaion of the similar plain that extends northward from the river toward the Jos Plateau.

Demography. The earliest estimate of the Tiv population, in 1933, was 600,000. In 1950 the count was about 800,000. By 1990, the figure had climbed to more than a million. The density of population in Tivland in 1950 was about 166 per square kilometer, but that figure is misleading. In the southern area, where the Tiv reside adjacently with the small groups of peoples they know collectively as the Udam, the density rises to at least 1,430 per square kilometer.

Linguistic Affiliation. There is a single Tiv language intelligible to all, although regional dialects allow one to distinguish the area from which a person comes. The language is classified as the only example of its subdivision (on the same level as Bantu languages) of the Niger-Congo Language Family.

History and Cultural Relations

The Tiv say they emerged into their present location from the southeast. "Coming down," as they put it, they met the Fulani, with whom they still recognize a joking relationship. The earliest recorded European contact was in 1852, when Tiv were found on the banks of the Benue. In 1879 their occupation of the riverbanks was about the same as in 1950. British occupying forces entered Tivland from the east in 1906, when they were called in to protect a Hausa and Jukun enclave that Tiv had attacked. The Tiv said in 1950 that they had defeated this British force, then later invited the British in. The southern area was penetrated from the south; what southern Tiv call "the eruption" of the British there occurred in 1911.

Dutch Reformed missionaries from South Africa entered Tivland in 1911; they were joined, and then succeeded, by U.S. Protestants in the 1940s and 1950s. Catholic missions arrived in the 1920s.

The early administration, coming as it did from the east where Tiv had come under the influence (but not the hegemony) of Jukun and Hausa kingdoms, established "District Heads," who were influential men to whom the British gave authority in which other Tiv did not concur. That system was extended beyond the area of Jukun influence to other Tiv, causing disturbances. Beginning in 1934, the administration created Tiv expertsmen who learned the Tiv language and stayed for far longer periods of time than most colonial officers stayed with any given people. Their reports provided a firm basis for administrative reform.


The Tiv sayand archaeological sites confirmthat before the British "eruption" they lived in stockaded villages of perhaps 500 to 600 people. After the Pax Britannica became effective, they "went to the farm," establishing smaller compounds spread more or less evenly over the land. In 1950 these compounds contained from 12 to 120 people. Eightythree percent of the males in each compound were members of the patrilineage associated with the area; the other 17 percent were descendants of daughters of the lineage living temporarily with their maternal patrilineages.

Reception huts, each identified by the name of a mature male member of the compound, are arranged in a circle or an oval, their entrances facing in toward the center. Behind each reception hut is a sleeping hut for each of that man s wives. A recently married son may build his wife a sleeping hut behind his mother's hut before he has a reception hut of his own. Reception huts are circular, with conical thatched roofs supported on posts. They are open on the sides and as much as 9 meters in diameter. Sleeping huts have solid walls and are usually no more than 4.5 meters in diameter; each contains a cooking fireplace with a storage platform built above it. Granaries of several sorts are associated with sleeping huts.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tiv are subsistence farmers. Their main cropslike those of peoples to their southare yams, cassava, and sweet potatoes; they have in common with the peoples to their north grain crops, particularly sorghum, millet, and maize. Peanuts, peppers, several types of cucurbit, tomatoes, okra, and cotton are grown. Mango trees abound, although the fruit is eaten only by children; oranges were introduced by British agricultural officers. The Tiv gather greens, mushrooms, seeds, leaves, and plants to be used in sauces. They keep goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and guinea hens; sleeping sickness prevented the keeping of cattle or horses. Tiv men set great store by hunting, but in most areas all game has been hunted out.

Industrial Arts. Pottery is made by women; weaving of cotton cloth is done by young men; baskets are woven by men and boys. Chairs, both indigenous chairs and deck chairs, are made by mature men, as are beds, stools, mortars, and grinding stones. The Tiv share the general West African respect for blacksmiths; they made and hafted hoes, digging sticks, and spearheads as recently as the 1950s. All specialists is such crafts are farmers.

Trade. Although markets were indigenous, their importance and number increased vastly with the Pax Britannica. Markets meet every five days except in areas associated with mission compounds, where they are held on Fridays or Saturdays. Every area in Tivland maintains a calendar built on fiveday market cycles. Goods move from smaller markets to large central markets, from which they are exported, particular in the south.

Division of Labor. Tiv gender ideas are expressed primarily in terms of the division of labor, although the ideas penetrate every aspect of their culture. Men do the hard labor of clearing land and making mounds for planting yams; they also run the legal, political, and religious systems. Women do the rest of the farm work: weeding (which is often done by parties of women), harvesting, and carrying the crops to the granaries and storehouses in the compound. Women cook and are in charge of child rearing but traditionally had help from older children, either their own or those they "borrowed" from kin.

Land Tenure. Tiv land tenure, closely associated with residence, is an integral part of political and social organization (see "Sociopolitical Organization").


Kin Groups and Descent. All Tiv reckon patrilineal descent from their earliest ancestor. They see themselvesall one million of themas a single patrilineage. Tiv had two sons, the ancestors of the major division of the group. They divide themselves at every generation, thus forming an immense lineage system. The genealogies collected in the early 1950s were from fourteen to eighteen generations from Tiv, the original ancestor, to living elders. Obviously, to get that number of people in that number of generations, there has to be a "correction factor." The eight senior, hence largest, levels of lineage form the core of the political organization; they are probably resistant to change. The most recent four or five generations are relevant to exogamy and land tenure; their genealogy is generally known. Where the political and domestic systems overlap, there is likely to be a dispute about ancestral names.

The Tiv see their large-scale patrilineal genealogy as the basis of their land-tenure system. Every Tiv male has a right to a farm beside that of his full brother; their collective farms belong beside those of their half-brothers. The sons of their common father have farms beside the farms of their father's brothers' sons. So it continues, through the generations. All geographical locations that do not accord with the genealogy are given special explanations.

A lineage is called a nongo ("line"). The Tiv call their own patrilineal lineage, at all levels, their ityo. Their mother's patrilineal lineage is their igba. The more distant in the genealogy their ityo and their igba, the greater number of people each contains; this factor can be important in computing political influence.

Kinship Terminology. The major distinctions made by kinship terms are between lineals and collaterals. Ter means father, both grandfathers, and all male ascendants. 1f Tiv want to distinguish the generations, they say "great ter" for the older generation and "little ter" for the junior one. Ngo means mother, both grandmothers, and all female ascendants. Wan means child and all of one's descendants. The word is also used for all male members of one's agnatic lineage (ityo) younger than oneself and all female members of any age. "Child of my mother" (wanngo ) is anyone with whom I share a female ascendant. "Child of my father" (wanter ) is anyone with whom 1 share a male ascendant. People who share both a father and a mother at any level are called wangban as is anyone with whom a kinship relationship can be traced by two paths. There is one word for all affinesit means "outside." The words for husband and wife are the words for male and female; a co-wife is a wuhe.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The Tiv, at first European contact, used an involved form of exchange marriage. The ideal was that two men exchanged full sisters. The children were then double cousins. Seldom, however, could that be arranged. Therefore, one of the lineages (usually three or four generations deep) was called a "ward-sharing group." Each woman in the group was assigned to one of the men of the groupher "guardian"who then exchanged her for a wife. Nevertheless, the Tiv usually "followed their own hearts" in matters of marriage and eloped. That meant that the exchange system was a network of long-term debts between lineages. The debts sometimes took several generations to straighten out. The British administration outlawed exchange on the stated principle that they could never administer justice under so complex a system. They and the Dutch Reformed missionaries pressed for a form of bride-wealth marriage, which the Tiv saw in terms of their own system of kem marriage. "Kern" means "to accumulate." By 1950, bride-wealth was paid, a little at a time, more or less over the life of the marriage.

Tiv marriage is brittle. Divorce is inaugurated by women, never by men (although men may behave badly enough that they know their wives will leave them). Children of nursing age go with the mother, of course; a boy returns to his father's compound when he is about 8 years old, a girl in time to be married from her father s compound.

Domestic Unit. Every married woman has her own hut, at least after the birth of her first child. The husband's reception hut is surrounded by the huts of his wives. Each married woman has her own store of food; she cooks and takes food to her husband every day, and he shares it with all the children present. The children also eat with their mothers. Several such polygynous families, linked by the agnatic links of the husband/fathers, live in the same compound. Their compound is next to those of his agnatically close kinsmen (see "Kin Groups and Descent").

Inheritance. Land is not, properly speaking, inherited. It is a right of lineage membership. Ritual positions are not inherited. A man's personal property is taken over by his sons and grandsons, a woman's personal property by her daughters-in-law.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Tiv social organization is based on the lineage system (see "Kin Groups and Descent"). Market courts are secondary. Age-sets were important in some ritual situations.

Political Organization. Tiv political organization was traditionally based solely on the lineage principle. That principle was recognized by the colonial government, which nevertheless added a hierarchy of offices, one for each lineage level recognized by the government. Market organizations were often used for political purposes.

Social Control. Social control was achieved through the lineage system.

Conflict. Traditionally, there were struggles and wars between lineages (which were limited by the lineage system) and conflicts between the Tiv and their neighbors (in which case all Tiv were "against" all the neighbors). The usual means of settling conflict within the lineage was by a moot of elders who met, heard the cases, and made decisions. They did not haveand by and large did not needthe right to enforce their decisions.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Tiv recognize an otiose god called Aondo (Sky) who created the universe, but they do not postulate that he has any current interest in them. They acknowledge ancestral spirits and, sometimes, make offerings to thembut do not pray to them or regard them as either good or evil. Evil is to be found in the hearts of human beingsit is called tsav. Tsav, set in motion by evil men using forces that the Tiv call akombo, caused misfortune. Each akombo is a disease or symptom, as well as being a set of special symbols. The ritual task is, by sacrifice and medicines, to keep the akombo repaired.

Religious Practitioners. The Tiv utilize diviners. Most Tiv men also come to be masters of at least some akombo, a few of many akombo. A man who has mastered an akombo carries out rites when that akombo is implicated in a curing ceremony.

Ceremonies. Akombo ceremonies are performed in order that individual people (and, very occasionally, communities) can recover from illness already manifest or else may prosper in general.

Arts. The Tiv decorate almost everything. They produce some sculpture, little of it of the high quality that is known in much West African art.

Medicine. Herbal medicines are known to most Tiv elders. The masters of specific akombo specialize in the medicines associated with that akombo. Only after the akombo ceremony is carried out can the medicine be effective.

Death and Afterlife. The Tiv say that they do not know whether there is an afterlife and that a funeral ceremony is like calling down the path to a person who is departingone cannot be sure how much of the message the person heard.


Bohannan, Laura, and Paul Bohannan (1953). The Tiv of Central Nigeria. London: International African Institute.

Bohannan, Paul (1954). Tiv Land Tenure. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Bohannan, Paul (1957). Justice and Judgment among the Tiv. London: Oxford University Press for International African Institute.

Bohannan, Paul, and Laura Bohannan (1968). Tiv Economy. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press.

Keil, Charles (1979). Tiv Song. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.