Everything You need to Know About the Traditional Marriage Custom Among the Tiv People.

Tiv Traditional Marriage

Traditional Marriage Customs among the Tiv People.



It is good to remember the past. The writer of this article found out that most of those whom he interviewed were those who actually took part in the Tiv Marriage Customs themselves or they were about to follow the same procedure before it was abolished by the colonial master in 1927.
Tiv People really loved to tell the story of their youth and they engaged in giving details. By the time this type of marriage custom was practiced, the Tiv were not many they were administered under one district officer.
The Tiv Marriage Custom was initially the same everywhere, though there might have been some differences.

Definition of Terms.

There are three major words for marriage in Tiv. These are “Yam”, “Ngohol” and “Er”
“Yam” literally means “buy”. However, when used in connection with marriage it was purely exchange of daughters or sisters with another different family.

“Ngohol” means to “receive”. In connection with marriage among Tiv, it means to take or receive a girl or a wife of another person without taking legal procedures. (Details below)

The literally meaning of “Er” is to “make”. In other words when a person marries, it means he has “made” a wife.

Other words used in connection with the Marriage in Tiv which we shall meet in this article and which the writer wants his readers to be conversant with are as follows:

“Ngôkem” (mother in_law) “Ngô” means mother, whereas “kem” means to collect things bit by bit.
When someone reached the age of marriage, he began to get gifts for his mother in-law bit by bit. For example, he might bring to the mother in-law a piece of meat, or a small quantity of salt. These gifts were given at certain visits in other to convince the mother in-law.
Therefore, “Ngôkem” is the mother which is acquired or adopted by giving her things little by little.

“Terkem” (father in-law). “Ter” is father, and “kem” is the same as above. That means the father is adopted or acquired by continues gifts from someone who wants to marry his daughter.

“Wonov” (brothers/sisters in-law). These are not only those of the same family with one’s wife. The term is used extensively to cover in the first place the whole of the wife’s clan known as “Ityô” and in the second place all members of the extended family, wherever they may be.

“Ingyôr” (sister). This is a girl/woman which a man had to “musan” (exchange) or “yam” (buy) in order to get the girl/woman of the other family. It could be daughter of his father, brother or uncle; or it could be daughter of his sister.

“Tiev” (literally meaning lean to) or “lshuul” (same meaning). It is the man in lineage of the person who is to give the girl away, i.e. the guardian.
These terms “Tien” and “Ishuul” are not contradictory but rather they are complementary. On one hand, the “Tien” of “Ingyôr” might be called “Ishuul”, that is when the person is in the clan from which the girl is married; on the other hand when the guardian of the girl is referred to, he would be called “Tien” but never “Ishuul”.

Ali of Mbatiav clan has his “ingyôr” (sister) named Wuese. And Ali wanted to give his “ingyôr” to Kajoh of Mbagundu clan but Ali could not sit alone and give his “ingyôr” to Kajoh because he was far away and therefore if something happened to her (Wuese) he would not know.
But Ali knows Mkohol, who is from Mbagundu and whose mother was from Mbatiav in the same kindred with Ali. Therefore, Mkohol was Ali’s relation, Ali would now give Wuese, his “ingyôr” to Mkohol, his Relation, to give her to Kajoh whom Ali had not known but Mkohol who was the same clan (Mbagundu) with Kajoh knew him very well.
Mkohol is now “Ishuul” or “Tien” of Wuese who is Ali’s “ingyôr”.
The significance of this red tape was that any matters concerning Wuese such as illness, bad dreams, birth or lack of birth etc. Would be reported to Ali through Mkohol, who was Ali’s eyes at Mbagundu, without first reporting the incident through Ali, Wuese’s guardian.


Other terms like “Nom” (husband) and “Kwase” (Wife) are also connected with Tiv Marriage Customs



Importance of Marriage to Tiv People



The main purpose why Tiv People get married is to make sure that their offspring continued. Furthermore, a Tiv man wanted to see that his daughter remained present all the time at his compound. Because of this, he was more interested in the exchange of his daughter with a daughter of another family.
For this reason, if a girl he had as an exchange to his daughter did not bear children, or she bore only male children, and his daughter bore Female children where she married, he would go and get one female child so he or one of his sons would have a girl to “buy” a wife.

At this juncture the reader may think that Tiv People were more interested in Female children than male; but such an impression should be removed immediately. For any Tiv person who died without producing a son, no matter how many daughters he had, was looked upon as a man without children.
He was often known as a man who died “Atseen” (meaning, without someone to inherite his things).

Religious Significance of Marriage in Tiv

As stated earlier under the definition of “Ishuul”, Tiv People attached a great religious Significance to Marriage. To be sure that his daughter would not suffer under the yoke of witchcraft, a Tiv man would not just give out his daughter in a foreign land unless a great measure is taken. This measure included “Tien” who would be the eyes of the father/guardian where his daughter was married, (as discribed above).
Secondly, if you was only the young man who came requesting for a wife, he would not receive answers to his questions, as he was considered to be too young to protect his wife. He would then be advised to go and bring his elderly man, because his elderly man (his father or uncle) was the only person who was old enough to know and see both things of the “tetan” (day light) and things of “tugh” (night).
It would be to such a person that the girl would be given. In the actual sense, it would not be this old man who would be the “Nom” (husband) of the girl.
The young man would be the “bed husband”. The meaning of this is that even though it would be the young man that would have sexual intercourse with his wife, his wife would be under the charge of her husband’s father, uncle or elder brother.
As a result of this, any complaint regarding witchcraft, miscarriage, illness, death or other problems in that house would be directed to the elderly person.
Even if one was fifty years old but had a “senior” man who was older, one would be called a young man.
Tiv People believed that it was only the old men that could protect one against witches. In those days, a woman would never go and negotiate for a wife for her son, no matter how old she would be. For no woman could stand against witchcraft, (even though very old women were sometimes considered to be witches).

Because of the religious Significance attached to the marriage, great care was taken as to how the girl or the money received for the girl was handed. For if an unlawful person used the money, or took the girl or “Ingyôr” which he was not entitled to, the result would be disastrous. Either the man himself would fall sick and might even die, or the “ingyôr” would never produce children and would never be well. She would continue to “tsee iyol” (her body would be hot, which means she would always be sick). In such a situation, unless the matter would be put right immediately, people would continue dying in the whole family. If the reason was because somebody in the family refused to use the girl in exchange for a wife he would then return the girl through a proper channel. If money or a cow had been received in the place of “ingyôr”, it would be returned to the right person.

Another significant point worthy to mention here is in connection with the token given to the “ngôkem” (mother in-law) as a sign of gratitude to her that she had protected her daughter very well until the “Nom” (husband) had met her virginity. The price for this was a young she-goat and a new wrapper stained in the middle with blood.
This is termed “Sagh akôô” (loose snails). It is so named because during the girl’s youth, a small snail was tied around her neck as a sort of taboo, so that no unauthorized person would have sexual intercourse with her until she would be legally married. If a man had intercourse with a girl during the time she was not married, the man would be impotent for the rest of his life.
If the “Nom” (husband) of the girl failed to give this “akôô” (a she-goat and a new wrapper stained in the middle with blood) to the “Ngôkem” to girl would never be well. The cause of bareness would also be attributed to this fact. In this case, the “Nom” must put it right by giving a young she-goat to the mother in-law (Ngôkem).

If there was a case in which the girl had already got married, and her first “Nom” failed to give “akôô”, her second “nom” would put the matter right in order that his wife would be healthy and bear children.
Therefore, in order to avoid mischief falling on either the “Tien” (guardian) of the girl, or on the girl herself, great care would be taken to ensure that each of the taboos was rightly observed. For the cost of violating either of them would be tremendous indeed.


Mkohol Aondona Kenneth is a political science student of Benue State University Makurdi. He is from Konshisha LGA of Benue State,

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