Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Tiv live in Nigeria on both sides of the Benue River, 220 kilometers from its confluence with the Niger. The Tiv language is a subgroup of the Niger-Congo language family. The Tiv are subsistence farmers growing yams, cassava, and sweet potatoes. All Tiv reckon patrilineal descent from their earliest ancestor and see themselves as a single patrilineage. Their large-scale patrilineal genealogy is also the basis of their land-tenure system in which every Tiv male has a right to a farm. Tiv maintain a calendar built on five-day market cycles in which goods move from smaller markets to large central markets, and then for export.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Western Africa



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in this eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

Twenty-five sources are included in the Tiv file, providing a relatively full description of Tiv culture in two different periods: the 1930s and 1950s. General descriptions of Tiv culture in the 1930s are given by Duggan (1932, no. 5), Abraham (1933, no. 3), and Downes (1933, no. 2). The major ethnographers writing on the Tiv in the 1950s are Laura and Paul Bohannan; eleven of their publications are included here. A general description of 1950s Tiv culture including field notes are found in L. Bohannan and P. Bohannan (1953, no. 19; 1958, no. 22). They also wrote books on Tiv social organization, economy and markets (P. Bohannan 1957, no. 18; P. Bohannan and L. Bohannan 1968, no. 32), the judicial system (P. Bohannan 1968, no. 31), and religion (P. Bohannan and L. Bohannan 1969, no. 30). In other articles, they examine Tiv genealogies (L. Bohannan 1952, no. 21), cognition (P. Bohannan 1953, no. 27), circumcision (P. Bohannan 1954, no. 23), and migration (P. Bohannan 1954, no. 20). Downes (1971, no. 35), and Campion (1983, no. 36; 1984, no. 37) also write on Tiv religion. Other subjects covered in the file are Tiv language (Judd 1916/1917, no. 6; Malherbe 1934, no. 11), anthropometry (Malcolm 1920, no. 16), textile dyeing (Murray 1949, no. 7), medicine (Price-Williams 1962, no. 29), song, dancing and the decorative arts (Keil 1979, no. 33), and poetry (Hagher 1981, no. 34). Akiga (1939, no. 25) is an unique document, being a translation of a life history of a Tiv. For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is from the article "Tiv," by Paul Bohannan, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 9. 1995. John Middleton and Amal Rassam, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis and indexing notes were written by Ian Skoggard, 1997.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

AKOMBO--magical power, rites, emblems--778, 782, 783, 789

BIAM--initiation ceremony of lineage elder--561, 613, 788

blowing out the curse--rite performed at the end of a moot--789

debt JIR, or court--426, 692

DECHI--yam mounds--244


IFAN--a curse--789

IKENGE--idiosyncratic melodic shape associated with a particular composer--533

IKPINDI--flesh-debt--category 782, 686, 754

IKURU--female controlled fetish--778

IMBORIVUNGU--ancestor relics--778, 613


INFER--a wrong, or crime--673, 674

INGOL--marriage ward--429, 583

INJA--custom, habit, use, explanation--183, 828


IWUHE--acts intended to disgrace someone--578

JIR--native law courts and cases--691, 692, 695; age-set, tribunal--561, 627

KASUWA--peripheral market--443

KEM--bride-price payment--583

market chiefs--443, 622

market court--443, 692

MBAAHILIV--shape-changers and diviners--791

MBATAREV--lineage heads and assistants who act as judges--554, 613, 693.

MBATSAV--lineage elders who control the rites and are believed to practice sorcery--561, 613, 754

moots--informal lineage-level judicial proceedings--627, 613

ORTAREGH--singular form of MBATAREV (see above); also district chief--634

POOR--reliquary--778, 415

releasing livestock--the practice of having one's livestock tended by distant kin--422, 231

SWANGE--a dance form--535

SWEM--sacred place and ancestral home of Tiv; a fetish used for oath-taking in trials--823, 778, 695


TAR--territory occupied by and named after a lineage segment--613, 621, 631

TINDI--a prohibition--671


TSAV--soul and soul substance found on heart, indicating talent for leadership and sorcery--826, 754, 774

YA--compound--592, 596

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

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