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The Tiv People of Africa

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The Tiv People of Africa

People: Tiv
Location: Benue State, Cross River Region, SE Nigeria into Cameroon
Population: Disputed, but large, 1,000,000 to 2,000,000


 
Arts: Though the Tiv have produced a large variety of art objects, identifiable examples are rare on the market. This is the case with many Cross River peoples, where there are numerous belief systems which require art, but also a mix of styles and overlapping populations. The Tiv tend towards the production of rather crudely carved objects, most associated with "akombo," the fear of magical spirits and bad luck. Fetishes are produced to ward off these evil spirits, and it is said that every family will have them, in one form or another. Like the Vodun fetishes of the Fon of Benin, they are not required to adhere to any strict artistic tradition. They tend to be either stick-like, with crude human features, or squat and vague. They might even be crude heads attached to human or animal leg bones. They can be male or female, and are placed near doorways, often in pairs, for the protection of the household. There are also smaller fetishes kept inside the house. Though most figures in Nigeria and elsewhere are connected in some form to ancestor veneration, this is not thought to be the case with the Tiv. Almost all of their art is produced to protect  against evil spirits, disease, and to insure fertility. Most are personal, not used in a village-wide fashion. Some terracotta figures and heads which are known are much sought-after, and have faces with curious, but distinctively Nigerian expressions. There are also utilitarian objects like spoons, pulleys, some cast metal objects in the Igbo style, bizarre flutes thought to possess great power, and rings and axes. The flutes, which might me also made from a human leg bone, reportedly emit the sound of a screeching owl. Most of these smaller items are prestige pieces used for gifts and displays of power among the leaders, though some, like the flutes, have apotropaic uses as well.


 
History: The Tiv came originally from Cameroon, and settled in the Benue region in Nigeria in the 17th century, affected, as most peoples were, by the intrusive and violent Muslim Fulani horsemen. The area where they settled, the small port of Makurdi, was a busy place for commerce, and the farthest point of penetration for the slave trade. At the time when the Tiv were moving into in the area, the slave trade relocated, concentrating instead on the larger populations of the Igbo and Ibibio. At some point the Tiv formed a buffer zone, forcing the smaller Idoma to move south. Though there is this well-documented written history, the Tiv prefer to believe that they originated in a mystical place called "Swem Mountian," though this region has yet to be located. The written history subsequent to the early 18th century is a complicated tale of alliances and uprisings. This is the case for many of the peoples in the Benue/Cross River region, which still today is rife with petty conflicts and political intrigue.

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All text and images are copyright Africa Direct, Inc. 2006

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