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Marriage: Types of Marriage Systems

Five types of marriage systems in Tivland include yamshe, kwase ngohol, kem kwase, kwase yamen and kwase dyako.

1. Yamshe:
Yamshe otherwise known as exchange marriage involved the “direct” exchange of sisters and was the earliest institutional system of marriage known to the Tiv. Under the system a father was required to distribute his female children amongst his male children (or brothers as the case may be) who would then use them to exchange for wives. Through this system, each male child had a sister called (ingyor) with which he could exchange with another person for a wife.

In circumstances where angor (plural of ingyor) were not enough to go round, the distribution formula was based on age with the oldest taking their turn before the younger ones. For example, if a father had three sons and one daughter, the lone daughter was given to the first son to exchange for a wife and it was mandatory for the two brothers to wait their turn until their elder brother had daughters from his marriage to give them (for exchange) or suitable females identified in the extended family and given to them for exchange. Because, these two were getting their “sisters” for exchange from their “brothers” instead of their father, they were incurring a debt which they were obliged to pay at a later date by returning one of their female children to the brother who gave his daughter (or sister) for his exchange.

The whole process was designed to guide against “loss” in the family. By exchanging fertile sisters (with a capacity to work on the farm), continuity of the family was assured and the productivity of the entire compound preserved. Though the woman had “little” say in the exchange process, the status of the exchange wife was very high. She had complete control over food supply in the house and her control over domestic matters was virtually total. Her position was also enhanced as the true “replacement” of her husband’s sister (ingyor) who would raise children and carry on the direct line of her husband’s sister. Because the young depended on their parents (elders) to give them angor with which to exchange for wives, the elders had an efficient social control value with which to hold the society. Exchange marriage also provided an excellent guard against the disintegration of the society since no one could opt out of the group and still have a chance to marry from within. As pointed out by Makar (1975), exchange marriage (and other related forms of marriage) were social ingredients functioning to hold society through group alliances linked by corresponding obligations which each party to the exchange was bound to respect. Children of the exchange marriage were not only a special link between their father’s kinsmen and their mother’s kinsmen in time of stress but also highly respected emissaries of peace.

The actual process of marriage by exchange started when a person identified a woman outside his lineage he wanted to marry. He then introduced himself to the father of the woman or her brother (tien) who normally requested him to come a second time if he was really serious. On his second coming, the initiator of the process would then invite the person whose daughter (or sister) he had seen and admired to come over to his place, to also have an opportunity to meet his daughter or (ingyor). After the second man to the exchanged might have seen and consented to the arrangement in principle, each party to the exchange was required to identify a witness, normally one whose mother came from the same lineage with the partner (anigba). This witness thus became the main broker to the exchange or “Or sughur Ishe”. As a broker, he was required to lead his mother’s kinsmen to the father or (tien) of the woman to be exchanged. By this time, the man was allowed to sleep together in the same hut (yough) with his intended wife. If in the course of the night the man was able to sleep with the woman, he wrote her off as a flirt and had reason to reconsider the whole proposal. If on the other hand, the woman refused his entreaties for love making, the man was elated in finding a good wife and proceeded on the final lap of the exchange.

On the final lap, he was required to take his ingyor to the other partner to the exchange through the broker. He was normally accompanied by the woman’s mother (Ngo kem) at least a kinsman and a composer whose main task was to announce the object of their coming through songs. On arrival (normally timed for the night) the host tien was required to give a token present to the wife brought for him before she could sit down. This token gift was called “tile shisha” literally meaning ‘stand up’. Similarly, the girl was required not to eat until her “mouth was opened” by another gift from the host tien called “ivende ruam” – literally meaning refusal to eat food. While all these gifts were collected by the wife (to be) they were actually intended for the mother in-law (ngo kem).

On the following morning, the host invited his kinsmen particularly those in the primary endogamic circle (iye igo, ikoko genga or iye ingyor) to witness the actual exchange at which both women were required to publicly consent to the exchange and asked to embrace their husbands. After the embrace, the host was required to kill a chicken (mtanshe) and prepare food for his visitors, who after eating could decide to take their wife and leave. Some people however returned and requested their host to also bring his sister (ingyor) and give them in their own place.

To ensure that the chain of life and fertility remained intact (see Rubingh 1968) through the generations, each husband after the exchange, was required to erect a fertility akombo by the door (on the left as you entered the hut) of his exchanged wife’s hut. These fertility akombo as identified by Akiga (1963) are Ihambe and Twer. The erection was on the left because this is the side the couple sleep, and the idea is to ensure peaceful sleep by the couple and forestall the couple having bad dreams.

Ihambe is a “two leg” akombo. The first leg (ihambe i chigh ki ityough) is erected using two wooden posts. One of these has a pointed end while the other has a blunt end. The post with the pointed end is called Ihambe while the one with a blunt end is called mtam. These posts are erected within a circle of Borasas eathiopus (akuv) together with three vegetable plants – ichigh, ikarika and ator. The ‘second leg’ of the ihambe (ihambe i onmbango) is erected in a similar way to (ihambe i chigh ki ityough), the only difference is in the propitiation, for while the first leg is propitiated using a male animal, the second leg is propitiated using a female animal. The akombo twer on the other hand are erected using stones placed in a circle (called twer) within which is a wooden figure of a human being (called mtam twer) carved out of the gbaaye tree (proposis oblonga). The ikarika shrub is also a component of the twer normally planted in the circle of stones. Another component of the twer is a drum (also built from the gbaaye tree) covered with the skin of a he-goat (kper ivo). During the propitiation of the twer, the drum (gbande twer or gbande mtam) is hung on the mtam twer after which it is taken inside for upkeep. Because twer is a fertility kombo, it is normally propitiated in order to correct sterility in the couple.

The importance of exchange marriage was underscored by the special position of male children. Only these could aspire to both temporal and spiritual leadership in the community. They were the only initiates of akombo a ibiam and were also the only people who could aspire to erect a “poor biam”. Given this importance, every exchange aimed at a balance. If in a particular exchange, one party was blessed with more children, the husband whose wife had less children went and got one of his sister’s daughters and used her to exchange for a second wife.

2. Kwase Ngohol:
Kwase ngohol Sha-utaha generally arose out of a complication of exchange marriage. Because a man had to wait even into old age to get a sister (ingyor) with which to exchange for a wife, late marriages were the norm and anxious children who did not want to wait their turn started raiding their neighbours or ambushing lone travellers to forcefully seize their women and or daughters. The Tiv learnt this type of marriage from Udam who regularly raided and ambushed them for women (Akiga 1933). Because the Udam did spare deformed and wounded women during their regular raids, the Tiv were able to devise a strategy in which each person with a wife (or daughter) pounded the bark of Bridelia ferruinea (kpine) into a paste and applied on the legs, holding it together by a net. Because this contraption produced an effect on the legs akin to a wound, the raiders were convinced that Tiv women were generally dirty and deformed thus paving way for their husbands to have safe passage through territories which they could have otherwise lost some of their wives or daughters.

On settlement and consolidation in the middle Benue valley, people (as earlier indicated) who could not wait their turn of angor – or had no money with which to marry begun to seize wives forcefully from others. A traveller from another segment passing through another with his wife or daughter stood the risk of loosing his wife (or daughter). Sometimes when this happened (within the group) and the victim reported promptly to his ityo elders, an emissary (normally anigba) was sent to the elders of the aggressor with the ayande plant (a symbol of peace) with a request for the return of the “captured” woman. Sometimes this request was honoured, sometimes it was not thus leading to a full blown war. Though, this process did provide wives, it gradually heated the landscape and increased hostilities and tensions. Because of the implications of these hostilities to the corporate existence of the group, elders desirous that their anxious children (who could not wait their turn of angyor or for use in the exchange process) should marry without frictions within and between communities improved on the concept of forceful seizure with the introduction of iye. The improvement involve an initial peace and covenant pact (ikur) of elders of the two communities who desired that their children should marry each other. Such pacts were sometimes sealed by human sacrifice as in the ikur (pact) between Shitire (Kpav) and Kparev (Mbagen) where Avaan was sacrificed to seal the pact (see Akiga 1933). At other times it was sealed with the death of a dog or just the mingling of blood. In the case of a blood pact, volunteers from each side were slashed on the hand to collect their blood on a grinding stone which was mixed with locust beans, (nune) salt and palm oil and eaten by elders to the pact. In all, blood covenants (pacts) parties to the pact could not fight each other nor could they inflict injury on each other. If one party inflicted unintentional injury on the other as in the process of shaving, it was mandatory for the injured party to symbolically retaliate. After the ikur was thus sealed, young men of the two communities to the pact went into each other’s territory (in groups) in search of wives. Each visit was designed to identify and woo a wife for a member of the group and as long as the covenant subsisted, the group continued to return until every member had a wife. In most cases, (see Wegh 1989), iye ended up as exchange with the tien (in-law) coming to claim the sister (or daughter) of the one who married his ingyor as his wife. This was however done only after his ingyor had given birth to a child.

3. Kem Kwase:
The kem marriage system is said to have been copied by theTiv from the Chamba people (Ugenyi). Though, it varied from one section of the Tiv to the other, fundamentally, it involved installmental payments in cash (and or kind) to the parents of the girl or her tien. Because the payments were installmental and the process could drag over a very long period of time, they were called kem while the father (tien) benefiting from them terkem and the mother (ngokem).

Traditionally, kem kicked off with the presentation of a necklace (isha) to the woman by his intended husband. Because of the extended nature of kem it was possible to even identify a twelve-year old girl and kick start the process by sending her a necklace. After this initial deposit, the man continued to send other gifts to the girl and her parents according to his ability. A farmer could send part of his farm produce, a hunter part of his game, a blacksmith part of his craft and a fisherman, fish. Initially there was no minimum expectation such that after a series of installmental payments in kind one could seal the marriage contract with something as simple as harvesting mushroom(ijor) for the mother in-law.

Increased monetization of the economy however led to the gradual insistence on cash in addition to payments made over time in kind. At this stage, parents started making specific monetary demands on in-laws as a condition for the marriage. Even after these monetary demands were met, the man was still expected to make a final gift of a bed and a goat to his in-laws. This is moreso with the Ukum and Ushitire (see Akiga 1933). Amongst the Kparev, and Masev an Iherev, the situation was slightly different. Amongst the Kparev for example, after a man must have warmed himself to his in-laws through a series of installmental payments in kind, he was allowed full access to the woman. While others chose to elope with woman after having been allowed full access, others ended up putting them in the family way thus compelling the woman to have her first child in her father’s place. In the case of elopement, the man was required to meet the material expectations of the parents of his wife failing which his wife was taken back from him.

The Masev-Iharev-Nongov on the other hand had a more elaborate arrangement called ikyar nyoron. Under this arrangement, each woman was required to attach herself to a man within the endogamic circle in a quasi marriage arrangement in which sexual activity was allowed – until she finally got married outside her endogamic circle. Her partner prior to full marriage was called her ikyar and took full responsibility for her upkeep and “training” prior to full marriage. On conception in her new home (after full marriage) she returned with her husband to her parents place in order to be cleansed of all those akombo she must have breached while in her father’s house and with her ikyar. The object of the cleansing ritual was to pave way for her safe delivery. The ritual called iee involved a ceremony at which both her ikyar and the “current” husband competed after which a he-goat was killed on the ilyum alter. This altar is normally erected at the border between two groups for good governance (tar soron) and is represented by a stone stalea. The ilyum was normally consulted and propitiated in time of stress, poor harvest and when there was a general desire for more children. It was only after this cleansing that the woman finally went to settle in her “true” husband’s place.

The point ought to be made that just like kwase ngohol, kem (irrespective of the variations) ended up involving the exchange of sisters. This was so because, no matter how much gifts and money were expended on the kem process and (kwase ngohol) if one was yet to give out his sister in exchange for his wife, his marriage was still not given full recognition. Even when such marriages produced children, they were merely regarded as isheiko — children outside exchange marriage and could be recovered together with their mother by or ngyorough (tien) anytime if he so desired.

To ensure full recognition of the marriage and the legitimacy of the children (and forestall their recovery by an irate tien) it was mandatory for a man who had married either by kwase ngohol or kem to complete at a later date, the process by giving his sister in return for keeping his wife. The concept of isheiko was so important that even if there was a complete exchange and one of the woman to the exchange suddenly died – without an issue, her tien (brother) if he so wished could reach out to the other party to the exchange for one of her sister’s daughters as a “replacement” with which to exchange for another wife to take the place of his deceased wife.

Another important strand running through both kwase ngohol and kem was the process of courtship (kwase soor). This process as indicated earlier, was guided by an anigba who was also the broker to the marriage. In addition to this broker, the man also scouted for a friend who gave him confidential information on his intended wife. This friend was called Orafotso (plural is Mbaafotsov).

Most courtships according to Akiga (1933) started at the communal pond (ijor) where the man waited (in the morning) for his intended wife to come for water. On identifying her, he requested for water to wash his face, once the girl accepted, it was signal enough for the courtship to commence in earnest. From that point onwards, the man (and the friends who accompanied him) were obliged to follow the girl anywhere she went extolling her virtues and giving her reasons why he was the preferred marriage partner. This process dragged on for days on end and because it was expected that the woman and the man (including those who accompanied him) would not eat in front of each other through out the initial days of the courtship, the woman had her first opportunity of eating everyday in the night after the man might have retired to rest (and also eat) at the broker’s place. The idea was to pile sufficient pressure on the girl (and her family) into accepting the hand of the man in marriage. The woman’s acceptance (though confidential) came by way of ibumun — a token gift of the woman to the man which was anything ranging from a bangle to a necklace. The gift signified that the woman was ready to even elope with the man.

Typical elopement in Tiv culture takes place either in the afternoon or the early hours of the evening. On elopement, the new wife is normally taken to the husband’s brother’s house or his age grade (or kwagh) who has the responsibility for the ceremonial reception (kwase kuhan) welcoming the woman to her new home. The host is required to kill a fowl (ikyegh avure) and the only people permitted by tradition to eat it are the new husband and other married couples. During the course of the reception the blood of other animals (particularly goats) killed for the entertainment of the new couple and guests are sprinkled on the two sides of the entrance (igburhunda) leading to the hut housing the new couple. In the

meantime, the new husband (or kwase he) was required to distribute gifts (ichegh) to his friends and age grades. At the end of the reception, the host was required to accompany the new couple to their house where depending on whether the man’s father was a man of means, another elaborate reception ceremony called genga – (amar a kwase) was organized for the couple.

4. Kwase u sha Uika:
This was a system of marriage through which the individual could purchase or buy women already sold into slavery as house wives. It was not a very popular mode of marriage, since only a few wealthy people could afford the cost. It was also a marriage relationship strictly between the Tiv and other neighbouring groups.

5. Kwase Dyako:
This system of marriage allowed a brother to inherit the widow of his dead brother. A son could also inherit the widow of his father (other than his mother). Such women were also called either kwase ikoson or kwase ichoghol. In all cases where the widow had children for the deceased, all additional children arising from the new arrangement remained the children of the deceased since the widow’s relationship with the new “husband” was not recognised technically as marriage. The idea was to forestall the disintegration of the family, ensure continued protection of the widow and support for her to still champion the line of her deceased husband. To ensure maximum protection of the widow in the new relationship, she and her new “husband” were taken through the “megh” ritual. Essentially the ritual “u aver megh” was a process in which the widow and her husband joined their legs under which a fowl was passed to ensure the ability of the widow to still bear children.