It is difficult to find someone who hates his own thing. Be it his name, his clothes, culture and so on and so forth. Many times, we may be chanced to hear a man say something like, “The way I personally do my things, I would not have such and such a thing take place in my household.” What this really implies is that such a person is telling us that he is quite satisfied and values his thinking and character. This situation is not restricted to the life of an individual but applies generally to a small group of people as it also applies to an entire ethnic community. There is no ethnic community that would not like to advertise its thinking and way of life.
That is the way it should be. We should be proud of and promote the ways of our various ethnic communities. In this attitude lies our consistent effort to define ourselves; to let people know to what ethnic group we belong. Quite unfortunately, it is not all of us who are gathered here today that can boast of having a profound knowledge about the ways of our people as lived by our forefathers. And yet, it is all important for us to understand the legacy of the forefathers because in that single understanding lies our complete being — our identity as Tiv people, our culture and our tradition. Matters are worse with our own children. For them, it is not only the knowledge of the ways of our forefathers that they lack, but more worrying is the fact that they cannot speak the Tiv Language properly or even at all. Today our younger generation speaks the language in an unimaginable distorted fashion, mixing up nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. Many of us are familiar with the following few examples: “ka ana nan lu shin yoloo?” “M toloo?”“A kan er, a va kpa a zua awe ga.”
“Atoo u ikyeve la a yer.” “Ka wen a ii mbakujera la ye” (Here the grammar is not only wrong, but the word ‘kujera’ is not even Tiv but has been borrowed from Hausa). “Ishwa i m verheen ne i zahana?”“A bee?”
This is a sad and dangerous development indeed. This is why many well meaning and important Sons of Tiv and groups have continued to lament the Tiv language question. If we do not take deliberate action about this development, we shall not, in the very near future, be able to cope with the linguistic disaster that shall ensue. The seriousness of this matter will be better appreciated if we realise that an individual or ethnic group is known by the language he/it speaks. For example, the Udam people in Cross River State are ‘the people who speak Udam as an indigenous language, the Hausa people are the people who speak Hausa, the Yoruba people speak Yoruba and the Igbo ethnic people are identified by their Igbo language. The Tiv are similarly known by the Tiv language they speak. If, therefore, you are Tiv and you are not able to speak Tiv, by what other criterion will you identify yourself as a Tiv person? The language we speak thus gives us the human identity that we carry. The Tiv people themselves know that language is not a matter to play around with. This is why they have a proverb that says “Your language shall set you free” (Zwa ka ipaa iyolough). The implied meaning is that in a situation in which you are accused of a wrong doing and you do not have a language in which you can communicate and defend yourself, you may be convicted no matter how innocent you might be. Language is therefore, an important aspect of an individual’s existence which identifies his roots. This is why, even if you have never met an individual in your life before, his language will reveal his identity to you.
To go further to demonstrate why it is of indispensable importance that the Tiv know their language and tradition, let us hypothesize a situation in which one bright morning we all wake up to discover that nobody is capable of speaking the Tiv language. Like a huge joke, that would be the end of what, today, is the Tiv person and the Tiv nation. There may be people in Benue numbering more than the sands of the desert but there would be no Tiv man among them! People would be there speaking their various ethnic languages and nothing would compel them to speak Tiv. Nobody would be there to speak the Tiv language, and as such, nobody would be there to bear the human identity of Tiv.
It is obvious, therefore, that we must teach our children to speak the Tiv language and to speak it well so that the day those of us who know how to speak it go to the great beyond, Tiv will continue to exist. We must start at the early impressionistic years of these children. We are luckier today than in times of old. Our ancient parents had to rely on the capabilities of their memory, but of course, as we all know, there is a limit to how much our human memory can retain. It is therefore obvious that we have lost a lot with regards to Tiv philosophy and religion, medicine, education, music, and communal ethics. In one word, we have lost a lot of Tiv tradition and culture. Today things are much better. We do not only have the alphabet to help us document what is left of Tiv culture, but new Information Technology is providing even better and efficient ways of storing limitless amounts of knowledge more permanently.
It is in this light that Tsenzughul Kanan’s Orvanger Gbilin Zoho Ormbatsav acquires its first significance. In summary, Orvanger Gbilin Zoho Ormbatsav records the birth, growth and development of Ahemba Amar, the son of Gugu Gberihwa in the clan of Mbanyura. The story sounds so true that one is tempted to conclude that Mr. Kanan has based it on an event that took place which he is familiar with.
Gugu Gberihwa is a wise elder whose leadership everybody is pleased with and satisfied. He has to protect the whole community and ensures that goodness is a hallmark of his reign. Fair play is his watchword as families in the Mbanyura clan take turns in reaping the benefits of the imbyorvungu which they have communally created. The clan has symbolically named the imbyorvungu, head of Gberihwa, their ancient forebear. As is usual in communities and societies, there are those who are disgruntled. Such people as Kperaikyer and Aya Mke, never saw any good in the principle of families taking turns in reaping the benefits of the imbyorvungu. They introduce chaos and envy into the system. But more importantly, they do not recognise Ahemba Amar as the chosen one of Mbanyura. They, therefore, seek all manner of evil ways to end his life. However, since evil will never triumph over good, Ahemba survives these machinations, makes progress educationally, marries, and comes to be the saviour of the people over whom he eventually becomes king. It is this story that Tersoo Ayangadue and Terfa Zayol have translated as the Legacy of the Forefathers.
The documentation and translation of our way of life in this manner is not only for the purpose of preservation but it will also serve to educate other people about the true image of the Tiv. Too much has been written about the Tiv that is not true. The white anthropologist, W. A. Baikie, is one of those guilty of the criminal distortion of the Tiv image. Here, for example, is what he wrote of them in 1856:
[The Tiv are] a lawless set of cannibals … wild in look and ruder in dress, great tatoed and carrying constantly with them bows and arrows. These men seemed perfect impersonifications of savages … the mitsis as far as we could judge are wilder or less intelligent than any of the other African races with whom we have had intercourse. (Narrative of an Exploring Voyage up the Rivers Kwora and Binue. [London: John Murray, 1856; Print]).
What was the basis of evaluation of intelligence? Most probably, the inability to speak and communicate with the white man in his own language at that time. Did Bakie and his group try speaking Tiv language to these people? Most probably not. How could they imagine communicating to “savages” in the language of savages? Again the Tiv appeared “wild” to these white men because they did not wear them. Same clothes as they did and their way of behaviour was different from theirs. In essence therefore, they were found wild because they did not appreciate the so-called civilised ways of this stranger. Finally but very importantly, the Tiv carried their bows and arrows in defence both against invading human beings like Baikie and also against the death threats from wild animals. If this was wrong, then the first criminals in this regard are not the Tiv but inhabitants of the Wild West who carried guns wherever they went. We thus need to document in our Tiv language the literature, the way of life of the Tiv and why they lived and continue to live the way they do.
Professor Tyohdzua Akosu Lecturer, Benue State University, Makurdi.
To be continued on next edition