Caleb Adeabyo Folorunso
Emuobosa Orijemie

The Tiv are the largest ethnic group in Benue State of central Nigeria, the State that prides itself of being the “food basket” of the Nigerian nation. The Tiv are principally subsistence farmers whose staple crops are yams (Dioscorea spp.) bulrush millet (Pennisetum sp.) and Guinea corn (Sorghum sp.). The climate of the Tiv country is tropical, having a wet season from May to October and a dry season from November to April. The vegetation is principally Guinea savanna grassland consisting of tall grasses interspersed with trees of moderate height. The soils are generally characteristic of tropical ferruginous types derived from crystalline rocks with an appreciable quantity of ferromagnesium minerals. The area allows participation in both the grain-based economies to the north and the yam-based economies of the regions to the south. This ecological position permits year-round farming activity. Yams are harvested in July or August; guinea corn ripens in May or June.

The choice of farmland is determined by closeness to the compound. The compounds are part and parcel of the farms, surrounded by kitchen gardens where large proportion of the vegetables is grown. In general, it can be said that the Tiv live on their farms. Both men and women clear the land, but men do the hoeing of mounds and ridges, as well as preparing the land for planting, while women do the planting and weeding. Women harvest yams and other root and vegetable crops, but both sexes perform complementary tasks in the harvesting of grain crops. Both see themselves first and foremost as farmers, and any other craft they practise is carried out after they leave the farm.

The archaeology of the Tiv

Tiv oral traditions claim that they moved from the Cameroonian border area in the southeast into the Benue valley. There is no sure way of dating this tradition, however radiocarbon dates from early settlement sites associated with the Tiv suggest fourteenth or fifteenth centuries AD for the Tiv occupation in the Benue valley. Excavations conducted in two rock shelters at Tse Dura yielded three occupation phases. The earliest contained stone chopping tools and a small number of sherds of pottery. Then there was a break in occupation.  The second occupation phase contained iron slag, ‘neolithic’-type artefacts and pottery with radiocarbon dates suggesting it began about the third century BC and ended towards the end of the first millennium AD.  The latest phase was restricted to the topsoil and belongs to the historic period, as it contained clay smoking pipes and pottery. Ancient historic hilltop settlements – with circular-based houses and granaries resembling present-day Tiv compounds had been mapped and excavated in various parts of the Katsina-Ala valley. Radiocarbon dates suggest fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for the occupation. These preliminary data suggest good opportunities to study the development of the Tiv farming economy through concerted archaeological, historical, geographical and anthropological research.

Relevant publications:

Andah, B.W. 1983 TheBantu phenomenon: some unanswered questions of ethnolinguistics and ethnoarchaeology. West African Journal of Archaeology, 13, 1-21.

Folorunso, C.A. (1992) La poterie Tiv: Etude Ethnographique à Ushongo (Etat Bénué du Nigéria). West African Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 22: 165-177.

Folorunso, C.A. (1993) Ethnoarchaeology, its methods and practice: some Tiv examples. West African Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 23: 92-103.

Folorunso, C.A. (1993) Human Occupation of the Tse Dura Rockshelters. In  Proceedings of the IX Congress of the Pan African Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, Jos-Nigeria 1983, Eds. B.W. Andah, R.C. Soper & P. de Maret, pp. 174-6. Rex Charles Publications, Ibadan.

Folorunso, C.A. (1993) Le corridor Bénué-Tchad: perspective archéologiques. Developpements et contacts socio-culturels et politique. In Vallée du Niger, pp. 116-125. Editions de la réunion des musées nationaux, Paris.

Folorunso, C.A. (1993) Peuple et cultures de la vallée de la Bénoué. In Vallée du Nigerpp. 203-211. Editions de la réunion des musées nationaux, Paris.

Folorunso, C.A. & Ogundele S.O. (1993) Agriculture and settlement among the Tiv of Nigeria: some ethnoarchaeological observations. In The Archaeology of Africa’ Eds. T. Shaw, P. Sinclair, B.W. Andah & A.I. Okpoko, pp. 274-288. One World Archaeology, Routledge, London & New York.

Folorunso, C.A. (1998) The Compound of the Tiv of Benue State of Nigeria: the reality of Ethnoarchaeology. In Africa: The Challenge of Archaeology. Eds. B.W. Andah, M.A. Sowunmi, A.I. Okpoko & C.A. Folorunso, pp. 235-255. Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria) Plc.

Folorunso, C.A.  (2003) Exploring Gender in Tiv Material Culture: Ethno-archaeology in the Katsina-Ala Valley, Studies in the African Past 3:155-168.

Folorunso, C.A. (2005) Archaeology of Tiv Settlements in the Benue Valley and Implications for the History of Bantu Homeland. In Akinwunmi Ogundiran (ed.) Precolonial Nigeria: Essays in Honor of  Toyin Falola, pp. 173-186. Treton NY, African World Press.

Folorunso, C.A. (2006) The Trans-Atlantic slave trade and local traditions of slavery in West African Hinterlands: The Tivland example. In Jay B. Havisser & Kevin C. MacDonald (eds.) Confronting Social Issues in the Diaspora, pp 237-245. London & New York, University College London Press.

Folorunso, C.A. (2007) Gender and Archaeological Site formation: Ethnoarchaeological Studies in Parts of Nigeria, in Hamilton, S., Whitehouse, R.D. & Wright, K.I. (eds) Archaeology and Women: Ancient and Modern Issues, pp. 353-372. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA.

Folorunso, C.A. (2008) Interrogating the Nigerian Cultural Landscape, Inaugural Lectures Series, University of Ibadan Publishing House.


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