Can A Tiv Man Offer His Wife To Guests As Entertainment? Myth Or Fact

By Matthew Ma
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Matthew Ma

“But the question remains: how did the misguided notion that Tiv men offer their wives as kolanut to visitors come about? It seems this fallacy arose from the Tiv people's genuine warmth, generosity, and hospitality. However, it is essential to note that Tiv people would never give their wives to visitors. Their wives are their top priority, and the Tiv people are fierce warriors who will protect their territory at all costs. It is absurd to think that a man would willingly offer his wife to a visitor, let alone an entire tribe or society adopting such a practice.”

This piece of writing has proven to be a challenging task to write due to the sensitive nature of the topic, which may spark debates and raise further questions. After much contemplation spanning over ten years, I have finally decided to put it down to paper, fully aware of the potential controversies it may bring. Initially, I had considered staying silent on the issue. However, I now feel compelled to provide clarity on the matter in question despite the toxicity that surrounds it. The intention is not to contribute to the negativity but to express my viewpoint before the creator call me to be with him. The Tiv people of Benue State have a rich cultural heritage, renowned for their friendliness and hospitality towards strangers. However, this admirable trait is often misinterpreted as a weakness and taken advantage of. Unfortunately, there are several misconceptions about the Tiv people, such as the belief that they offer their wives to guests as entertainment. This false notion has been perpetuated by biased individuals and featured on popular reality TV shows, causing further harm to the reputation of the Tiv tribe. As someone who has heard these myths for years, I can attest to their absurdity and lack of truth. It is important to note that Benue State is home to several ethnic groups, including the Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Etulo, and others. The Tiv tribe is one of the largest, with over 11 local government areas. Unfortunately, when searching for information about the Tiv people, these misconceptions are often the first results that appear, perpetuating ignorance and fake news. Hence, it is crucial to understand and appreciate the Tiv people and their unique culture without falling prey to baseless rumors.

The Tiv community highly values three basic things: food, drink, and their love for their wives. Among their most beloved culinary delights are yams, with numerous stories circulating about Tiv men enjoying fried yam for breakfast, yam porridge for lunch, and pounded yam for dinner. This idea is because pounded yam, along with their native soup, such as pocho, is considered a staple in Tiv homes and is often served during traditional events. Additionally, the Tiv people have a taste for bushmeat, particularly bush rats. After a meal, instead of a simple 'thank you,' they express their appreciation by saying "u yoo dedoo," which translates to "you have cooked well." Farming is the primary occupation of the Tiv people, and their ability to cultivate large areas of land with basic tools is still a mystery to many. In the past, Tiv men would marry multiple wives to produce offspring who could assist them on the farms. This practice allowed them to cultivate up to 100 hectares of farmland with the help of their families.

The Tiv community places great importance on hospitality, as it aligns with their philosophy of solidarity: "Ya kwagh na agbian," which means to eat and share with your brother. Generosity is vital to strengthening this philosophy, and the Tiv people hold high regard for welcoming strangers, protecting visitors, feeding those who are hungry, and providing shelter to homeless people. It is important to note that the Tiv people take their wives very seriously and do not entertain the idea of consciously sharing them with others. Traditional Tiv marriages are considered sacred, and the groom and his family bring gifts (such as salt, palm oil, wine, hot drinks, and other requested items) to the bride's family for an official introduction. The bride's family provides a series of items for the groom's family to purchase. The presentation of gifts is a significant aspect of the traditional marriage ceremony. While not mandatory, the bride's family may expect the groom to provide money to the youth following the ceremony.

While this can be a fun game of cat and mouse between the youths and the groom, it can sometimes get heated, and more often than not, the groom ends up appeasing young people before he is allowed to take his bride away. If the groom is also Tiv, his family will await the bride's arrival in their hometown with Tiv's traditional music and dancers. This process is called the ‘Kwase kuhwan,’ which loosely translates to the celebration of the wife. After marriage, it is common to hear a Tiv man say, “U keren kwase me tambe u ken ken.” In other words, if you have a lustful relationship with his wife, he will bewitch you. In pre-colonial times, there were several cases of fornications and adulterers in Tiv society. Those affected were banished, cursed, bewitched, and even killed. So, if the Tiv people could be so brutal against themselves for being promiscuous, what would one expect when it concerns an outsider?

Just as other tribes have their misconceptions, the Tiv tribe has their misconception, which is the sharing of their wives with visitors in the name of hospitality. The Tiv people are very hospitable and accommodating, owing to their strong philosophy of solidarity with their visitors or friends. As generous and welcoming as ever, the foreigners were accommodated and given the best welcome as usual. But this act of kindness towards visitors has been misinterpreted because people seem to believe that the Tiv men can go to any length to make their visitors feel welcome. Some have it that most Tiv men who might not want to give off their wives do give off their daughters, mostly their eldest daughters. The question is, do Tiv people offer their wives as souvenirs to their visitors? Well, the short answer is NO. The idea that Tiv men offer their wives to their visitors to pass the night is a total myth and baseless. There has never been an iota of truth about that mythical idea. And it will never happen in the future. In fact, I thought we had laid this matter to rest long ago until I recently heard one of our Nigerian celebrities speak so confidently about it – in the affirmative – on television. I am just imagining what the sexual experience with a stranger in the name of hospitality would be for the woman if she were my mother. If this was true, I do not even want to imagine what my father would ask my mother the following morning. Did you enjoy the sex? Was he better than me? Did you finally attain orgasm? My father, I knew too well, would kill the visitor before he disappeared.

One puzzle to unravel in all living things is this question: Have you ever seen how male animals behave when other males try to come around their females? They guard their territories, chasing off intruders. Here, I am talking of cocks, male goats, dogs, and other animals whose brains function in a close position to that of human brains. If there is anything we will notice about the Tiv people is that they are warriors. The crucial function of a warrior is to guard his territory. The home is a man’s prime territory. His wife is the principal object of his protection, safeguarding that territory – especially with jealousy. I do not understand how or why we could fall for the ridiculous lie that a Tiv man, or any sane person, will foolishly offer his wife to service visitors. In fact, on what basis will a wife agree to give such services in the first place?

But the question remains: how did the misguided notion that Tiv men offer their wives as kolanut to visitors come about? It seems this fallacy arose from the Tiv people's genuine warmth, generosity, and hospitality. However, it is essential to note that Tiv people would never give their wives to visitors. Their wives are their top priority, and the Tiv people are fierce warriors who will protect their territory at all costs. It is absurd to think that a man would willingly offer his wife to a visitor, let alone an entire tribe or society adopting such a practice. We must exercise rational thinking when confronted with unfounded allegations, especially in this age of unlimited information. If these points do not dispel the baseless and senseless accusation that Tiv men offer their wives for entertainment, then it seems no amount of analysis will convince the anyone.

In Nigeria, we seem to have misplaced our priorities. It is alarming that we remain silent about the things that matter most. The recent allegations made by Big Brother Naija housemate Venita Akpofure are an example of this. In a video, Akpofure falsely accused Tiv men of offering their wives as entertainment. This allegation is not the first time we have heard such claims that someone has justified the accusations. As Tiv people, we have grown tired of these assertions and the harm they cause. There is a saying that even a goat will retaliate when constantly attacked, and now the Tiv people have been severely beaten. We must seek redress on this issue. The Tiv people's genuine hospitality, which may appear unfamiliar to other ethnic groups, has unfortunately made them a target of unfair criticism regarding their marital practices. Prejudice has fueled negative media coverage of the Tiv people's compassion to the extent that platforms like Big Brother Nigeria's All Stars edition would promote divisive sentiments like this. I would have appreciated it if the producers of Big Brother Naija had cautioned Ms. Akpofure for her insensitive comments about the Tiv people, but unfortunately, they have remained silent. The Tiv community, which comprises approximately 7 million people in a country with over 300 ethnic groups, deserves better representation. The Tiv people are kind, accomplished citizens with a passion for education. In the past, it was unlikely to find Tiv individuals in an organized crime. However, in modern-day Nigeria, there may be one or two exceptions. Despite their warm and hospitable nature, the Tiv people have become subject to ridicule. While our descendants may not have addressed this issue in the past, it is time for us to confront it. But I am amazed that not many social media advisers have expressed their outrage about this matter.

Throughout history, people have challenged each other's beliefs. However, with the advent of the internet and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, the impact on individual and collective well-being has become more significant. Nowadays, numerous individuals online are calling out others for their behavior or words. While social media is an effective tool to address toxic attitudes, there is room for improvement in how and when to approach issues like this. Today, it is not surprising that respected Tiv leaders such as Chief George Akume, Chief Iyorchia Ayu, Chief Barnabas Gemade, members of the House of Representatives and Senate, and the Very Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, governor of Benue state, have chosen to remain calm in the face of baseless stereotypes perpetuated against the Tiv people. It is disheartening how easily we can publicly insult ourselves without any remorse yet remain silent when people attack us from the outside. I urge the people of Benue to condemn such statements and demand public apologies from those who have made these allegations.

It is unwise and self-defeating for a brand that has been controversial in Nigeria to remain silent on important issues. The lack of action from BBN and Ms. Akpofure is apparent in the ongoing reality TV show, where contestants failed to answer basic current affairs questions. During a recent task, they asked housemates general knowledge questions, some of which they were unable to answer correctly. These questions revolved around topics such as Nigeria's flag, animal anatomy, and government bodies. Actor Kanayo O. Kanayo expressed his frustration with the situation on Instagram, calling out the organizers for wasting a significant chunk of money on contestants who lack basic education. He suggested that the funds could have been better spent on educational programs. We demand a public apology from Ms. Akpofure, MultiChoice, BBN, and their representatives to restore dignity, trust, and a sense of justice for the Tiv people. It is essential to realize that a thoughtful apology can mend an altercation, while a thoughtless one may cause further conflict.

The notion that Tiv men offer their wives to guests for the night is entirely false. There is no shred of truth to this myth. And there never will be. A decade ago, an individual sought to uncover the truth about this stereotype by interviewing Tiv people aged sixty and above, traditional leaders, and examining historical documents from colonial masters, missionaries, and Tiv pedigree. The emerging book, Unusual Hospitality, provides a more comprehensive analysis of Tiv culture, including their history, migration to the Benue Valley, and true identity. This valuable research puts to rest the controversy surrounding Tiv's hospitality, including the alleged wife-sharing practice. Therefore, for anyone seeking to understand the Tiv people and their traditions, this book is an essential resource to depend on.

I want to make it clear that I take immense pride in my Tiv heritage. For nearly five decades, I have immersed myself in the rich culture and traditions of my people, making me well-versed in our ways of life. That's why I cannot be misled by false or demeaning stories aimed at tarnishing the reputation of my identity. I am writing this to express my strong disagreement with Venita Akpofure's unverified claims about the Tiv nation. The idea of offering one's wife as a gift to a visitor has never been a part of Tiv-speaking culture in Benue State. While it may be a practice in other cultures, it is not one that we accept. I believe this is a false and malicious rumor meant to discredit and shame the Tiv people. As a Tiv man, I know that our love and respect for our wives are second to none. We would never consider such an act of disrespect or betrayal. In fact, it is taboo in Tiv land to even look at another man's wife, let alone sleep with her. We hold our wives in the highest regard and will fiercely protect them from harm.

In 2007, an NYSC Corper named Nick Terrence embarked on a journey from Lagos to resolve a long-standing controversy. Upon reaching the park, he encountered a gentleman named Kumbu, whom he traveled with to Gboko, Benue State, where he was assigned to serve. As they dined, Terrence inquired whether the Tiv culture genuinely required men to offer their wives as a welcoming gift to guests. Kumbu roared with laughter and shed tears, declaring that the Tiv people cherished their spouses too much to give them away to outsiders. Although they welcomed visitors with respect, they would never surrender their wives. The next day, Kumbu cited his wife's gesture of giving Terrence a wrapper to sleep in as evidence of their hospitality. In the past, Kumbu emphasized that women would give visitors their wrappers, and rumors would spread about the visitor having slept with the woman. Despite the gossip, Kumbu highlighted that the Tiv people remained welcoming to outsiders. During his one-year stay in Gboko to complete his NYSC, Mr. Terrence had the pleasure of experiencing the warm hospitality of the Tiv people. However, he was surprised to realize that none of them offered him their wife as a gift, even the most kind-hearted ones. From this, Terrence concluded that no Benue State tribe practices the tradition of donating wives to visitors as a token of appreciation. Perhaps Ms. Akpofure, who has personal experience with the matter, could enlighten us further. Maybe it is now appropriate for Ms. Akpofure's former husband to explain to the Tiv nation whether he offered his wife to visitors during their marriage to ensure transparency and clarity. Alternatively, we could visit a Tiv man in Benue and see for ourselves if the tradition exists. However, if we do not receive a wife as a gift after dark, it would be more appropriate to seek out a different form of visitor's reward instead of insisting on a practice that may not exist.

Therefore, as I draw this masterpiece to a close, I would like to appeal to the Tiv people within and outside of Nigeria to remain calm and respectful of the law in light of the recent altercation with Ms. Akpofure. While some may feel provoked by Ms. Akpofure's actions and wish to retaliate, and others may seek to incite chaos, we must not take matters into our own hands. Instead, we can learn from what happened to Deborah Samuel in Sokoto and remember that acts of retaliation can lead to further violence. We must prioritize unity, peace, and security of our State and call on all Benue indigenes to abide by the law and work together towards progress and development. For this reason, our focus should be on peace, religious harmony, ethnic harmony, and coexistence. We must address the issues affecting Benue State, including insecurity, poverty, education, and other critical areas, and transcend tribalism to create a connection between various tribes that fosters harmony, prosperity, and progress for all Nigerian citizens. Belittling any ethnic group in Nigeria, including the Tiv people, is unacceptable. Lastly, I urge Ms. Akpofure, BBN, and its producers to apologize to the Tiv community. Let us show each other respect and understanding and work together towards a better future.

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