From Anarchy In Action

From Harold Barclay, People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy:

The Tiv are somewhat similar to the Konkomba, but more structured in their social order. Over a million live in central Nigeria on a rolling plain extending to the banks of the Benue river. Population density is well over a hundred people per square mile. Like the Konkomba, Tiv are also subsistence farmers engaged in grain and yam cultivation. They have few cattle due to the problem of tsetse flies. Their settlements are composed of rather dispersed compounds, each consisting of a ring of huts and connected to other compounds by paths. The segmentary patrilineal system is the fundamental principle of social organisation.

Every Tiv identifies himself with a tar, a term like 'country', which refers to a given place associated with a patrilineage. Most men reside in their own home tar, but most tars have individuals dwelling in them from others. "In time of war, Tiv say, a man must return to his tar in order to assist his ityo (patrilineage)" (Bohannan, L, 41).

The ityo is split into further segments. The ultimate unit is the compound of a family - usually an extended family. Within it the senior male, who is normally also an older man, is responsible for the members and their actions. One who is seen as a continual trouble-maker may be expelled from the compound by the elder. The elder devotes himself to the daily problems of keeping peace and settling quarrels. He must possess the necessary knowledge for peace keeping and, therefore, should know the jural customs, the genealogy and history of his kinsmen, the health and fertility magic, and be in "possession of the witchcraft substance, tsav. Legitimate power depends on possession of a mystical quality which ensures peace and fertility.

Bohannan lists four relationships in which there is "definite authority" among the Tiv. Three of these are kinship roles: the position of the senior member of the compound mentioned above, the father-son relationship and that of husband and wife. A fourth relationship involving the role of police and judges in the market-place is discussed below.

In addition, there are also men of prestige or influence among the Tiv. These are often elders, but they could be others as well. They possess wealth and demonstrate generosity and astuteness. They were once able to purchase slaves and build up gangs which were used to sell safe conduct to strangers and to rob others. Such individuals were difficult to control. Witchcraft and magic in the hands of the elders were the only effective means of restraining those who were not elders. However, men of prestige who were also elders controlled these supernatural powers too, thus nullifying such attempts to curb them. Therefore travellers seem to have been faced continually with a protection racket.

Elders within a lineage could be called together in assembly to deal with various problems such as occur in connection with witchcraft,[1] magic and curses. These include deaths, sickness, dreams, barrenness, and 'bad luck'. The meeting discusses the matter but has no means to enforce settlements. Good 'judges' are those who get the litigants to concur in a solution which accords with Tiv custom. An elder can only suggest settlement and must work to bring all parties to an agreeable resolution. He is a mediator, not a judge. Witchcraft accusation is very common among the Tiv and it is seen as a cause for innumerable different kinds of events. The elders are invariably reluctant to call a moot to discuss accusations against a man of prestige. In such cases, then, members of a victim's age set, and afterwards members of his own lineage, approach the elders and request an inquest.

For other problems there is no moot or inquest. Rather, the persons involved seek out an elder and ask him to mediate. If a thief has been caught, the victims may go directly to the thief's compound head and demand compensation. In cases of negligence the victim may go directly to the culprit.

The lineage group is not the only source of protection for the individual. Tiv are divided among age sets. Every young man is initiated into a given set and throughout his life he passes or graduates along with his set mates through several grades, each of which is associated with certain communal responsibilities. The age set acts as a peer group mutual aid association, cutting across lineage lines and consolidating individuals from different lineages, but of similar age. Thus a man asks his age set for protection against witches and witchcraft accusations. He may seek assistance for land clearing and other farm work or in financial matters. If one's lineage for any reason withdraws its supernatural protection, a man has his age set as protector. Age sets may assemble to inquire into the health of one of their members.

Among the Tiv the age set system is nowhere near as elaborately developed as among many other African peoples; in fact with the Tiv it is a rather amorphous form of organisation. It appears to be most important to the young adult males as a device for mutual aid and protection. Young men have reason to be wary of the supernatural power and especially the malevolent powers of witchcraft allegedly resting in the hands of the older men. Thus their solidarity at this stage becomes crucial. About age 40, as men pass into eldership roles, the age set function changes to one of protecting the vested interests of eldership against the jealous and resentful. After age 50 the set members constitute a sentimental association: they are no longer competitors.

Between lineage segments there is often feuding and between larger segments fighting can become fierce. But the Tiv also have treaty and pact-making mechanisms. Lineage segments desirous of being able to conduct peaceful trade make treaties with other segments aimed at safe conduct, where otherwise as strangers they would be captured or killed. These treaties "forbid shedding of blood of contracting . parties and any act which might lead to it (such as shaving)" (Bohannan, L, 62).

Market pacts secure order in the major local trading centre. This is a market associated with the tar which owns the land and controls the market-place. The lineage segment controls the market magic important to securing peace in the market-place, but it also provides market police and judges, all for keeping order. Thus we have within this anarchic polity a circumscribed and restricted area of governmental-style polity. However it should be emphasised that this police power is restricted to the market-place and time and is not generalised outside those boundaries. It suggests that Tiv found traditional techniques of social control inadequate for handling breaches of peace in the market-place and so introduced the police. The Konkomba, too, have markets, each of which is under the control of the clan on whose land the market is located. They, however, do not invoke police. Rather, the market elder has ritual control over a market shrine and he may invoke its supernatural power. Konkomba believe an unconfessed thief would be stung to death by bees which inhabit the trees around the shrine. On confessing his guilt, a thief provides the market elder with a guinea fowl which is sacrificed on the shrine.

The Tiv represent one of the largest and most densely populated of acephalous societies. As with the Konkomba, the segmentary system is of fundamental importance to the political order. This suggests that most of that order is conceived in kinship terms. Yet the Tiv depend upon a number of ancillary systems for maintaining peace. Age sets are important devices for protecting the interests of peer groups. There are treaties and pacts and a rudimentary governmental structure in connection with markets. Underlying the whole system is the power of religious sanctions, which is a power diffused especially in the older members of the community.

Tiv society is one of intergenerational strains: of elders enforcing their authority and younger men resenting it. But when the younger graduate to eldership they too are concerned about maintaining and extending their positions of dominance. As with any age grading system, the individual may find himself in an inferior position, but also has the satisfaction of knowing that eventually, with the passage of time, he too will ultimately graduate to the top of the pile.

  1. Witchcraft differs from sorcery. In the latter an individual deliberately carries out specific rituals aimed at injuring another party. In witchcraft it is only believed that a person, alleged to be a witch, performs malevolent ritual and non-ritual acts. Of course, such a person also, in fact, holds a position which is feared or resented by the believer in witchcraft.