The Role Of ‘Orya’ In Tiv Land

By Henry Kwaghkule

In the world view of Aondona Solomon of Mbakyor Nyiev Guma local government of Benue state and a senior security officer with South Atlantic Petroleum Towers Victoria Island, Lagos, an Orya is the head of a particular village or household. He is the one that controls the entire people within his entity. He has the responsibility to settle disputes among families. The Orya is selected based on seniority of members of the community. In the Tiv culture, an older person is perceived of as a repository of wisdom than a small child.

Ya in Tiv is compound. Each compound is named after its head (Orya) and is administered by a council made up of senior male members of the compound. The Orya chairs this council whose responsibilities include, the pursuit of the political, social, religious and economic well-being of the compound. The Orya as the head of the ya council has the responsibility of keeping the daily peace (of the compound) and settling such other disputes that arise between members of the compound. In doing this he is vested with the authority to punish and ensure compliance depending on the nature of the offence. In addition to these responsibilities, the Orya is also vested with the power to determine sites for new buildings, admit, entertain and expel visitors, distribute farmland and identify burial positions.

The Orya’s ability to discharge his responsibilities can build or split the compound. Every compound head, therefore, tries to be fair and firm in administering his compound.
The Ityo Council, on the other hand, is supreme in Tiv “worldview”. No person can go above his Ityo (or hembe Ityo ga). Ityo provides the political and social context within which a man is known and placed in society. It is his patrilineage. The Ityo council called Ijir (Judgement) has funeral, religious, economic and political responsibility which they discharge in accordance with tradition. Its membership representing the different “family” or sublineages that comprise the particular lineage. The council has sovereign responsibilities and its decisions are normally accepted as binding on all members of the community.


  1. The Orya gets the largest slice of any allocation of communal property. For example, in 2004, land accrued to the Mbakine community, Aliade Benue state as a result of the discovery that by genealogy some persons that were claiming and partaking in the communal properties were not really members of the community. The community exercised its right and took over their share of the community property. Alabi , the Orya, was given the biggest share of the land because he is the head of Ikpem community.
  2. When a lady is given out for marriage, according to traditional marriage institution in Tiv land, there is a money that is reserved for the Orya separately. He enjoys the money alone.
    It is a fact in Tiv traditional marriage.

  3. Anytime a member of the community kill a goat there are some private parts that are reserved for the Orya.He enjoys the mzoo vo, the iteman (liver)and the shima of the killed goat or sheep. This is done to create unity and to keep the pride of Ya na wan Agbian in Tiv land as a fulfilled memory of the Ancestors of Tiv people.

  4. Impunity and supremacy of the community. He enjoys it but this is base on the individual mind of leadership…

  5. The Orya keep Totems for his or her children’s prosperity. That is Ibyoo Vungu.He has the power to snatch totems from members of the community to keep it for his children prosperous life ahead.


  1.  Orya is a mostly known as a wizard. The moment you are given the responsibility of Orya, the community looks at you as evil mind person that can look at the outings and the comings of the community. In Tiv community, when someone dies it is believed that Orya is the killer, it is of recent that Christianity has overshadowed this fact, people have it that God is the giver of Life and the taker of life.
  2.  Orya is a destroyer since the community bestows powers to him, he can spiritually destroy someone destiny. They are the demi-gods of the community. A Tiv man will confirm this reality.
  3.  Orya is in a jealous position. Everyone in the community wishes to become a head of the community and this lead to premature death of some people.
  4.  Orya is a bitter position, it accompanies good and bad if one is not active.
  5.  He approves the death of someone in the community.
  6.  He attends burials and he bears all the accusations of who kills a member of the house.

However, the incursion of Christianity into Tiv land has changed the outlook of the Orya in recent times. Right now, their role has metamorphosed into the good. They no longer have the absolute powers unlike in the days of yore when they quickly approve the death of someone and practice the Tiv system of Ka or abende mo mbende nan: Ama a mba tur. When Akombo achivir was Paramount. The issue of imposing Traditional gods for the community to worship is a story that is no more active in Tiv land, which is nice.

Most importantly, the Oryas we have in Tiv land now are educated and their world view is wide. encourage people on western education

I end with a note that, Orya is a microcosm of his universe. He should rule well.


Henry Kwaghkule is a short story writer. He wrote this from Ikoyi, Lagos. He can be reached

3 Responses to The Role Of ‘Orya’ In Tiv Land

  1. AHEMEN says:

    Beautiful one, I’ve learned a lot from your article above. I AM TIV AND PROUD!

  2. Henry says:

    Thank for always doing justice.

    You are a wonderful editor.

    Keep it up Josephine

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