The Tiv Concept of a Good Man: An Essay in African Ethicst


Obviously, the concept Goodman calls to mind the knowledge of ethics. It tries to draw the attention of every one to the ethical theories, in relation to value placement. These theories such as Hedonism, utilitarianism Epicureanism, eudemonism to mention a few, evolve around the consideration of what is good to be done and acceptable and what is evil or bad to be avoided and rejected. Thus, in Tiv conception, what is bad is regarded as “kwagh u bo”. He who does what is good is said to be “or u dedoo” (Goodman) or “or u eren kwagh u dedoo”.

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The knowledge of what is good “dedoo” or “doo” is concluded with the generic experience of the people. The yardstick is thus what is generally accepted as “doo”. The knowledge of what is bad-“ubo” is also guaranteed within the prerequisite of generic experience of the people. To this effect Anshi observed that, “that which is generally rejected as “u bo” (bad) stands as abominable within the Tiv society (52). It is on the above notion that this paper tends to discuss the Tiv concept of Goodman bringing out the qualities in question, taking cognizance of the African ethical perspectives.


Obviously, the term moral, etymologically is derived from Greek “ethos or ethikos” meaning character or manners. The above etymologies suggest that the ethic refers to one’s own relationship to his and other manners or customs. Moral deal with the question of what is right and good, and what is wrong and evil in human conduct. Thus, just like other races, African peoples have a deep sense of right and wrong.

In one of his writings mbiti postulates that people have produced customs, rules, laws, traditions and taboos which can be observed in each society” (175). In as much as African world view is concerned, their moral values embedded in the system of behavior and conduct. According to African belief system, the individual does not have an independent moral conscience of his own, so to say. His moral consciousness is tied to the laid down traditional precepts of the society. As long as he obeys them he is considered a good man. This he enjoys the benefits of obedience.

In the instance of deviation he is considered a bad person and thus is responsible for the severe consequences (Anshi 55). It is known that morals deal with human conduct. This conduct has two dimensions; there is personal conduct, which has to do specifically with the life of the individual. For example, he would ask himself whether it is right or wrong for him to eat, work in his field to visit the doctor or medicine man when he is sick and so on. Then it is certain to note that there is social conduct. It is important to recall that greater number of moral have to do with social conduct.

That is the life of society at large, the conduct of individuals within the group or community or nation. The African morals lay a great emphasis on social conduct, since the basic African view is that the individual exists only because others exist. It is the belief of Africans that because of great emphasis on one’s relationship with other people, morals have been evolved in order to keep society not only alive but in harmony. It therefore means that one’s conduct has to conform with the general conduct or behaviour of the entire society he finds himself.

Thus such a person would earn himself the description, a good man. Thus, when we talk of African ethics, we simply mean the set of rules or code of conduct by which the African society is governed or regulated. It covers those aspects of actions that are in agreement or disagreement with the way in which an African should act. It is a system of mores which spell out the behaviour of those who are Africans and which essence is to promote the interest, the general harmony and well being of its members. (Ihuah 134)


Discussing the concept Goodman in general and in Tiv in particular is a matter of concern to all. Thus, before getting into the main task of this segment, it is pertinent to briefly trace the word Tiv and then consider what they (Tiv) acknowledge as Goodman. It is also worthy of note that understanding who the Tiv people are, is necessary for providing the background to this paper. A lot of literatures abound concerning the origin and migration of Tiv into the present Benue valley.

However, the rallying point is that, the Tiv ancestry is traceable to ANYAMA ZENGA, the father of TAKURUKU, who with his wife ALIWE gave birth to Tiv, who in turn gave birth to two sons ICHONGU and IPUSU; from where all Tiv people have emerged (Qtd in Anshi 62). The Tiv people have great respect and protection of their institutions. The Tiv man is proud of his land, earth (tar), which is why he waves off the western customs and ideas and would proudly and openly tell the white man that before his advent, everything in the Tiv land was better. The white man has only spoiled the land “vihitar” (Anshi 5).

This follows from the fact that the Tiv people have great consideration on ethical values and ideas which are held commonly. Tiv traditional ethics like that of other Africans is based purely on their tradition, customs, norms and prohibitions of actions which one ought to do and those things considered bad to be avoided. Thus, Tiv ethics is expressed in the norms, which regulate relationship between individuals and social groups. Meanwhile, it is in view of the above tradition that this segment considers the concept of “Goodman in Tiv conception”. The word Goodman is the combination of two words; “good” and “man”.

Good is an adjective positively qualifying the noun, (man). This entails the nature of the noun (man) in question. In Tiv conception, Goodman is a mark of honour accorded to some one for his good deeds. According to Elder John Azulo (oral interview) Goodman in Tiv is a two-way traffic. On one hand is a person who has passion, concern or consideration on people he lives with, a person who is a philanthropist. The informant (Azulo) observes that a Goodman always shows concerned for the welfare or benefit of others and support good causes whether in kind or cash.

For instance, putting smiles on the faces of orphans, and widows in community he lives, paying pride price for those young men who have no one to help them. On the other hand, the informant informs that, Goodman is one who is too submissive. One who doesn’t react even when he is being cheated or hurt? That, he is an object of “use” when the people around him want to achieve self centered goal(s). This kind of Goodman, the informant describes it a mockery sort of. Following the line of argument established above, one may be convincingly prompted to ostulate that, Goodman in Tiv conception revolves around the characters of a person in question.

Speaking on the issue, Azer Tionkwange (Oral interview) contended that what qualifies one to be called “Ordedoo” (Goodman) is how such a person lives his life…his characters speak for him, he imbibes the virtue of honesty, humility, kindness and sincerity. He further buttressed that “Ordedoo” always occupies himself with the desire to do good and avoid evil. Taking tent with the above informant, Tyu Abeghe (Oral interview) observed that, Ordedoo is one who lives exemplary life.

One who at a given time, sacrifices himself or personal interest for the safety or benefits of his people. Abeghe gives illustrations such as leading in community development work like constructions of local roads and bridges, effective representation for his community as well as welcoming and accommodating visitors, taking good care of them. Thus, in Tiv belief system, when good or right conduct is maintained in society, there is good relationship with the sacred, the source of goodness itself and who demand such from man.

It is also important to point out here that; right actions promote equilibrium in the created order. While evil or negative actions disrupt the created orderliness and breed suffering and sickness among others. According to Gbenda, Tiv people identify an ethical person by his hospitality, love for other persons, concern for common good, mercifulness, sympathy, respect, justice, objectivity, forgiveness and impartiality (177). While the opposite, such as greed, selfishness, injustice, theft, criminal, arrogance, fornication and adultery is generally frown at.

The belief system of Tiv has shown that “gba-Aondo” (God’s creation) is the determinant of the morality of an act for the general interest of the individual and his community. The propositions “u eren kwagh sha gba-Aondo” (doing something according to God’s created order) is a guiding principle to which morality is maintained. Certain names such as; ormbatsav, (wizard) ormbaiv, (thief) orifer, (wicked man) and so on, are bad names that are not just rejected or to be avoided but has follow by adequate punishment. It is also important to state that, discussing Goodman in Tiv conception as being established above is embracing.

Man in this context includes “nomsoor”(male) and “kwase” (female). That is man and woman. That is to say in this discussion, man is used in the generic sense. It is worthy of note that a woman who is humble, honest, sincere and accommodating is accorded much respect by her husband and people around her. Such a woman is said to be good. Furthermore, it is interesting to pompously assert that what is really good finds expression in the harmony between the intrinsic and extrinsic qualities of that particular object.

For instance, a really beautiful woman is one whose intrinsic qualities of good manners like, honesty, hard work, chastity and above all, fertility are complemented with her extrinsic qualities of good works proportional body built. Thus, the description of Shido in Adan wade by Suemo Chia, translated by Tyohsua Akosu is an indication of a beautiful (good) woman: …. Shido’s appearance and character was the joy of all who knew her or just met a humble woman. She had compassion, a quality most often lacking in women of her kind. She never snubbed people and was never too conscious of her attractive appearance.

Her relationship with others was dominated by commitment, care and respect. Farming was no problem to her and she work earnestly. She was the shining example to be referred to by all women who wanted to bring up their daughter. (89-90). Such harmony as establish above is an example of a really beautiful woman.


Precisely, the Tiv people have respect to a person who has distinguished himself in character wise. His characters are valued in the community he lives. He is accorded respect and recognition. He stands to gain his good deeds either directly or indirectly. In Tiv thought system, it is believed that good deeds are always accompanied by reward. Commenting on the issue, Azulo (oral interview) reveals that, sometimes some body (Goodman) may be on the farm, kinsmen will call him and crown him a king. People believe in you and in you they lay their trust. The informant put forward a common proverb in Tiv language that; ‘wan-ye u a eer ave tsembelee yo, ngu aya kwagh a mbatamen’.

This can be translated in English as, a child who washes his hands thoroughly eats with elders. This does not mean physical hands per se, but characters. That is to say if you live good life (characters) you will be given good recognition. On the same note, James Tavaku (oral interview) opines that, those who live good life live in peace. In his explaination, he revealed that those who always buried their minds for doing well and running away from evils always lived a peaceful and happy life. This implies that, good life attracts good reward while bad life attracts punishment.

More on the issue of benefits, it is the belief that, people who are reckoned as good men proceed to the world of ancestors when they die. In Tiv Traditional religion, the criterion for becoming ancestors is the ability of an elder to command great respect due to his high moral life and dignity. In one of his writings, Gbenda contends that the Tiv have various ways of describing a person of high moral life and dignity as: Afa kwagh kpishi – he is perfectly good (it emphasizes good manners) Awa iyuhe ga – he is not jealous Ka or u ifer ga – he is not a wicked man (92) The above contentions indicate moral stand, qualifying one to achieve ancestorship in Tiv Tradition.


Based on the contemporary problem of moral decadence which is a constraint for one to identify a good man it is always demanding for every one to strive for better. Meanwhile, in order to be reckoned as good man in Tiv ethical consciousness, the following recommendations are seen as remedy; It is much rewarding for man to live examined life. To this effect Socrates attests that “the unexamined life is not worth living”.

In his ethical principles, Socrates observes that “what I ought to do is what is good for me and what is good for me is what is useful to me” (kerker and Anshi,64). Thus, in Tiv conception, one is accorded honour as good man based on the right conducts or manners, exhibits by such a person, therefore if all people will strive to acquire such honour our societies shall experience peace and harmony. It is also worthy of note that, one should not be carried away by materialistic nature of our societies, but the philosophy of “live lets live” should be cultivated. Man cannot live a complete life in isolation from others.

If men would always think of imparting to people around them, life would be pleasurable and worth living. CONCLUSION By way of conclusion, it is important to point out emphatically that the Tiv understanding of man and his existence is that of struggling to maintain the harmony desired of him, chaos or evil is highly rejected. In Tiv context there is a classification between good person and bad person. Just as earlier stated in this paper, one identifies an ethical person by his hospitality, love, concern for common good, mercifulness, sympathy, respect, justice, forgiveness, impartiality and so on.

Thus, Tiv people generally frown at greed, selfishness, injustice, theft, criminal activities, killing cruelly, disrespect, arrogance, fornication and adultery. If a person is engaged in the aforementioned, such a person is considered as bad person (or u bo). It is also worthy of note that Goodman in Tiv context is judged based on the character of the person in question.


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