Tiv Traditional Art: “Itimbe-Gbenda” and Its Dying Essence


Centuries ago when traditional art was being practiced at its peak, art was considered as a prime source of life to the cultural practices of the people in the community/society. In a traditional Tiv society, for instance, every family house or grown-up person (adult) used to have Itimbe-gbenda strategically installed at the entrance way to the compound. Itimbe-gbenda is an artistically carved object in human form with traditional motifs on the surface. At the top of the object, is usually covered with woven thatched grass which, if viewed from far, makes the object looks like a cap hanged on a stick. Two shiny black stones are placed at the bottom of the carved wood. The Tiv people traditionally believed that Itimbe-gbenda brings luck to the family or the person that owns it. The object was usually renewed once in every year through incantations and libations. The vicinity where the object is installed (dug and fixed in the ground) is usually made clean by constantly sweeping at specified intervals as prescribed by Or-soren-kwagh (The traditional medicine man).

The Itimbe-gbenda is usually carved using a strong wood such that it can withstand termites, rain and other natural factors which act upon the durability of the wood. Other un-durable materials like thatched-grass (Ihila) and rope (Kor) used in tying round the object are usually weak and worn out after raining season. Hence, there is need to renew them annually. The belief behind installing “Itimbe-gbenda” is that, the person or family whom the object is installed in his/their name will record success in farming, hunting, and other human engagements (activities) in the community.

The practice of traditional religion, in those days, made such art more relevant especially in establishing certain religious beliefs in the lives of the people. The unique thing in Itimbe-gbenda is that, those who install it must not look at the success of others with jealousy. Doing so will make one’s luck not to shine. In this way, people celebrated with others’ successes, not necessarily because they really want to identify with them but probably because they want their own luck to also shine.

This, in a way, helps in promoting the spirit of togetherness among the people in the community as well as enhanced social co-existence of the individuals which is necessary for building the peace and unity of people in the society. Given this scenario, it can be observed that the triumph of modern art over traditional art has, in some circumstances, reduced the richness of the indigenous cultures. Today, most cultural practices are merely carried out to commemorate the past events which had meaning and value to people in the community. Although modern artists have, in various ways, tried to regain the pride of art in today’s society by combining traditional and modern methods/forms in the creation of art works, the true essence as well as respect of art in traditional Tiv society and indeed many Nigerian cultures have been greatly reduced (if not completely lost). Such art forms, whether in painting or sculpture, have unique appearances that tend to harmonized cultures of a given geographical entity, they do not really serve the cultural meaning as it used to be in the past.

One fact which no one can deny is that, art is still considered or looked upon as a backbone to the existence and surviving spirit of many Nigerian cultures. The new forms of cultural display like Abuja and Calabar carnivals which are becoming the centre of world’s cultural attraction in Nigeria make use of different kinds of arts. The opening ceremonies of certain events like international football tournaments and other world events put the display of art in a central position.

Source by Kunde Terkura Matthew