At the outset, it should be stated that Rupert East's own ‘Introduction’ to his Akiga's Story, which was first published in 1939 by Oxford University Press for the International African Institute, provided a balanced account of Akiga Sai's emergence as a remarkable African and Tiv intellectual whose achievements were amazing for many reasons. East writes: ‘Other books have been written by Africans about the life of their own people, though not yet in Northern Nigeria. Others will be written, but they will be written by more sophisticated authors who have the advantage, or disadvantage, of a modern education, whose outlook is no longer primitive and whose knowledge is no longer subjective. Only a man such as Akiga can act as the mouthpiece of the elders and of the older order.’
During the lengthy process of translating and editing the entire Tiv manuscript, called History of the Tiv, one concept which East used constantly came to mind. East stated that Akiga acted as a mouthpiece of the elders. The task of the translator is to give respect and credence to that role so that this English translation of the entire manuscript does in fact speak for Akiga and become his mouthpiece. No section of the Tiv manuscript was omitted, and the order of the material was left as Akiga wrote it in Tiv. This translation of his history contains all of its elements – the clans, genealogies, plant and animal names, food preparation, marriage customs and the religious practices of the Tiv – all of which Akiga considered to be of value. Atah Pine, a Tiv scholar and author, wrote recently: ‘He bestrides both anthropology and history like a colossus and it is this feat that illuminates his magnificent halo on Tiv and contemporary African Studies.’
Translators of this work were Tiv intellectuals who worked as members of a team, volunteers who took the time to honour Akiga Sai by translating carefully all of Akiga's words, without omission, into modern English usage. Their names are listed in the supplementary materials available online at Appendix 1.
What was truly remarkable about this new translation was that it was performed by native bilingual Tiv speakers, intellectuals from many walks of life in the Tiv diaspora, and at home, who ‘listened’ to Akiga's voice as they read the Tiv manuscript and transformed this into English, thus becoming his mouthpiece. Tiv is a tonal language. They listened in the sense that the printed words evoked intonations with meanings for them, which would only be the case with native Tiv translators.
The translators' usages of English words reflect their own lives and wealth of bi-cultural experience. No two translators would create exactly the same rendering of meanings, simply because of who they are. Does one, for instance, use the word lady or woman for the Tiv word kwase? Does the translator avoid explicit sexual references used by Akiga and write ‘a private act’, or ‘married her’, or ‘flirt’, ‘cater to’ instead of ‘sexual intercourse’? Does the Tiv word ga imply negation or not, or does it indicate what we would call a question mark at the end of a sentence with tonal change? Additionally, the editorial efforts are coloured by the editor himself. The editor's cosmological orientation affects his viewpoint. Does a portion of the translated text reflect the philosophical or religious bias of the translator? Of course the answer is yes. In other words, translation and editing are by their very nature existential and somewhat subjective processes.
Editing these translations into one unit, one history, was challenging for a number of reasons. There was the need to combine a number of ‘voices’ into a unified whole that was harmonious and balanced. Editing required the creation of an original ‘score’, to use a musical analogy, for the Tiv manuscript, which was a constant editorial companion, so that the voices of the ‘octet’ translation team blended well without omission.
The presence of a ‘Tiv team’ was implied above. It is important to reinforce this concept. Team players bring a wealth to translation that would not occur if a single individual were involved, were he a Tiv or a qualified expatriate. Thus, a few words are necessary about the short history of how this translation occurred. It is an interesting history.
In 1964, the writer was Principal of the W. M. Bristow Secondary School in Gboko, Nigeria. A Tiv worker who was cleaning a warehouse room at Mkar, dusting, sweeping, and throwing away old boxes and trash, came across a dusty old document, the cover of which was being eaten by termites. He set it aside. Later, when he was working for me doing yard work, he brought the document and asked if it should be thrown away with the other trash. I opened the first page and read in Tiv: ‘Hi sha iyange i m hi veren ishuma sha u me nger takerada ne yo, nyian yena anyom ikundu kpeghe tso.’ Translated into English, this meant: ‘It was almost twenty years ago when I first contemplated writing this book.’ The next page was more amazing. It was a torn cover sheet, hand printed, which stated ‘AKIGA'S HISTORY’, and underneath this, in cursive script in ink, was written ‘History of Tiv By Akiga’. But this is just the beginning of this story.
One of the teaching staff members at the secondary school of which I was administrator was a man called Ezekiel Akiga! I met with him, manuscript in hand, and asked him if he knew about the work, or if he had read it. He replied that he had heard about it, and that the family, perhaps one of Akiga's sons, might still have had a copy, but he was not sure about that.
After some discussion, Ezekiel A. Akiga and I agreed that such an old treasure must not be lost or destroyed and that it should be archived in a safe place. I suggested that it could be archived in a university, perhaps at that time the most prestigious one, the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. I had been involved with writing about the Tiv religion and Tiv proverbs and had made contact with Professor Robert G. Armstrong at the University of Ibadan. I contacted Professor Armstrong, who then visited us at the school in Gboko. We talked about Rupert East's edition of portions of Akiga's text, published by Oxford University Press for the International African Institute as Akiga's Story. Armstrong took the old manuscript, and later, when he travelled north into the Benue Province, hand-delivered two duplicates. I have that very document in front of me now, on my lap, one of two copies of the original manuscript, and I read:
UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN, NIGERIA, INSTITUTE OF AFRICAN STUDIES
Certificate This is to certify that Mr. Harold Bergsma, in the presence of Mr E. A. Akiga, has deposited with Professor R. G. Armstrong an original Tiv manuscript of Akiga's story. It is understood that Professor Armstrong is to deposit this manuscript with the library of the University of Ibadan for archiving and reproduction by microfilm and Xerox. The manuscript will remain the property of the Akiga family according to an agreement to be drawn up which must be satisfactory to the family and the University library.
Signed by: Harold M. Bergsma, Robert G. Armstrong and Mr Ezekiel A. Akiga. April 28th 1964
That manuscript may have been completed in Tiv by Akiga by 1935, and part of it was translated and published in English in 1939. From time to time I have taken the old manuscript from the shelf while researching and writing about the Tiv. It is accompanied by a number of other Tiv documents, most dating back to the early 1940s.
What happened between 1964 and 2014 with my copy of Akiga's document in Tiv is that it rested in my library, and its twin copy was with the now late Ezekiel Akiga. More than three years ago I picked up the Tiv manuscript, which was next to the published work of Rupert East, Akiga's Story. I read them both again carefully and was struck by the fact that nearly half of the manuscript's contents had never been translated or published.
I researched the web for members of Akiga Sai's family and was happy to locate Martin Akiga, a grandson, who lived in England. Martin became the facilitator for the next part of this project: that is, he contacted a number of professionals in the Tiv diaspora and in Nigeria, and eleven of them agreed to translate sections of the manuscript. I made a Xerox copy of the material I had, mailed the heavy parcel to Martin Akiga in England, and over a two-year period all the segments of this important historical work were translated, integrated into one document, edited and submitted to the IAI, the same organization that had published Rupert East's work so many years ago.
Who was this man Akiga? When did he live? How did he happen to write a history about his people?
Akiga himself tells the story about his childhood, his family, and his early experiences with akombo and witchcraft. The first chapter of this Tiv manuscript is most interesting reading, and brings a smile to one's lips, reflecting Akiga's own joy in writing about how he came to write this Tiv history and how he researched it in the geographical area we called Benue Province.
It is hard for me to imagine what Tivland was like in 1898, approximately the time of Akiga's birth. My excursions into the ‘bush’ areas of Tivland over a twelve-year period ended in 1967, so I went back to review materials and pictures of the late 1950s and looked over the Polaroid snapshots in my albums of village communities. I once again saw individual people I had known, some with scarred faces, women with beautifully scarred abdomens, pictures of those with crippling illness that afflicted the people during that time and left many unable to farm or work. I remembered those with blindness from trachoma and elephantiasis, and cerebral malaria – conditions that were all too common. I visited many villages in which there were only a couple of people who could read, where entire age sets of children had never seen a school, and many villages where the children were seeing a Whiteman for the first time! Polygamy was the norm at that time, and early marriages with very young girls were common. Hospitality! That memory comes back strongly. Without exception, in every remote village I visited I was treated as a guest with honour and hospitality. People shared their food. Drumming and dancing! There are still so many vivid, pleasant memories of Tivland.
I recalled that there was fighting and bloodshed in the mid-1960s as the Tiv attempted to create a separate region and were blocked by the northern Muslim-based political parties. ‘Tarkaa!’ Out of much turmoil came the creation of the Benue-Plateau State in 1967. The Tiv now had a homeland. That was my experience. What was this part of Nigeria like during the much earlier period of Akiga Sai's life as a historian?
As Akiga began research for his book in the early 1930s, Nigeria was still a colonial entity of the British Empire. District Officers and Residents carried out their duties and ruled the country. Akiga describes this era so well in ‘Coming of the Whiteman’, the colonial rulers who exerted their authority to stamp out ‘cannibalism’ and witchcraft. Akiga Sai's father, Sai Dekpe, was, according to Atah Pine, a ‘pathological polygamist’.
Akiga himself was also a polygamist later on in life. One of his wives, who bore nine children, was a woman who had been a free slave girl of Kanuri extraction. She was converted to Christianity from Islam by the missionaries and that is how Akiga met her.
Yet Akiga, who was given as a houseboy to a missionary, Reverend Zimmerman, learned to read and became a Tiv translator for missionaries who were preaching in Hausa at that time. According to E. N. Casaleggio, Akiga was the very first Tiv person to write in the Tiv language. In his book The Land Will Yield its Fruits: fifty years in the Sudan (1965), there is a letter of appreciation to the missionaries that Casaleggio recorded was written by young Akiga in 1914. ‘Mo su we sha u chi u ka se kwagh Aôndo. Asuma ase do kpishi, u ungwa de?’, meaning ‘I thank you because you told us the thing of God. Our hearts are good, do you hear?’ (for the continuation of this citation, see Fardon, this issue, p. 591).
Akiga emerged from a traditional culture, ruled by colonial masters. He was influenced by missionaries who were beginning to establish schools and bring Christianity, and became literate and a Christian. He mentioned that Tiv culture was on the verge of extinction. If that was the case in the mid-1930s, one wonders what has become of it now. However, since his history was written at a time when traditional Tiv practices and language were extant, this complete version of his work becomes a valuable marker for future studies.
It has been mentioned that this work is a translation of the entire manuscript written by Akiga Sai. To the eleven members of the translation team, this meant that their task was to write a portion of the manuscript in the English language directly from the Tiv words that Akiga wrote so long ago. They have achieved their task well. Editorial comments have been kept to a minimum in the current translation: brief glosses have been inserted into the text in square brackets, and occasional comments and explanations provided in footnotes.
One problem for both translators and editors relates to the host of Tiv names and concepts used by Akiga when he wrote this history. Let me emphasize it here: in this work, most proper nouns in Tiv, and there are hundreds, are left as they were written; most of the names for places were left as Akiga wrote them; and all the names of clans, rites and ceremonies were not changed, and in most cases were not translated. A few insertions within the text were made, particularly for names of animals and birds. These were inserted in brackets next to the Tiv word, such as ‘ati [ground dove]’, but the translators did not know the identity or names in English of many of these animals.
Akiga used many plant and animal names, some of them common usages like chicken, snake, guinea fowl, rat and monkey. But he used scores of specific names for special plants and herbs used for medicinal treatments or for divination purposes. Where possible, we have used the actual name of a bird, animal or plant. Language is dynamic and changes over time, and every effort has been made by the translators to provide a translation that is current and meaningful. Tiv spellings vary, as do spellings within the manuscript, and Akiga's renderings remained a challenge. In most cases, dictionaries and reference works do not provide translations, except in a general way, stating, for instance, a ‘tall leafy tree’ or ‘a small bird’. Translators themselves may speak Tiv words differently, some using an ‘r’ sound for the ‘l’ sound: this interchangeability is a common occurrence among Tiv speakers.
There are a number of references made to taxes, spheres of value, trade and currency, including terms such as ikundu, pue ikundu, bashi, kobo and others related to exchange practices. The traditional Tiv did not have money, or standard currency, so the Tiv used many things of value for exchanges and purchases, including payments of bride price and payment of taxes with cows. Among these things of value were woven cloths (ikundu), copper bars (bashi) and other items. Ikundu actually means ‘value’, but it also means twenty, or it can mean a cloth of twenty woven strips sewn together, or one with ten strips, pue ikundu. These terms can be euphemisms for other meanings. Bashi, for instance, could be used in a sentence to refer to the type of payment made, such as with a cow; if it later becomes ill or crippled, then the recipient complains of a tainted bashi, with ichul, a defect. These usages are understandable if one thinks about how in American culture we say, ‘How much dough did you pay for that?’, and the reply, ‘Oh, nearly ten bucks.’ Later on, coinage was introduced by the British Colonial Government: pounds (pam), shillings (sule) and pence (kobo – from ‘copper’). Traditional means for exchange were gradually abandoned when standard values related to money had been introduced.
The section devoted to the crops of the Tiv is a real botanical–historical treasure. Akiga mentions dozens of plants in various categories, including tuber crops, grain crops, legumes and others, by name and according to how each is to be planted, in what kind of soil and in what season. Not only is this a botanical history but a linguistic treasure because he presents the linguistic derivation of most of the names, including many from other ethnic groups around the Tiv, examples of cultural borrowing. While reading this section, I was particularly interested in the anthropological and social implications of how and by whom crops were to be planted. Many crops required children to participate in pushing down the stalks, men cutting the heads of grain and women processing these.
Moreover, certain crops were the domain of wives in the village, others of men exclusively. Akiga's narrative is much more than just an account of rural agricultural practices, but a history of gender roles related to agriculture, unlike any other traditional people's histories that I have read. Names for locations and social groups, directions to villages, people's names in the hundreds that Akiga used may no longer have the same meaning, yet because he took time to mention the ancestors, and spell out their names, these have now become part of Tiv history. Long sections of this manuscript are oral histories of clans of the Tiv, who begat whom, and how the segments of this ethno-linguistic group of people moved about in the lands near the Benue River and the Katsina Ala River – in fact, as far as to the border of the Cameroons.
No maps are available to show how these groups moved around during Akiga's lifetime. What one gleans, however, is that the Tiv before Akiga's time fought dozens of bloody battles for dominance, land and revenge. This is a history of conflict and great unrest and the settlement of a people geographically.
This translation of the complete work entitled History of the Tiv complements the much earlier partial translation that was published with extensive and illuminating commentaries by Rupert East in Akiga's Story. Akiga's organization of the content into chapters and subsections is preserved; and something approaching an ‘unexpurgated text’ is presented.
This new complete translation is important for the large, well-educated, international Tiv community, numbering now in the millions, who can read and wonder about their fascinating past, perhaps with the names of some of their relatives, their history, their language and the culture from which they emerged. It gives African studies specialists, language experts, linguists, anthropologists and geographers additional insights into this culture.
Akiga was a traditional man, but also a modern intellectual, a ‘colossus’ as Pine states above. His history began in the ‘bush’. Akiga rose from humble beginnings in an ethnic group and achieved what few men have. He became an editor of a Tiv newsletter, Mwanger u Tiv, he became a missionary for a period of time, an administrator, a member of the Northern House of Assembly of Nigeria, a translator, and a historian; and, interestingly, he became a polygamist himself. Truly, he was a public intellectual who emerged like the mushrooms that rise up after the old ones die out.
Akiga's History of the Tiv is an amazing work, perhaps unrivalled among any traditional histories derived from the native language by members of their own societies. Rupert East, in his book Akiga's Story (p. 7), writes his evaluation of Akiga's full manuscript: ‘Indeed the whole book is concerned with persons rather than things. This is to be expected, for no normal African could, or would wish to write an impersonal review of contemporary events such as might be demanded from a European historian.’ Akiga was an exceptional African intellectual and his writing was most personal when relating to his own situation, and most objective when describing his people's way of life. He was not a trained linguist or anthropologist; however, what he achieved in this historical work will be honoured by many of his own people and by those who study the lives and languages of those in the African world.
Some of my spelling ‘disputes’ for this manuscript, History of the Tiv, were resolved by reference to the wealth of experience and expertise of those who translated the text. Cultural and linguistic information came from a wealth of sources, listed in the bibliography.