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STILL ON TOR TIV STOOL: What SWEM Really Means To Tiv People And Implications Of Doing Otherwise...



By Paul Ageewua

THE SWEM~is a pot of ashes and medicines which symbolizes justice.The swem was the supreme oath,lesser oaths were taken on the name of one's father or mother and all the important fetishes.

The oath taker usually put his hand on swem pot and he said he will speak the truth. If he fails to speak the truth,swem will kill him by causing his feet and stomach to swell.

SIGNIFICANCE~Owing to the great fear which the Tiv had on swem,it was difficult for Tiv people whose oath was based on it to lie.
This was so effective that even the later colonial administration continued with the use of swem in Grade D courts which the British established in Tivland .

It is instructive to note that, those who's intentions were to lie refused to take the Swem oath.
It is also important to note that in the Tiv traditional system of justice, only male adults were litigants. According to Captain Downes, theoretically women were not regarded as litigants.
A female always went with a male who had given her out in marriage (itien)to lay her complain if she or her siblings were at the risk of being bewitched. If the Tien was the suspect,she would go to the elders in company of her husband's householder (orya).

IN THE BEGINNING. Since government was concerned with maintenance of public order,punishment of criminals and other vices the customary laws of Tiv were imposed on them by their ancestors. 
This had given customs a spiritual sanction. Crimes in Tivland were mainly offences against some ancestral edicts each of which was protected by a fetish.

A breach of each edict or taboo was certain to bring calamity on the individual or community. So crime was evil which could be put in motion by the breach of a taboo.

Adultery, incest,killing or homicide arson etc were offences punished by pre colonial Tiv society.

Criminal offense which could affect the individual primarily other than the society were settled by the heads of household (orya )but where it involves another segment of the society other than the individual, the elders of the offender and those of the offended got together to form a guilt and to inflict punishment.
The formation of Sasswood ordeal (Kor) divination (ishor i kpehen) and swem as mentioned earlier were the Tiv traditional ways of administrative justices.

Today, i want the governor of Benue state,Samuel Ortom, and his foot soldiers to note that even a change society still retains some elements of its traditions.That explains why the myth of the ikyarem (green snake)has continue to remain the Tiv acceptable migration history in perspective. 

Those are are bent on turning tradition outside out because of politics should better be warned as our ancestors are watching.

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