Atyap people

"Kataf" redirects here. For the village in Iran, see Kataf, Iran.
Total population
130,000 (1990)
Regions with significant populations
Kaduna State, Nigeria 130,000
Tyap language

The Atyap people, also known as the Kataf by the Hausa people, are an ethnic group that occupy part of the Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Nigeria. They speak the Tyap language, one of the West Plateau languages.[1]


The Atyap occupy part of the area of the Nok culture, famous for its terra-cotta figurines. Whether they are related to the people that made these figurines cannot be determined.[2]


The vegetation type recognizable in the area is the Guinea Savanna or Savanna woodland type which is dotted or characterized by short and medium size trees, shrubs and perennial mesophytic grasses derived from semi-deciduous forest (Gandu 1985, Jemkur 1991) and the soil type is predominantly sandstones with little gravels. This type of vegetation is usually considered suitable for the habitation of less harmful animals while the soil type is suitable for farming. This perhaps also explains why the dominant occupation of the people is farming. [3]


Farming, fishing and hunting are the occupations of the Atyap people. Sudan savanna vegetation is usually considered suitable for the habitation of less harmful animals while the soil type is suitable for farming. This perhaps also explains why the dominant occupation of the people is farming. They mostly practised shifting cultivation. Head hunting was allegedly another of their practices, as was consumption of great quantities of beer(Milk was scarce in the area, so beer was an important part of the diet).[3]


One interesting thing among the Atyap, though also a common phenomenon among other neighbouring tribes is how marriage was being contracted. The Atyap, like other African cultural groups (see Molnos 1973; Bygrunhanga-Akiiki 1977; Robey et al. 1993), strongly believe that marriage was established by Gwaza (God) and the fullness of an Atyap womanhood lies, first, in a woman having a husband of her own. A Protestant clergyman of the largest denomination ECWA explained that the unmarried are considered to be, a net ba yet rabi-rabi ani (people who are only 50.0 per cent complete), who become 100.0 per cent human beings only after marriage. There were basically two ways:

Nyeang Alala (Marriage by Necklace)

At announcement of the birth of a baby girl within the neighbourhood, parents of a young boy who is yet to be booked down a wife would come and put a necklace or a ring on the infant girl with the consent of her parents, signifying that she has been betrothed (engaged) to their son, and the dowry is paid immediately. At the turn of adolescence, the girl is then taken to her husband’s house to complete the marriage process, and this is normally accompanied by a feast.

Khap Ndi (Farming Dowry)

This type of marriage is contracted between young people who do not necessarily come from the same neighbourhood and marriage is not contracted at birth. Here, a girl is betrothed to a young man or a boy when she is around the age of 7 and is usually marked with a feast. The dowry is paid during the engagement visit. Year after year, the young man comes with his friends to farm for his azwam (in-laws) until the girl matures when she is then taken to the boy’s home to complete the marriage cycle amidst celebration.


Equally worthy of note is the Atyap traditional religion known as the Abwoi . The Abwoi cult includes elaborate initiation ceremonies, and belief in the continued presence of deceased ancestors. It was, and is still, secretive in some places, with incentives for spies who reported saboteurs and death penalties for revelation of secrets. For six months of the year, women were restricted in their dress and travel. After this, there was a celebration and loosening of restrictions. [4] The Abwoi cult was and is still common among other Nienzit tribes.

British administration of Tyap and other non-Muslim, non-Hausa peoples could not help but have an effect on them. Their religion was non-Islamic and a belief in sorcery was part of it. Among their other beliefs were that the rock called Dutsin Kerrima in Nassarawa ‘becomes luminous every Sunday and Friday night, when white cattle are seen on the summit, herded by a white Filane girl.

Being under the control of Zaria emirate, the Tyap were supposed to be outside of the range of missionary activity. Since missionaries were disapproved of by both the ruling Hausa-Fulani and the colonial authorities, their message was all the more welcome to the Tyap, to whom Christianity was unfettered by association with political structures they considered oppressive. Due to the resentment of Atyap people to hausa and their Islamic the religion, Christian Missionaries found fertile group and had opportunity to propagate the gospel. This worsen the relationship between the two. Today very few atyap people belong to Islam.


Clans One remarkable feature of the Atyap is the manner in which responsibilities are shared among its four clans, some of which has sub-clans and sub-responsibilities. The possession of totems, taboos and emblems which come in form of designs, structures and animals is another important aspect in the history and tradition of the Atyap people. According to oral tradition, all the four clans of the Atyap people have different emblems, totems and taboos and they vary from clan to clan and from sub-clan to sub-clan. This is considered as a common practice among the people because they most of the time used these emblems as a way of identification. Apart from the emblems and totems, some clans have certain animals or plants which they also consider as taboos and in some cases also used them for rituals. Oral tradition further has it that such animals are usually reverrend in the area till date.

The exogamous belief within the clans that members of a clan had a common descent through one ancestor, prevented inter-marriages between members of the same clan. Inter-clan and inter-state marriage was encouraged.

The Aminyam clan

Not much is known about this clan but it has 2 sub-clans:


Cows are considered as the Minyam’s totem but the people have mystified a cow by seeing it as a hare with its ear as horns. These “horns” of the hare are locally called Tam’asom and the Minyam clan members have high respect for them because they always touch the “horns” and swear by them when an offence is committed. Once the accused person swears, then nothing will be said or done again but to just wait for the outcome.

The Agba’ad clan

It has 3 sub-clans:

Akwak and

They had primacy in both cavalry and archery warfare, handled the army. The Agba’ad clan, especially the Jei sub-clan, was considered the best warriors both in Cavalry and archery warfare. Agba’ad clan leader therefore became the commander-in-chief of the Atyap army. The post of Atu-Taliyen, a military public relations officer who announced the commencement and termination of eachwar, was held by a member of the Agba’ad clan The totem for the Agba’ad clan is the large crocodile called Tsong. Oral tradition has it that the Agba’ad consider the Tsang as their ‘friend’ and ‘brother’ and the relationship is also said to have developed when the Atyap people were fleeing from their enemies. As they moved, they got to a very big river which they could not cross and suddenly crocodiles appeared and formed a bridge for them to cross. When the other clans tried to cross by the same means, the crocodile swam away. This, according to oral tradition, explains why today, it is said that the Abga’ad people can play with a crocodile without being harmed and given the respect the Agba’ad people have for the crocodile, they burry its dead body when they find it killed anywhere. Similarly, when an Agba’ad man accidentally kills a crocodile (Tsang), he must hurriedly run to a forest for some special medicine and ritual. But if the killing is by design, then it is believed that the entire clan will perish.

The Aku clan

The Aku clans were the custodians of the paraphernalia of the Abwoi and led in the rites for all New initiates and ceremonies. They performed initiation rites for all new initiates. To prepare adherents for initiations, their bodies were smeared with mahogany oil (Amia’akoh) and were forced to take exhaustive exercise before they were ushered into the shrine. They had to swear to keep all secretes related to the Abwoi. Abwoi communicated to the people using a dry shell of bamboo having two open ends. One end was covered with spiders web while t he other end was blown. It produced a mysterious sound interpreted to the people as the voice of a deceased ancestor. This human manipulation enabled the male elders of the society to control the behaviour and conscience of society. Abwoi leaves (Nansham) a species of shea butter, were placed on farms and housetops to scare away thieves since the Abwoi were believed to be omnipresent and omniscient. Abwoi was thus, a unifying religious belief among the Atyap that wedded immense powers in a society whose secrets were kept through a web of spies and informants who reports the activities of saboteurs. Any revelation of Abwoi secrets could be meted with capital punishment. Women were also implored to keep society secrets, particularly, those related to way. To ensure that war secrets did not leak to the opponents, women were made to wear tswa ayuan (woven raffia ropes) for 6 months in a year. During this period, they were to refrain from gossips, “foreign” travel and late cooking. At the end of the period, it was marked by song-Ayet, celebrated in April, when women were free to wear fashionable dresses. These fashionable dresses included the Atayep made of strips of leader and decorated with cowry shells. The Ayiyep, another version of this, had dyed ropes of raffia sewn together into loin cloth. Women also wore the Gyep yuan (lumber ornament) for the song-Ayet ceremony. It was woven from palm fibre into a thick mad in the shape of a truncated cone or mushroom. It was tied round the waist using a projection from a cord. For men, the muzurwa was the major dress, which was made of tanned leather and properly oiled. The rich in society had the edges of this dress adorned with beads and cowries. They dress was tied round the waist with the aid of gindi (leather strap). By the late 18th century, a short knicker called Dinari, made of cloth, became part of the men’s attire. Men also had their hair plaited and at times decorated with cowrie’s shells. They wore raffia caps (Katah) decorated with dyed wool and ostrich feathers. Their bodies were painted with white chalk (Abwan) and red ochre (tsuo)

For the Aku clan, oral tradition has it that their emblem or totem is the ‘Male’ Shea Tree (locally called Nensham). The people’s belief about this tree was that the tree can be felled down, but its wood is not be used for making fire for cooking. It is believed that if an Aku man eats food cooked with Nensham wood his body would develop sores. Also, if a bunch of Newsham leaves was placed at the door of a house, no Aku woman dared entered into such house because it was also considered a serious taboo. Nevertheless, if these inevetently happen, Dauke (2004) explained that certain rituals would be performed to cleanse the victims from such curses otherwise they would die.

The Shokwa clan

The shokwa clan were in charge of rain making and flood control rites. It also has no subclan. The Shokwa for example, were in charge of rites associated with rain making and control of floods. During dry spells in the rainy season, the Shokwa clan leader, the chief priest and Rainmaker had to perform rites for rain making. When rainfall was too high resulting in floods and destruction of houses and crops, the same officers of the clan were called up to perform rites related to control rain.

According to Achi (1981), the emblem or totem of the Ashokwa clan was a lizard known as Tatong. According to them, Shokwa, the founder of the clan, was trying to lit his house, when suddenly the Tatong (appeared and asked) whom he was and where his relatives were. Shokwa told the Tatong that he had no relatives or kindred. The Tatong sympathized with Shokwa and assured him that ‘God’ would increase his family. This prophesy later came true, and Shokwa ordered all his children to rever the Tatong at all time. Henceforth, tradition also has it that the Ashokwa clan began to regard the Tatong as a ‘relative’, and if they found its dead body anywhere they would bury it and give it all the respect it deserves, holding funeral for it as they do for their elderly persons.

Oral tradition further confirmed that, should an Ashokwa man kill a Tatong accidentally, rain would fall, even in the middle of the dry season. This respect shown to the Tatong by the Ashokwa is shared by most of theAtyap clans, these members of another clan who lived near the Ashokwa and who accidentally killed a Tatong took its body to the Ashokwa people for burial. It is claimed that the most binding oath an Ashokwa can make is by the Tatong and they also do not name their siblings after their emblem animal.[3]

Relationship between the clans

According to Gaje and Daye (Pers. Comm. 2008), the Aku and Ashokwa clans share closer affinity in contradistinction with their relationship with the other clans and sub-clans. Aku and Ashokwa clans have no sub clans probably because they chose not to emphasize the issue of sub divisions amongst themselves. This close relationship is traceable to their early arrival to their present settlement; the Aku and the Ashokwa were said to have arrived their present abode before the other clans and sub-clans. Dauke (2004) further pointed out that the Aku and the Ashokwa were legendarily “discovered” because they were “met” there by the other Atyap people who arrived later.

The Shokwa were aboriginal, having allegedly emerged from out of the Kaduna river, and were considered rainmakers. The Aku were also aboriginal, having been associated with the Shokwa but emerging later. The others were strangers adopted into the society, forming subclans

Several other legendary versions of oral tradition also exist on Atayap history of migration and settlement. First, it is said that after the Agba’ad clan came and settled in their new place, one of the sub-clans of the Agba’ad went on a hunting expedition and accidentally “came across” the Ashokwa clan along the River Kaduna performing certain religious rites. When the Ashow saw the Agba’ad coming their way, they fled out of fear and the Agba’ad pursued them. When the Agba’ad finally caught the Ashokwa, they discovered that they speak the same (Tyap) language and share the same belief and thus accepted them as their brothers. Dauke (2004) also gave another version of the tradition on the “discovery” of the Aku and Ashokwa clans. According to him, the Aku were proverbially said to have “sprung out” from the hoof marks of the Agba’ad horsemen as they pursued the Ashokwa. In other words, while the Agba’ad were pursuing the Ashokwa, the hoofs of their horsemen opened a termite’s mound from where the Aku emanated. This explains why the Aku to date bear the nickname of “Bin Chio”, which means, “relatives of the termites”. The above traditions and stories of the “discovery” of the Aku and Ashokwa clans, potray the fact that these two clans can likely be reconsidered as those representing the earlier migrants who first came and occupied the present Atyap land. However, oral tradition also has it that all the four clans and sub-clans of the Atyap people are presently found in their large number in many villages within the Atyap Chiefdom largely due to population increase and the need to stay closer to farmlands. They also inter-mingle with one another within most of the villages in Atyap land where the Akpaisa, the Jei and the Akwak sub-clans of the Agba’ad clan are found, including the Minyam villages.

Today, there are no distinct settlements for specific clans or sub-clans as all the clans are highly intermingled, driven by the mass movement of people occasioned by need for land on one hand, and the 19th century raids and British colonial policies aimed at effective exploitation of the Atyap on the other hand [3]

For some time, the Atyap had been increasingly speaking Hausa, the primary language of the region. However, after the violent clashes in 1992 there has been a strong trend back to use of Tyap.[5]


Main article: Tyap Language

The Atyap people speak the Tyap Language which belongs to Plateau languages [6]


After the formation of the Atyap chiefdom in 1996,the Atyap people were ruled by 3 monarch (agwam) namely:


There are no written records, but there is evidence that the Atyap were early settlers in the Zangon-Kataf region, as were the Hausa. Both groups were in the area since at least the 1750s, possibly much longer, and both groups claim to have been the first settlers.[7] Atyap nationalism grew in the 19th century as Fulani jihadists tried to extend their control in this and other parts of central Nigeria. When the British conquered the north of Nigeria in 1903, they followed a system of indirect rule. The British gave the emir of Zaria increased powers over the Atyab through the village heads that he appointed, and causing increasing resentment.[8]

Christian missionaries found fertile ground with the Atyap, who had rejected the Moslem religion. This served to increase tensions between the Atyap and the Hausa.

However, one has to be very careful when referring to religious conflicts in Nigeria, as it is not all Atyap people that are Christians, similarly, not all Hausa people are Muslims. Oftentimes, historians make more emphasis on religious factor other than other basic factors like land for example.

The Atyap also resented loss of land, considering that they had originally owned all of the Zangon-Kataf territory and had been illegally dispossessed by Hausa intruders. After independence in 1960, General Yakubu Gowon (1966–1975) introduced reforms, letting the Atyap appoint their own village district heads, but the appointees were subject to approval by the emir, and were therefore often seen as puppets.[8]

In 1922 the emir acquired a stretch of land in Zango town, the capital, with no compensation. In 1966 the emir gave the land, now used as a market, to the Hausa community. The Atyap complained that the Hausa traders treated them as slaves in this market.[9] Tensions steadily increased, flaring up in February 1992 over a proposal to move the market to a new site, away from land that had been transferred to the Hausas. The proposal by the first Atyap head of the LGA was favored by the Atyap who could trade beer and pork on the neutral site and opposed by the Hausa, who feared loss of trading privileges. Over 60 people were killed in the February clashes. Further violence broke out in Zango on May 15/16, with 400 people killed and most buildings destroyed. When the news reached Kaduna, rampaging Hausa youths killed many Christians of all ethnic groups in retaliation.[10]

In the aftermath, many Hausa fled the area, although some returned later, having no other home.[7] A tribunal set up by the Babangida military government sentenced 17 people to death for alleged complicity in the killings, including a former military governor of Rivers State, Major-General Zamani Lekwot, an Atyap. The sentences were eventually reduced to gaol terms.[11] It was said that Lekwot's arrest was due to his feud with Ibrahim Babangida, then Head of State. No Hausa were charged.[12] Continued tension and outbreaks of violence were reported as late as 2006.[7]

An Atyap chiefdom was created in 1996 following the recommendation of a committee headed by Air Vice Marshal Usman Mu'azu that investigated the cause of the uprising. The chiefdom was upgraded to first class in 2007. In 2010 the president of Atyap Community Development Association said that since the chiefdom was established there had been only a few occasions when it was necessary to intervene to resolve misunderstandings.[13][14]


  1. "The Atyap Nationality". Atyap Community Online. Retrieved 2010-03-06.
  2. John Edward Philips (2005). Writing African history. Boydell & Brewer. p. 15ff. ISBN 1-58046-164-6.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Yakubu K. Y (2013). A Reconsideration of the Origin and Migration of Atyap People of Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State. 2. Journal of Tourism and Heritage Studies. p. 71-75.
  4. "The Culture and Religion". Atyap Community Online. Retrieved 2010-03-06.
  5. Roger Blench (July 29, 1997). "The Status of the Languages of Central Nigeria" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2010-03-06.
  6. 1 2 Ayuba Kefas (2016). Atyap People, Culture and Language. Unpublished. p. 12.
  7. 1 2 3 "They Do Not Own This Place" (PDF). Human Rights Watch. April 2006. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-06.
  8. 1 2 Tom Young (2003). Readings in African politics. Indiana University Press. p. 75.76. ISBN 0-253-21646-X.
  9. Toyin Falola (2001). Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies. University Rochester Press. p. 216. ISBN 1-58046-052-6.
  10. Ernest E. Uwazie; Isaac Olawale Albert; G. N. Uzoigwe (1999). Inter-ethnic and religious conflict resolution in Nigeria. Lexington Books. p. 106. ISBN 0-7391-0033-5.
  11. Agaju Madugba (2001-09-09). "Zangon-Kataf: For Peace to Endure". ThisDay. Retrieved 2010-03-06.
  12. Yusuf Yariyok (February 4, 2003). "FIGHTING MUHAMMAD'S WAR: REVISITING SANI YERIMA'S FATWA". NigeriaWorld. Retrieved 2010-03-06.
  13. IBRAHEEM MUSA (7 March 2010). "Peace has returned to Zangon Kataf -Community leader". Sunday Trust. Archived from the original on 13 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-07.
  14. Ephraim Shehu. "Yakowa at 60: Any legacy?". People's Daily. Retrieved 2010-03-08.
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