The Atyap People of Southern Kaduna: a Brief Introduction

Deep in the heart of Southern Kaduna, an area famous for the Nok Terra-Cotta figurines, are a very unique and industrious set people called the Atyap. The Atyap, who are believed to have migrated from the East, are mainly found in Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area, though Atyap settlements are also common in parts of Kaura and Kauru Local Government Areas, all in Kaduna State.

The Atyap derive their name from their language, Tyap, a descriptive name meaning “the people who speak Tyap”. Before now, the Atyap  people were commonly known to the world as the “Katab” or “Kataf” people, a name given to them by their Hausa neighbours as a result of the large amount of camwood (Katambari in Hausa) which the Atyap used as an important item of trade in those days. Hence the name Katab for the Atyap people, from Katambari.

The history of the Atyap people, as is commonly told in oral tradition, is the story of a people who migrated from the “East” from where they later settled around present day Katsina. In search of greener pasture and protective enclaves, the Atyap are said to have continued their long migration southward to their present area, from where they fought and displaced the Atsam and Attachirak and first settled around Mabatado (present day Zangon-Kataf town). Oral tradition, dating back to 1767, recounts how one Mele, an itinerant Hausa trader from Niger Republic, was given a portion of land in the heart of Mabatado to settle after many years of trade relations with the Atyap. Mele was soon joined by his Hausa kinsmen. Hence, the name Zango-Kataf (which means transit camp in Kataf Land).

The Tyap dialect forms one of the most prominent parts of the West Plateau language group recently known as the Nerzit (our people), a group of languages or dialects who understand one another. Among this group are the following tribes: the Atyap, who speak the Tyap language; the Oegworok, who speak the Gworok language; the Asholio, who speak the Sholio language; the Atakad, who speak the Takad language; the Fantsuam, who speak the Fantsuam language; the Bajju, who speak the Jju language; and the Ham, who speak the Hyam. Others are the Gwong, the Nikyob, the Adara, the Akurmi and all other tribes in Southern Kaduna. 

Similarly, the close relationship in language and culture between the Atyap and their immediate neighbours and with those of the high Jos Plateau is an evidence that they must have shared a common ancestor at some point and must have lived in the same geographical area.

In fact, it is as a result of their close linguistic affinities that C.K. Meek classified this people as the “Katab Group of People”, comprising the Atyap and the Rukuba, the Irigwe, the Afizare and the  Berom of the Jos Plateau on one hand, and the Bajju, the Ham, the Oegworok, the Angan, the Nikyob, the Fantswam, the Attakad, the Attachirak, the Gwong, the Atsam, the Bakulu, the Ninzo and the Adara in Kaduna State, among many others.

The origin of the Atyap cannot therefore, be studied in isolation from those of their neigbhours to whom they are related. This indicates that if the Atyap migrated at all, it could not have been far away from the area which they now occupy.

One remarkable feature of the Atyap is the manner in which responsibilities are shared among its four clans, each of which has sub-clans and sub-responsibilities. The Agba’ad clan has 3 sub-clans: Akpaisa, Akwak and Nje. Aminyam clan has 2 sub-clans: Aswon and Fakan. Aku clan and Shokwa have no known sub-clans.

Traditionally, the states and clans had complementary functions. The Shokwa were in charge of rainmaking and flood control rites. The Agba’ad clan had primacy in both cavalry and archery warfare, and led the army. The Aku clans were the custodians of the paraphernalia of the Abwoi cult, and performed initiation rites for all new initiates.

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.

New Atyap Traditional RegaliaAtyap consciousness began to develop in the 19th century when the Fulani jihadists tried to extend their control over Atyap land and other parts of North Central Nigeria. This was met with strict resistance until the British conquered Northern Nigeria in 1903 through the indirect rule system. As a reward to the then Emir of Zazzau (Zaria) for the role he played in aiding them, the British colonialists gave him increased powers over the Atyap and other surrounding tribes, who were now ruled through the village heads that emir appointed.

Because of the Atyap resentment for the Hausa and their religion (Islam), Christian missionaries found fertile ground in Atyap land which worsened the delicate relationship between the two.

When General Yakubu Gowon became the Head of States (1966–1975) 6years after the turn of independence he introduced reforms, the Atyap were now chanced to appoint their own village district heads, though the appointees were subject to approval by the emir, and were therefore often seen as puppets.

Finally, the Atyap Chiefdom was created in 1996 following the recommendation of a committee headed by Air Vice Marshal Usman Mu’azu that investigated the remote causes of the infamous 1992 Atyap-Hausa Zangon-Kataf Riot which claimed hundreds of lives and properties worth billions of naira. The chiefdom was upgraded to first class status in 2007 and it has it headquarters in Zango-Kataf.

One interesting thing among the Atyap, though also a common phenomenon among other neighbouring tribes is how marriage was being contracted. There were basically two ways:

  1. Nyeang Alala (Marriage by Necklace): at announcement of the birth of a baby girl within the neigbourhood, 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.
  2. 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. The Abwoi cult was and is still common among other Nienzit tribes.

Atyap Lak Lat!!!

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9 Responses to The Atyap People of Southern Kaduna: a Brief Introduction

  1. Yashim says:

    let us inform people about our safe, no one can tell our story more than we can.one love my people.

  2. Bamba says:

    Kudos for this giant step towards contructing history

  3. LAZARUS MUSA says:

    This piece is very brief, Atyap Development Association should set up a team to write a more comprehensive Atyap history. Or rather, more flesh need to be added to this.

  4. AYUBA IBRAHIM says:

    good one by the Atyap, but let this reflects some pamphlets and small books for generation to know it.

  5. Cosmos Dunia Madaki says:

    Good work, this is the beginning of greatness for the Atyap people which am proud to be one. “Atyap lak lat”

  6. lucky elisha says:

    pls i need help. i was asked to write on colour symbolism of the atyap tribe. i need ur guide

  7. […] all roads lead to Atak-Njei – Zangon-Kataf, Local Government Area of Kaduna State as the Atyap (Kataf) nation and all well-wishers gather for the official Installation and Presentation of Staff of Office to […]

  8. […] the case of Tyap language as an example, I often feel like crying when ever I hear someone speak an almost complete Hausa […]

  9. Vincent Simon Kato says:

    I appreciate your efforts for this brief history of Atyap Land, God will continue to give wisdom

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