Atyap people



The Atyap people (Tyap: Á̠niet A̠tyap, singular: A̠tyotyap; Hausa exonym: Kataf, Katab) are an ethnic group that occupy part of the Zangon-Kataf, Kaura and Jema'a Local Government Areas of Kaduna State, Nigeria.

They speak the Tyap language, one of the West Plateau languages.

Atyap people



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.

Several iron smelting sites have been located in Atyap area. Most of these were found in the area of Gan and nearby settlements. The remains include slag, tuyeres and furnaces. In two sites in the Ayid-ma-pama (Tyap: A̠yit Mapama) on the banks of the Sanchinyirian stream and banks of Chen Fwuam at Atabad Atanyieang (Tyap: A̠ta̠bat A̠ta̠nyeang) the slag and tuyeres remains were particularly abundant in high heaps. This category of information is complemented by shallow caves and the rock shelter at Bakunkung Afang (9°55'N, 8°10'E) and Tswog Fwuam (9°51'N, 8°22'E) at Gan and Atabad-Atanyieang, respectively. The same study reveals several iron ore mining pits (9°58.5'N, 8°17, 85'E). More such pits have been identified in later search, suggesting that iron ore mining was intensive in the area.


Linguistic Evidence

The Kataf Group to which Tyap belongs, is a member of the eastern Plateau. And going by the glotochronological time scales established for Yoruba and Edo languages and their neighbours, we suggest that thousands of years were required for the separation into distinguishable dialects and dialect clusters if this Kataf Group. Between Igala and Yoruba language, for example, at least 2,000 years were required to develop the distinction, while 6,000 years were needed for the differences observable in a comparison of Idoma and Yoruba language clusters. Noteworthy is the indication that even within dialect clusters, a period of up to 2,000 years was needed to create clearly identifiable dialect separation. It is thus a slow process of steady population growth and expansion and cultural differentiation over thousands of years.

The implication for Tyap is that it has taken thousands of years to separate, in the same general geographical location from its six or so most closely related dialects. As a sub-unit they required probably more thousands of years earlier to separate from other members of the Kataf group like Gyong, Hyam, Duya and Ashe (Koro) who are little intelligible to them. The stability of language and other culture traits in this region of Nigeria has been recognized.

It is therefore persuasive to take as granted, long antiquity of cultural interaction and emergence of specific dialects in the Kataf language region. It means that Tyap had long become a clearly identifiable language with a distinguishable material culture and social organisation personality long before the time the British took over control of the Atyap early in the 20th century. This personality was bequeathed down from one generation of ancestors to another until it reached the most recent descendants.


Other Evidences

The Atyap call themselves 'Atyap' and are so known and addressed by their immediate neighbouring groups like Asholyio (Moroa), Agworok (Kagoro), Atyecarak (Kachechere), Atakat (Attakar), Ham (Jaba), Gwong (Kagoma), Adara (Kadara), Akoro (Koro), Bajju (Kaje), Anghan (Kamanton), Fantswam (Kafanchan), Afo, Afizere, Tsam (Chawai) and Rukuba, together with the Atyap, form part of the Eastern Plateau group of languages of the Benue-Congo language family.

But who are the Atyap and what is their origin? The problem of identifying the original homelands of Nigerian people has been a difficult one to solve. Apart from the existence of a variety of versions of the tradition of origin which contradict one another, there has been the tendency by many groups to claim areas outside Africa as their centres of origin. This is true of the Atyap to an extent. Movements were undertaken under clan leaders and in small parties at night to avoid detection.

The tradition is unknown to most Atyap elders. This is partly why it is not found in most of the writings of colonial ethnographic and anthropological authors who wrote on the Atyap people. Though these colonial officers could not have recorded all existing versions of the people's tradition, nevertheless, most of the versions recorded by then show remarkable similarities with those recounted by the elders today. The authenticity of the northern origin is therefore questionable.

It is not denied that some people moved from Hausaland into the area occupied by the Atyap before the Nineteenth century. The consolidation of Zangon Katab by 1750 A.D. essentially inhabited by the Hausa, is a clear case of pre-nineteenth century immigrations and interactions. It was however in the nineteenth century as a result of overtaxation, slave raids and the imposition of corvee labour on people under the influence of the Sarakuna of Hausaland, which led to increased migrations as a form of protest. It is most likely that the traditions of Atyap migration from the north to avoid slavery and taxation is a folk memory of these late nineteenth century movements. But migration of individuals and groups of people should not be confused with migration of a whole Atyap people.



One feature of the Atyap proper (a sub-group in the larger Atyap/Nienzit also spelt Nenzit/Netzit ethnolinguistic group) 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 reverend 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 A̱ta̱m a̱swom 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 A̱gbaat clan

It has 3 sub-clans:

They had primacy in both cavalry and archery warfare, handled the army. The Agbaat clan, especially the Jei sub-clan, was considered the best warriors both in Cavalry and archery warfare. Agbaat clan leader therefore became the commander-in-chief of the Atyap army. The post of "A̱tyutalyen", a military public relations officer who announced the commencement and termination of each war, was held by a member of the Agbaat clan The totem for the Agbaat clan is the large crocodile called Tsang. Oral tradition has it that the Agbaat 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 Agbaat people can play with a crocodile without being harmed and given the respect the Agbaat people have for the crocodile, they bury its dead body when they find it killed anywhere. Similarly, when an Agbaat 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 A̱ku clan

The Aku clans were the custodians of the paraphernalia of the A̱bwoi 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 (A̱myia̱ a̱ko) 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 spider's 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 (Na̱nsham) a species of shea, 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 a̱ywan (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-A̱yet (or Swong A̱yet), celebrated in April, when women were free to wear fashionable dresses. These fashionable dresses included the A̱ta̱yep made of strips of leader and decorated with cowrie shells. The A̱yiyep, another version of this, had dyed ropes of raffia sewn together into loin cloth. Women also wore the Gyep ywan (lumber ornament) for the Song-A̱yet ceremony. It was woven from palm fibre into a thick made 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. The dress was tied round the waist with the aid of gindi (leather strap). By the late 18th century, a pair of short knickers called Dinari, made of cloth, became part of the men's attire. Men also had their hair plaited and at times decorated with cowrie shells. They wore raffia caps (A̱ka̱ta) decorated with dyed wool and ostrich feathers. Their bodies were painted with white chalk (A̱bwan) and red ochre (tswuo)

For the Aku clan, oral tradition has it that their emblem or totem is the ‘Male’ shea Tree (locally called Na̱nsham). The people's belief about this tree was that the tree can be felled, but its wood is not to be used for making fire for cooking. It is believed that if an Aku man eats food cooked with Na̱nsham wood his body would develop sores. Also, if a bunch of Na̱nsham 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 A̱shokwa (Shokwa) clan

The A̱shokwa clan were in-charge of rainmaking and flood control rites. It also has no sub-clans. The A̱shokwa for example, were in-charge of rites associated with rainmaking and control of floods. During dry spells in the rainy season, the A̱shokwa clan leader, the chief priest and Rainmaker had to perform rites for rainmaking. 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 A̱shokwa clan was a lizard known as Tatong (ant-eater). According to them, A̱shokwa, 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. A̱shokwa told the Tatong that he had no relatives or kindred. The Tatong sympathized with A̱shokwa and assured him that ‘God’ would increase his family. This prophesy later came true, and A̱shokwa ordered all his children to rever the Tatong at all time. Henceforth, tradition also has it that the A̱shokwa 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 A̱shokwa man kill a Tatong accidentally, rain would fall, even in the middle of the dry season. This respect shown to the Tatong by the A̱shokwa is shared by most of the Atyap clans, these members of another clan who lived near the A̱shokwa and who accidentally killed a Tatong took its body to the A̱shokwa people for burial. It is claimed that the most binding oath an A̱shokwa can make is by the Tatong and they also do not name their siblings after their emblem animal.

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 subdivisions 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.

Several other legendary versions of oral tradition also exist on Atyap history of migration and settlement. First, it is said that after the Agbaat clan came and settled in their new place, one of the sub-clans of the Agbaat went on a hunting expedition and accidentally “came across” the Ashokwa clan along the River Kaduna performing certain religious rites. When the Ashokwa saw the Agbaat coming their way, they fled out of fear and the Agbaat pursued them. When the Agbaat 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 Agbaat horsemen as they pursued the Ashokwa. In other words, while the Agbaat were pursuing the Ashokwa, the hooves of their horsemen opened a termite's mound from where the Aku emanated. This explains why the Aku to date bear the nickname of “Bi̠n Cíncai”, which means, “relatives of the termites”. The above traditions and stories of the “discovery” of the Aku and Ashokwa clans, portray 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 (Kakwak) sub-clans of the Agbaat clan are found, including the Minyam villages.



The A̠nak Festival and Headhunting

Before the coming of the British in the area in 1902, the Atyap cultural practices included various annual and seasonal ceremonies and indeed, headhunting was part of those practices which was later outlawed by the colonial government. Here is an account by Achi et al. (2019) on one of those ceremonies:

"Achievers in every chosen vocation were given titles and walking sticks with bells tied to the sticks. The bells jingled as their owners walked to announce the arrival of an achiever. At death, such achiever was given a befitting burial with prolonged drumming and feasting. Hence, the A̠nak festival (annual mourning for the departed souls of achievers) as a way of recognising the positive contributions of the deceased to the development of society. Because of the belief that too much mourning could make the deceased uncomfortable in his new life, the ceremony took the form of feasting, dancing and recounting the heroic deeds of the deceased. If it was a male achiever that died, the A̠nak festival had to be preceded by a hunting expedition on horses. This was a hunt for a big animal as a symbol of the immerse contributions of the deceased. For the A̠gbaat, zwuom (elephant) was usually the target. Demonstrations involving strong youths on horsebacks with weighted pestles, were held before the actual hunting expedition. These moved at top speed and attempted breaking a standing wall with the pestle. For the A̠ku and Shokwa clans, their A̠nak festival is called Song Á̠swa (Dance of the achievers) where only married men and women of the clan were involved.

During the A̠nak festival, all relatives of the deceased in the whole clan had to be invited. All females of the clan married outside the clan had to come with grains and goats accompanied by horn blowers. This contribution by all female relatives is called "kpa̠t dudung". Since the festival involved all females of the clan married outside, it therefore involved all neighbouring states who took Atyap daughters as wives. This is why all neighbouring states and groups including Hausa and Fulani living in and around Atyap land attended such festival.

If the deceased was a hunter and warrior, the skulls of human and animal victims killed by him were placed on the grave. The Atyap could behead a Bajju victim. Hausa and Fulani were also liable to such treatment in battle. The Atyap were not alone it this practice. The Agworok could behead Bajju and Atakat (Attakad) victims and not the Atyap. The skulls of such victims were displayed at the death of the achiever.

It is the practice of displaying some of the achievements of the deceased that encouraged the practice of beheading war victims as a very tangible proof of victory in battle. The circumstances in which the head was acquired was also noted. Those who during a face to face battle were able to kill and remove the heads of their opponents were awarded the title of Yakyang (victor). Those who were able to pursue, overtake and destroy the opponent received the title of Nwalyak (War genius). Specialists were appointed from specific families for treating the heads of victims. These included Hyaniet (killer of people) and Lyekhwot (drier). Hyaniet removed the contents from fresh heads of victims, noting each skull and its owner. Lyekhwot dried these through smoking. This does not mean that the Atyap and their neighbours indiscriminately waged wars in order to hunt for human heads as presented by British colonial officers. It is also not a sign of permanent hostility between the Atyap and those polities or groups against whom they went to war. Even when issues leading to war were fundamental, these did not destroy the possibility of peaceful inter-group relations as seen in the alliances of protection between the Atyap and Bajju, Agworok, Asholyio, Akoro, and Ham. Such alliances often resulted to the establishment of joking relationships as a way of dissipating hostility between the polities. Beheading war victims was therefore a way of encouraging individuals in their chosen vocations. The A̠nak festival indicates the sanctity of life as practiced by the Atyap. This respect for human life was also shown in the type of punishment meted to those who treated human beings with levity. Any act of murder led to banishment of the murderer to Zali (Malagum) where such criminals took refuge, if the convict was spared from capital punishment. If any member killed another, the offender was handed over to the offended family to deal with according to tradition. Here, compensation for an injury was expected to be commensurate with the injury. If the offender was however forgiven, he was not accepted into society until he had performed rituals for cleansing by the spirits of the ancestors. This implies vigorous diplomatic relationships that were healthy among the Atyap and their neighbours."



One interesting thing among the A̱tyap, though also a common phenomenon among other neighbouring ethnic groups is how marriage was being contracted. The A̱tyap, like other African cultural groups (see Molnos 1973; Bygrunhanga-Akiiki 1977; Robey et al. 1993), strongly believe that marriage was established by A̱gwaza (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, "á̱niet ba ba̱ yet á̱kukum a̱ni" (people who are only 50.0 per cent complete), who become 100.0 per cent human beings only after marriage.

There are a number of narratives as to how marriages were conducted in the pre-colonial times in Atyapland. But of note, Meek (1931) accounted that there were basically of two types: Primary and Secondary marriages.

1. Primary Marriage:

Ninyio (2008) has it that a girl, in this category may be betrothed to a male child or adult at birth, through the girl's uncle or a male paternal cousin. The engagement between the girl and her husband-to-be was officially done when the girl is seven years old.

Gunn (1956) reported that payment and or service are as follows: 'Four fowls for the girl's father (or cash in lieu of service), 2000 cowries or heir equivalent to the girl's father, who keeps relatives, that is brothers and paternal cousins. In addition, presumably at the time of the actual wedding, 20,000 cowries was given to the father (who keeps two-thirds for his use and distributes the balance among his relatives). Finally, before the final rites, a goat to the girl's mother, three fowls to the father and 100 cowries to her maternal grandfather. However, this study discovers that the number of cowries did not exceed 1000. When these are completed, a date is then set by the girl's father for the wedding, which takes the form of capture. Here, the close associates [of the boy] sets an ambush for the girl, seize and leave her in the hut of one of the man's relatives, where the bride stays for three days and nights. On the fourth day, the marriage is consummated in the hut. Primary marriages always take place during the dry season, mostly after harvest.

In a situation where a girl is pregnant at her paternal house before marriage an arrangement was made for an emergency marriage. Unwanted pregnancy was rare and unusual. Meek (1931) reported that pre-marital intercourse is said to be unusual be sure lineages (and clans) are localised."

The Primary marriage had two prominent features: Nyeang A̠lala and Khap Ndi or Khap Niat.

Nyeang A̱lala (Marriage by Necklace):

From an oral account, "At the 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".

In Ninyio (2008), the account states, "When a new child is born (female) the suitor represented by an elder (either male or female) [who] interestingly admires the new born female child, states intention of marriage to his or her son and subsequently ties a string round the hand of the baby. This indicates that she ([the] baby girl) is engaged. This stands till marriage day."

However, Achi (2019) accounts thus, "A girl at birth was betrothed to a boy of four years old. To ensure that the girl remained his, he had to send a necklace. Later he had to send four chickens, tobacco and a mat."

Khap Ndi (Farming Dowry) or Khap Niat (In-lawship Farming):

In continuation, Achi et al. (2019) narrates, "When he had attained the age of ten years, he had to start providing the compulsory farm labour to his father-in-law. The compulsory farm labour lasted for at least two months each year for nine years.

But for the Agworok, Atakat (Attakad) and Fantswam, it was not more than one rainy season, though suitors were liable to providing another labour termed Khap A̠kan (Beer farming). This extra farming for grains for the beer that the in-laws needed in a year when festivals like Song A̠yet, Song A̠swa and Song A̠nak were celebrated.

The farm labour and the gifts occasionally sent by the suitor were not all that was required of him. In each dry season, he had to send twelve bundles of grass to the father-in-law. After completing all the necessary requirements, the marriage date was fixed.

Age mates of the suitor would waylay the bride either in the marketplace, farm or river and whisk her away to the groom's house.

Those who did not undertake this compulsory farm labour for their father-in-law were derided and were not allowed to marry among the Atyap [proper]. They could however marry a divorcee on whom this compulsory labour was not necessary. Such men were given the same labour in their old age even if they had marriageable daughters.

Another benefit of participating in this task was that one could become a member of council both at the village and clan levels. From this point he could then seek to obtain a title in his chosen vocation. Thus, the direct producers (suitors) depended on the elders of society to control labour and choose wives for them."

2. Secondary Marriage:

Ninyio (2008) reports, "In this type of marriage, husband was not allowed to marry a member of the same clan, a close relation of his mother (that is presumably, a member of his mother's lineage), a member of a primary wife's parental household, the wife of a member of his kindred, it the wife of a fellow villager. These regulations applied to all the clans and sub-clans if Atyap within and on diaspora. Any violation attracts severe punishment. Meek (1931) however reported that members of Minyam and Agbaat clans are enjoyed to seek their secondary wives among the wives of fellow clansmen, and take their secondary wives from the men of Minyam and Agbaat.

Bride price in this category costed about 15 pounds and a goat. With regards to inheritance of widows, Sanga̠niet Kambai (an interviewee of Ninyio's) accounts that he inherited and adopted his junior brother's wife when the latter died. This corroborated colonial report that '[should] secondary official marriage occur: a man may inherit widows of his grandfather, father and brother, but only when these are young women and do not have adult lineal [[descendant] with whom they can live. A woman may choose apparently, whether she will be inherited by her [late] husband's son or grandson.'

The first wife of the family is considered the senior among the wives. The most senior wife in the household depends on who among the male members marry first. A junior son may marry before the senior, in respect accorded to a mother. In a polygamous household, the husband spends two nights consecutively with each of his wives in his room. The woman in whom he spends the night with is responsible for cooking the food to be consumed by all family members, from a central cooking pot. After the food is cooked, men were served with theirs in their rooms. Husbands and wives, men and women whether married or not do not eat their food together, because this was separately done."



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. As in most parts of central Nigeria, the fields in the Atyap area during the rainy season become green; but as the dry season sets in from October/November, the vegetation turns yellow and then brown with increasing desiccation.



Agriculture is the main stay of the economy. 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. Apart from cultivation, the farmers of the different Atyab communities engaged in the domestication of animals and birds. Those in the riverine side practiced fishing.



At present about 84% of the Atyap people practice Christianity.

The Atyap traditional religion was 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 (Nerzit) groups.

British administration of Atyap 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.

Being under the control of the Zaria emirate (beginning from the onset of the British administration in the area in 1902), the Atyap 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 Atyap, 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 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.



After the formation of the A̱tyap chiefdom in 1996, the A̱tyap people were ruled by a succession of three monarchs who have come to be known as A̱gwatyap, with the palace situated at A̱tak Njei in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna state, Nigeria.

Etymology of the A̱tyap Kingship Title

The word is derived from these two Tyap words a̱gwam, meaning chief/king and 'A̱tyap,' after the Atyap people, and literally means 'the chief/king of the Atyap).

The names of these rulers who reigned from 1996 till date are as follows:


Territorial and Ethno-Religious Issues with the Hausa-Fulani and the Aftermath

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 by at least the 1750s, possibly much longer, and both groups claim to have been the first settlers. 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.

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.

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. 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.

In the aftermath, many Hausa fled the area, although some returned later, having no other home. 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. It was said that Lekwot's arrest was due to his feud with Ibrahim Babangida, then Head of State. No Hausa were charged. Continued tension and outbreaks of violence were reported as late as 2006.

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.

For some time, the Atyap had been increasingly speaking Hausa, the primary (i.e. major) language of the region. However, after the violent clashes in 1992 there has been a strong trend back to use of Tyap.