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Ham tribe

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Tribes in Nigeria- The Ham Tribe

The Ham Tribe speak a language called the Hyam language. A language spoken in more than 100 villages and 27 districts in Nigeria.[1] In times past, the Ham tribe were a people popularly referred to as the Jaba people, until more recently that the nomenclature ‘Jaba’, began to be looked down upon, especially by the natives. This displeasure at the word ‘Jaba’ was because of the roots of the word being in the Hausa language, as against the indigenous lingua, ‘hyam’. An extensive research was undertaken by a native of the area and a linguist, with respect to the language and came about the conclusion of the derogatory nature of the word ‘Jaba’ and therefore, the emphasis for its discarding and adoption of the unadulterated term, ‘Hyam.[2]

The Geography and Economy of the Ham Tribe

The Ham natives are predominantly found  in JabaKachiaKagarko and also in Jema’a Local Government Areas of Kaduna state and in Keffi Local Government Area of Nasarawa state of Nigeria. Under this huge Umbrella however, are so many clusters and classifications. For example, the dialects are clustered as: Ham Kpop ( also called Jaban Kwoi), Ham Ngat Ham (Jaban Katari), Ham Shambang (Samban), Ham Duhyah [or Idun ] (Jaban Lungu), Ham Kworri (Chori), Ham Det (Faik/Kenyi), Ham Netkun/Netwho (Gbaham), Ham Nyakpah [or Nyankpa ] (Yeskwa), Ham Kong/Rhuini (Kamantan).[3]

Given that the Gurara River and other several seasonal streams thread through their dwelling place, their agricultural lifestyle is significantly enhanced. For example, since the introduction of ginger by the colonialist during the colonial days, the Ham tribe have consequently raised it as a cash crop till date. They are arguably one of the largest sources of exported ginger for Nigeria. In addition to this, they cultivate rice, guinea corn, millet, cocoyam, Hungary rice etc. in subsistence levels.

Other Facts about the Ham Tribe

The Ham tribe celebrate a major annual festival called the ‘Tuk-Ham’ annual festival. This festival actually serves as a Planting festival for the Ham tribe who claim direct descent from the Nok culture. The festival is a fusion of both the ‘Ku’ and ‘Fain’ festivals which were known to be celebrated by the forebears of the Ham people. The festival usually features a lot of traditional and cultural displays; these occurs within a two-day period, during the Easter period. The event is preceded by a symposium and a ‘Tir-Ham’ (or Miss Jaba) beauty contest, and eventually rounded up with cultural displays and a gala night.[4]

Hayab writes that the Ham Tribe speaks Hyam in different variations. These variations that are spoken include: Hyam Taa Ham – ‘Hyam spread in Ham area’ including Nok, Ghikyaar, Kuscum, Har Dzyee, Shong, etc. Kwyeny – same as Hyam Kpop in other classifications (spoken in Har Kwain or Kwoi), Kyoli – the dialect of the Kworri/Kwori (also known as Chori), Saik Shamang – same as Shambang.[5]

The Ham tribe are predominantly a Christian tribe, with a minimum of 85% Christian population and a staggering 75% being Evangelical Christians.

The Paramount ruler of the Ham people is referred to as the ‘Kpop Ham’, with the traditional stool located in Kwoi, Kaduna State, Nigeria.


[1] Joshua Project

[2] John, Philip Hayab. (2017). Narratives of identity and sociocultural worldview in song texts of the Ham of Nigeria: a discourse analysis investigation. PhD Dissertation submitted to the University of Stellenbosch, Unpublished

[3] James, I. (1998). The Settler Phenomenon in the Middle Belt and the Problem of National Integration in Nigeria. Jos, Nigeria: Midland Press.

[4] Nigeria Gallaria

[5] Hayab, P. J. (2016). Basic Hyam Grammar with Ethnographic Notes. Abuja: Beltina Digital Press.     

Feature image source: Naijablog

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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