The Tarok people call themselves oTárók, their language iTárók and their land ìTàrók. They are found principally in Langtang-North, Langtang-South, Wase, Mikang and Kanke Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Plateau State in Central Nigeria. Their main town of Langtang is located about 186 kilometres south-east of Jos, the state capital. They are also found in large numbers in Shendam, Qua’an-Pan, Kanam, Pankshin LGAs and some part of Tafawa Balewa LGA of Bauchi state the Sur (Tapshin). Scattered in Nasarawa and Taraba states are Tarok farming communities. The oTárók is an amalgamation of various peoples who now form a more or less ‘homogeneous’ group. The constituents were of Pe, Ngas, Jukun, Boghom, Tel ( Montol ) and probably Tal origins, while others still remain obscure or unknown.
As is common with most African cultures, most of its history is based on Oral tradition. One tradition has it that the Tarok people originated form central and southern parts of the continent of Africa and are Bantoid. The other has even a Middle Eastern origin (Yemen/Egypt). Other names used for Tarok include Appa, Yergam and its variants of Yergum and Yergem. The name Tarok itself has been wrongly spelt by some as Taroh. The name Appa on the other hand is used by the Jukun to refer to oTarok as a friendship term. It is concluded by some therefore, that Tarok was a nickname given to the Tal/Ngas immigrants.
Historicity of the Tarok People
Oral tradition and anthropological notes indicate that by the middle of the century the Tarok race had already migrated from Tal to the present day Tarok land. The migration was in three phases: Zinni clan went to Dutse (Gazum), Namurang went to what is now Kanam country and Gunnu brought Ce (Langtang), Bwarat and Sa to the general area known today as plain Tarok. This Plain Tarok later on migrated to Wase.
Tarok mythology had earlier predicted the arrival of the white men (Ngol: gat Nyalang) and that they will not bring any harm but progress. No wonder when the white men came and were rejected by neighboring communities, the Tarok accepted them whole-heartedly and assisted in building his accommodation and the first church in Plateau. Since then, the relationship between Tarok and western civilization has been growing from strength to strength. Little wonder that Tarok sons and daughters have made great exploits in the local, state, national and international arena.
The Tarok Economy, Traditions and Relgious Beliefs
The Tarok people are mainly farmers producing both food and cash crops such as guinea corn, maize, millet, yams, rice, cassava, beans, groundnuts, cotton, beneseed, etc. other economic activities of the Tarok people include blacksmithing, carving, fishing, hunting, and mining of local salt using indigenous technologies. The traditional pomade known as miko, produced from the mahogany tree also abound in Tarok land. Local textile is also popular with the Tarok man such as Le. Gba, nyante, agodo etc
The Tarok people have an ancestral cult which retains considerable prestige and importance, despite major inroads of Christianity into the area. The ancestors, orìm, are represented by initiated males and post-menopausal women. Cult activities take place in sacred groves outside almost all Tarok settlements. Orìm are mostly heard, but emerge as masked figures under some circumstances, especially for the disciplining of ‘stubborn’ women and for making prophecies. Orìm figures speak through voice disguisers in a language dotted with code words although framed in normal Tarok syntax and their utterances are interpreted by unmasked figures.
Each Tarok settlement of any size has a sacred grove outside it, which is conserved as the place of the orim or ancestors. The singular form, ùrìm, is applied to a dead person or an ancestor, while orìm refers to the collective ancestors and the cult itself. Men above a certain age are allowed to enter the grove and engage with the ancestors. These inhabit the land of the dead and are thus in contact with all those who have died, including young people and children who were not admitted to the orìm. On certain nights when the ‘orìm are out’, women and children must stay in their houses. Orim can also be seen ‘dressed’, i.e. appearing as masquerades, when they engage with women through an interpreter. Surprisingly, most Tarok are Christian and Langtang hosts some large churches, but the association of the orìm with power ensures that these two systems continue to coexist. Indeed, it is said that the orìm take care to visit the houses of the retired generals and other influential figures at night to cement the bonds between two very different types of power. Orìm society is graded, in the sense that there are members who are not fully initiated and so cannot be let into the inner secrets of the society. Some of the orìm vocabulary is therefore for internal concealment, that is, there are code-words among the elder members to conceal the meaning of what is being said from junior members.
The main function of the orim from the external point of view is to maintain order, both spiritual and actual, within the society but also to prepare for warfare and other collective action. In practice, maintaining order seems to be about disciplining women, who are forced to cook food as a punishment for being lazy or ‘stubborn’. This category of orìm is called orìm aga., literally ‘masquerade that gives trouble’ and its speciality is to fine women. There is a special season, aga. ‘time of trouble’, for meting out fines to offenders. The orìm are also in contact with the dead and it is believed that the spirits of dead children require to be fed; hence they will request special meals from the mother of such children. Orìm also have a marriage-broking function; for example, young women tell the orìm the name of the young man they would like to marry, and they find ways of passing on the message.
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