|President of Ngwan Ishi Tarok, Rtd. Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro|
The Tarok people are found in Langtang North and South, Kanam and Wase local government areas of Plateau State. Langtang North and south are however, the heart of Tarok land in the lowland area of Plateau State, central Nigeria. The journey from Pankshin to Langtang, the main town of Tarokland which is bye-and-large a descend through a road that meanders around spectacular rocks to open up in a broad plain. The plain is encircled by high mountains that leave a few accesses to the town. Once these accesses are patrolled, you cannot come into Langtang without being seen. It is said that the choice of the location was deliberate in order to guard against enemy tribes.
The Tarok people have an annual event, the Ilum O Tarok (Tarok Day). The celebration of Ilum O’Tarok is driven by the imperativeness to push for peace and togetherness among Tarok people. It is also a platform for updating the Tarok traditional skills for the sake of spurring technological development leading to economic and social development. If Tarok people must remain distinct, there is also the need to encourage upcoming generation of Tarok men and women to uphold the culture and traditions of their ancestors. One cannot deny the link between a distinct culture and tourism and the economic blessing that trails it. A tribe living in isolation cannot move on with ease. Thus the need for community with neighboring tribes is another driving force behind the Ilum O’Tarok.
The Tarok people are indeed proud of their heritage and are determined to preserve it. This is evident in many of the cultural elements of the Tarok people. For instance, the traditional Langtang architecture has endured till today. This conspicuous architectural style sharply marks the boundary between Ngas land and Tarok land such that one gets the impression of a cultural change at the boundary. The people live in round huts with coned-shaped roofing of grass that the environment provides. Usually a number of these huts that depend on the size of the family could be seen clustered together.
In view of the plain nature of the topography of the biggest town in Tarok land, Langtang, houses are opened to the destructive menace of the winds. Planting trees to serve as wind breaks has thus become a practice among the Tarok people. The most favored plant used for this is the dogonyaro plant that has thus defined the uniqueness of Tarok skyline which is evergreen.
The coming of a new born is seen as a blessing not just to the immediate parents but the community at large. If the community must benefit from the blessing a new child brings then he must live and grow up to become a man. There is however death and some women often give birth to children that usually die soon after their birth. As a result subsequent children are initiated into the Orim cult to prevent them form dying.
Polygamy is a cultural element of the Tarok people and the number of wives a man has marks him out among his peers. Great men are also known by the size of their harvests, the number of children and the spirit of giving to the less privileged. Those that lead men to war to come back victorious are also, without doubt, among great men in Tarok land. Above all a great man is one who once killed a leopard an extremely ferocious animal. Thus he has the right to wear a cap made from the spotted skin of the animal. The cap is now generally won as symbol of greatness among Tarok men.
In life generally love can come at first sight. With consensus. with a Tarok girl meeting a boy for the first time can follow him to his house to become his wife without prior notice to her parents. The love rendezvous is usually market places on market days. The next day, a relation of the new husband is led by a mediator, unim sel, to the girl’s parents to inform them that they should not panic as their daughter is in the custody of their son. They then present a gift that the girl’s parents hardly take on the first day to avoid creating the impression of selling their daughter. The eventual acceptance of the present, usually snuff, is an endorsement of the marriage.
The next step is for the new husband to pay the bride price. This he does by building a three hut apartment, farming for a few years and buying a traditional wear for the father-in-law
Children are named based on the circumstances surrounding the birth. There are names like Nanmwa meaning God has provided, usually given because the parents where almost given up on having a child. Byenchit meaning that it is good. Ventim means ’restored by God.’ In other contexts, Ventim may mean ‘unity’, given when a child is born at a time when there is a disagreement that divides the community into two or more
Tarok people say that militarism naturally runs in their veins. This they say is the reason why the Tarok are remarkably successful in the Nigerian Armed Forces such that it is rumored that there is one Military General in every squared kilometer of Tarok land. The adventures of their men in the military had made the land famous and the sons and daughters of Tarok very proud of whom they are. Hence a distinguished military career has also become a mark of greatness that guarantees one the freedom to adorn the leopard cap.
Funeral rites in Tarok land are also unique. The death and subsequent burial of an elderly man is usually followed by ngaga that involves the beating of drums, chanting of incantations and wielding of spears meant to drive away death. This is followed by nken orim during which the spirit of the death man is received and reunited with his ancestors and by extension the people.