Lemba tribe in southern Africa has Jewish roots, genetic tests reveal

08 March 2010

Genetic tests carried out by British scientists have revealed that many of the Lemba tribesmen in southern Africa have Jewish origins, according to a report by the BBC. The Lemba, a tribe of 70,000 to 80,000 members who live in central Zimbabwe and northern South Africa, have customs which are similar to Jewish ones: Lemba refrain from eating pork or other foods forbidden by the Torah, or forbidden combinations of permitted foods, wear yarmulke-like skull caps, conduct ritual animal slaughter, have a holy day once a week, and even put a Star of David on their gravestones. According to their oral tradition, the Lemba are descended from seven Jewish men who left Israel 2,500 years ago and married African women, according to the BBC. The Lemba prefer their children to marry other Lembas, and marriage to non-Lembas is being discouraged.

Their sacred prayer language is a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic. Their religious artifact is a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant known as the ‘ngoma lungundu’, meaning "the drum that thunders.” The object went on display recently at a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe, and has instilled pride in many of the Lemba. They say the ark was built almost 700 years ago from the remains of the original ark, which according to the Bible was used to store the Ten Commandments. For decades, the ancient vessel was thought to be lost until it was discovered in a storeroom in Harare recently.

Members of the priestly clan of the Lemba, the Buba – which is one of 12 clans – have a genetic element also found among the Jewish priestly line, known as Kohanim. "This was amazing," Professor Tudor Parfitt from the University of London told the BBC. "It looks as if the Jewish priesthood continued in the West by people called Cohen, and in same way it was continued by the priestly clan of the Lemba.”

Despite their roots, many of the tribe are now Christians or Muslims.

Add new comment

We welcome any comments you may have on this article.
Comments are moderated and we reserve the right to edit or remove any which are derogatory or offensive.
The WJC is not responsible for the content of any comments.

Comments

Theresa hall

Wed, 19 Mar 2014

We did a DNA on my mother and discovered we have a family line of being descendants of the lost tribe of juda. I originally thought my mother to be seminal Indian but the DNA doesn't lie. I have since been research studying and read the messianic jewish bible.

Galvin Hamandishe

Fri, 28 Feb 2014

Great ,this is wonderfull to know your ancenstral linage.

Hilary Zhou

Thu, 02 Jan 2014

I am a Lemba man from Mberengwa Zimbabwe and am quite interested in the debate here, quite a lot is being said yet not very accurate its difficult to answer all the questions here but if you could inbox me hilaryzhou@gmail.com and i would be glad to discuss with you about the Lemba and also introduce you to other Lemba platforms were you can learn and discuss more on the subject.

Thank you

Sa'id Mashinini

Sat, 19 Oct 2013

What is the difference between Jewish and Semitic?

I've come across Books that say that the Lembas were the Pure Arabs and that the Lembe name historically ias from BaRaba (The Arabs) and diletically change into BaRemba or Balemba or VaRemba.

It is said that they originate from Yemen the land of Queen Sheba and who could also be a descendent of Abraham vai Hagger The Nubian or Keturah.

It is also related that Aramic Arabic and Hebrew are one language with different Dialects as well.

The Term Mwali or Mwari for God is from the Arabic term Muali Mawla (Arabic for The Protector).

Mudzimu for Muazim or Zimu from Azim (Arabic for The Grandeur).

The term Mudimo or Mulimu from Mu'alim (Arabic for The All-Knower) etc

Timotiyos

Tue, 25 Jan 2011

There is difference between "Jews" and children of Yisra'el. Present Jews (Ashkenazi) in the state of Israel are not the descendants of Ya'aqob and they are from Yepheth (Jepheth), one of the three sons of Noah. Jews are not the descendants of Ham.

Both these words "Jew" and "Judaiam" are less than 500 years old and there are no such words "Jews" and "Judaiam" in the Hebrew scriptures.

The other minority "Jews" are Sepharadim which is Edom.

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0012_0_11089.html Khazaria were Turkic people of south-central Russia who converted to Judaism: http://www.answers.com/topic/khazars ) represented a very important period in European history, without their valour, Europe would have probably been 100% Muslim today. Why don't we hear more about the KHAZARS and their mighty empire today?

The American Center for Khazar Studies http://www.khazaria.com/ has a good research on Khazar but incorrectly labelled them as children of Yisra'e. No doubt they are present Israeli but not the ancient Yisra'el.

“Present Jews” tracing their descent from ancestors who settled throughout northwestern Europe in the early Middle Ages. See Encyclopaedia of Judaism and Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia: http://www.answers.com/topic/ashkenazi

Mutena

Wed, 01 Sep 2010

May I add my 2-cents worth as I have been watching this development for a while. Some of the renouned Lemba traditions are not unique to Lembas in Zimbabwe, let me illustrate: 1. It is a common tradition for Zimbabweans to wash their hands before a meal, even if they are using forks and knives. When you visit Zimbabwean households at meal time it isd common for a dish and warm water and a towel to go around for washing of hands. 2. In pre-colonial Zimbabwe Saturday was actually called "Chisi" which means Sabbath and you were not supposed to work even in the fields on that day. The penalty was the confistication of the agricultural impliments you were using. In fact there has been a mulling of the re-introduction of the Chisi in Zimbabwe. 3. Zimbabweans have specific tribal definitions and some foods are forbidden. I remember once I caught a catfish and brought it home. I put it into a pot and my mother threw it away and destroyed the pot so it would never be used again. 4. Generally most Zimbabweans are monotheistic and believe in one G-d, Mwari (Mu-ari = He who is). 5. You will find a lot of biblical names in Zimbabwe and these go back to the pre-colonial period. 6. I grew up in a household where we had a shofa-type horn. I can't recall in what ceremonies it would have been used. 7. The Shona language contains a lot of words that are similar to Hebrew words, for example the word 'bara' for in the beginning G-d 'bara' Heavens and the Earth. That word means to give birth in Shona. The Hebrew word for mountain is Harar and the mountain after which the capital of Zimbabwe is names is called Harare (in fact there are many Jews called Harari). I guess future scholars will find out more similarities between different languages.

Now, what you have to realize is that western religions did not have an impact on Zimbabwe until quite late in the 19th century unlike other African countries where missionary churches were built way back. Zimbabwe was protected by natural barriers, by malaria and tsetse flies. So the cultural impact of colonialists is fairly recent.

Another point to remember is that if some in Zimbabwe are descendants from Israelis (not Jews) then they would have separated from Israel more than 500 years BCE and that would mean that they did not share 80% or more of the jewish customs and feasts that have survived to the modern day jewish communities. Indeed, the Jewish religion did not forsee the building of synagogues everywhere, you went to the Temple ini Jerusalem to worship and that was where the religion was centered. Based on that, how much Israeliness would survive a prolonged diaspora? I guess even some of the Arabs may be Israeli from way back when. The only point that makes me believe that beyond the rivers of Ethiopia there must be Israelis is Zephaniah 3:10 and the fact that G-d says he will scatter Israelis all over the world. Surely this does not exclude Africa. I am not Lemba but I just wanted to show that there are a lot of African traditions that can be compared to both Jewish and Arabic traditions. If G-d promised to gather Israelis in the last days then He will certainly do it, whether Lembas are part of it or not!

His Torian

Mon, 26 Jul 2010

VaRemba’s Jewish claim — A recent fabrication By Davison Moses Foroma RECENTLY, the media carried stories concerning Ngoma Lungundu. The stories as published have raised an important topic, which affects the VaRemba with whom the Ngoma Lungundu is said to be associated. It is not the association with Ngoma Lungundu that is the issue. Rather it is the identity of the VaRemba, which coincidentally has been raised in these publications, which has caused grave concern to members of this tribe, as serious misrepresentations and distortions have been made concerning their origins. Professor Tudor Parfitt has been quoted widely as claiming that his researches have established that VaRemba have a Jewish origin. He uses genetic research done comparing the Y chromosomes found in the VaRemba and those found in a priestly class amongst the Jews, which he claims resemble each other to give credence to his conclusion that this supports the oral history that the VaRemba have a Jewish descent. Edmore Maramwidze, the Gutu North House of Assembly Member himself a muRemba at the symposium held at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) on the February 17 2010, alleged that the VaRemba are adulterine children born to Jewish men by Gentile women — a startling proposition indeed. There are a few VaRemba who have bought into Professor Parfitt’s proposition. The bulk of those who have bought Professor Parfitt’s argument are members of what is today called the Lemba Cultural Association, founded in South Africa by a group of VaRemba whose forefathers moved into South Africa from Zimbabwe. The point is that the VaRemba in both South Africa and Zimbabwe are the same people and cannot have different origins. The oral history as to their origin cannot and should not be different. The oral history of the two VaRemba communities separated by the Limpopo River has to be the same as the ancestors of the majority of the South African group were from Zimbabwe. Until very recently, about the 1960’s, the oral history shared by the VaRemba in Zimbabwe wherever they were geographically located be it Gutu, Masvingo, Chivi, Mberengwa, Hwedza or Buhera has been that their forefathers hailed from Yemen in the Middle East and that they were Arab traders, “vashavi” in Shona. The VaRemba are more commonly known among the Bantu communities in Zimbabwe as vaMwenyi, a Swahili word, which loosely translates to merchants suggesting they passed through East Africa on their way southwards. They are a distinct group of people who do not eat meat of certain animals, and who only eat the meat of animals they have slaughtered themselves. They recite a prayer as they slaughter any animal or bird that is lawful for them to eat. That prayer is in Arabic language and is used by Muslims. Only their males who have come out of the initiation school have authority to slaughter meat eaten by members of the VaRemba community as it is at the initiation school that the prayer is taught. The VaRemba bury their dead with the corpse facing the north of north east direction and lying on its right side. Their culture and original religion (Islam) are inseparable. Although many of them have embraced different religions mainly Christianity as a result of missionary work, their culture has failed to break away from the Islamic influence. Their males who have come out of initiation school are compulsorily required to carry a knife on their person. They use the knife for slaughtering among other things. A man who borrows a knife to slaughter exposes himself to ridicule and is suspect. Traditionally, they are not allowed to marry their daughters to non-VaRemba men. So strong has this tradition been in the part that any women who eloped to non-VaRemba men were regarded outcasts and disowned. This practice has an Islamic origin. The VaRemba do not eat food prepared in cooking utensils used by non-VaRemba and boys who have not passed through the initiation school are not allowed to slaughter animals for meat taken by the community. They have very strict hygienic habits and shave their heads or trim their hair to the same level. This article is not meant to detail all the customs and traditions of the VaRemba. It was necessary to give some information to those not familiar, in order to assist in identifying the people whose culture and origin is under discussion. As the customs and traditions of Jews and Arabs are generally similar, it may be difficult to use the similarity of these to VaRemba culture to determine with accuracy the origin of the VaRemba. If the customs and traditions were the sole yardstick used to determine categorically whether the VaRemba are of Jewish origin or Arabic origin, then it would be inconclusive. That the Arabic and Jewish customs or culture is broadly more or less the same should not be surprising as in fact the two peoples are cousins being descendants of Ebrahim (Abraham) through Ismail (Ishmael), the eldest son of Abraham and his younger half brother Isaac. Both Arabs and Jews are Semites. It is proposed to outline below the points which lend support to the oral history that the VaRemba are descendants of Arabs as opposed to Jews. These are: l The 12 clan names of the VaRemba, which have a definite link to the Islamic religion and not Jewish religion e.g. Hassan, Sharief, Seremani, Sadiki, Haji, Bakari, to name but a few. l The prayer recited by the VaRemba when slaughtering animals or birds is in the Arabic language and is of Islamic origin. This is taught in Arabic at the vaRemba initiation school together with other prayers. l The greeting/salutation taught at the initiation school is a Moslem greeting in Arabic. l The most important prayer taught in the initiation school though in an adulterated form (in terms of pronunciation) is Arabic and Islamic. l The tradition of carrying knives by VaRemba males who have been through the initiation school establishes an irrefutable link to Arabic tradition or culture, which today is pronounced amongst the Yemenite Arabs. Jews do not practice this tradition. l The vaRemba are a patrilineal community i.e., they trace lineage through their fathers whereas you can only be a Jew if your mother is a Jew. l The practice of burying their dead lying on their right side and facing Ka’aba (Mecca) (north of northeast), when one is in Zimbabwe. l The popular oral history that the vaRemba/vaMwenyi are (varungu), descendants of white-skinned forefathers from Yemen. l The issue of religion is not insignificant in addressing the origins of the VaRemba. Nowhere in the books of history on Zimbabwe, including the vaRemba oral history has it been suggested that VaRemba ever built a single synagogue, nor has there been any reference to ruins of a synagogue in the areas that the VaRemba temporarily settled on their journey southwards. Neither has it ever been hinted anywhere at anytime that the VaRemba once regarded Saturday as a day of worship (Sabbath for their Jewish cousins), and yet what distinguishes a Jew from other races or nationalities is the Jewish religion — Judaism, which Jews consider to be exclusively for Jews. Although the VaRemba of today are of various religious persuasions, this does not discredit their claim to Arabic descent as in this day and age choice of religion has become an aspect of the exercise of an individual’s democratic rights. It is, however, contended that the original religion of the VaRemba’s forefathers was Islam, and not Christianity or Judaism. The suggestion by Professor Parfitt that (genetic) evidence exists, which supports the view that the VaRemba are of Jewish descent is not only a misrepresentation of the scientific research carried out by some scientists, but a deliberate attempt to mislead the VaRemba as to their correct descendency. The results of the genetic research, contrary to what Professor Parfitt claims does not categorically link the VaRemba to a Jewish ancestry. The geneticists have so far not excluded or ruled out the VaRemba claim to an Arabic origin. The results of the genetic research have therefore been misrepresented, and clearly, to the prejudice of the VaRemba. I state categorically that any MuRemba who subscribes to the view that VaRemba oral history says that VaRemba are of Jewish descent/ancestry is a convert of the recent fabrication, and needs to re-examine his position critically in the light of the foregoing among other proofs to the contrary. Finally, as for Edmore Maramwidze’s hypothesis that is that VaRemba are sons of Jews by Gentile women – it is too far fetched and has neither the support of oral history nor the Bible itself. His, is a lone voice? Those that are keen on establishing the correct genealogical origin of the VaRemba (if considered necessary to do so in view of the available evidence), should do justice to the VaRemba community, and avoid sweeping statements, and research widely. Clearly, the distortion that the VaRemba have an oral history that claims that they are descendants of Jews has caused some of us a lot of anguish — not that there is anything wrong essentially in being a Jew or Gentile for that matter. Maramwidze and any of those like-minded seem to have left the initiation school half- baked and may be a dangerous example to their VaRemba. It would not be out of place to suggest that they need to be re-initiated. Davison Moses Foroma is a MuRemba/Lemba. He is a legal practitioner and partner with a reputable legal firm in Harare, Zimbabwe. National Museum of Namibia P.O.Box 1203 (59 R. Mugabe Road) Windhoek Namibia Phone: +264 61 276832 Cell +264 81 4004807 ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if the lord won’t have you, the devil must!!!!

Matti Brooks-Miller

Tue, 09 Mar 2010

This does not surprise me. I've been aware of them for awhile. It's about time that recognition is given. A faithful and observant tribe. These men and women had no choice in there location. Yet they did SURVIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AWESOME SHALOM

Ethel R. Weikers

Mon, 08 Mar 2010

I would be interested in knowing more about the connection of the Cohanim to the Lemba. My husbamd's mother was from a family of Cohanim,so his male cousins are Cohanim. My husband was a Levite.(He is deceased.) I am from Israelites surely. I would like to read about the history of the African Jews and the "ngoma lugundu".Would you sent me references?? Yours truly, Ethel R. Weikers

PS i am decended from Russian Jews, my husband from German,Jews.