Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Lemba People - A Lost Tribe of Israel

So, while I was living it down on that Mozambique beach, shopping around for a dhow, my lovely fiery Israeli friend was hunting down one of the lost tribes of Israel. Right here in our good old RSA.

As today I am either battling a head cold or malaria (Ex-doctor boss’s full examination this morning did not reveal enough to calm either his or my dad’s paranoia, despite me not having a fever or cold sweats or aching bones, just a sexy husky voice), I do not feel like thinking too much, plus this is a ridiculously fascinating story, so I am plagiarising from my mate’s email…

“You might remember vaguely from the bible that Israel consisted of 12 tribes, 10 of the tribes were lost in the pages of history. Well, not really lost since there are a few groups around the world who claim they are one of the lost tribes. They all keep a very strange collection of Jewish Mitzvot (deeds), some will keep kosher, some will wear a Kipa on their heads, some will have a Star of David etc. The lost tribes are scattered around the world, there are groups in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, India, China, Ethiopia, Morocco, there are the Anousim (forced converted) in Portugal etc.”

My mate and two other women, who work for Young Judaea, a Jewish Youth Movement, set off in search of the Lemba People. This group of people claim they are the “black Jews”, one of the lost tribes who now live in the Venda Region in South Africa. Unfortunately the women quickly learnt that “the Lemba people are shy and not really interested in all the fuss around them.”

Despite rejections from the leaders, the ladies still headed to Thohoyandou - the capital of Venda. They had no leads or clues where to start investigation but they were convinced that they would find the tribe. They succeeded, and met with MJ, the leader of the community who explained the history of the Lemba and their traditions.

“It was extremely interesting to meet this proud people and to hear about them, a story that is passed from father to son for generations”.

Then she offered us this...
You might wonder who they are, here is a short overview of the Lemba people:

Approximately 2,500 years ago, a group of Jews left Judea and settled in Yemen to trade (in Israel we would call them “yordim”). A few years later they migrated along the East Coast of Africa, settled in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe and eventually arrived to South Africa. Today there are about 70,000 Lemba people in Southern Africa

They keep a few traditions that reminds Judaism:

· They believe in one God Nwali, the creator of all things.
· One day a week is considered holy
· They circumcise all their males at the age of 8 years old (I guess they got it a bit wrong)
· They don’t eat pork or any of the animals prohibited by the Old Testament. They slaughter the animals by designated people and they bleed to the ground. They do not mix milk and meat.
· They wash their hands before every meal and they use running water (unlike others who wash their hands in used water from a bucket)
· They used to observe the moon to guide their calendar.
· They have special burial rituals, their graves are dug with a shelf on the side where the body is laid. The head faces north where they came from. Nowadays they put the Star of David on their tombstones.
· Every September 1st they all meet in Sweet Water Farm in Limpopo Province to celebrate the New Year and they use a horn (like a Shofar).
· Lembas are encouraged to marry other Lembas. A non Lemba woman can be instructed in the ways of the Lembas if she is to marry one. She has to learn the religious laws, dietary laws, etc. She may not bring any kitchen utensils from her maiden home to her new Lemba home. She has to bring her children up according to the Lemba tradition.

The Lemba came into the public spotlight, when genetic tests were carried out a few years ago by professor Trevor Jenkins of the South African Institute for Medical Research. Jenkins made the remarkable observation that the Y chromosome found in 50% of Lemba men is identical to the unique genetic changes found only in Jewish communities scattered throughout the world.

A group of experts took that research one step further and looked for the Kohen (Priestly) gene among the Lemba people. The tradition of the Jewish priesthood (Kehuna), has a genetic signature that is rare or absent in all non-Jewish populations tested so far. They showed that the proportion of Lemba men carrying the genetic signature of the priests were similar to those found among the major Jewish populations.

Regardless of all these researches they are not recognized as Jews by the global Jewish community and the State of Israel. Part of the problem is that they don’t keep major Jewish Mitzvot (deeds) and because their religion is defined by the religion of the father (as oppose to Judaism that is defined by the mother).

After all this science and expensive researches the three of us found the ultimate proof for their Judaism. Dr. Mathiva was the previous leader of the tribe and we heard that he has 4(!!!) children who are medical doctors(!!), as far as we are concerned this is the proof, do you really need more then that? Based on this piece of information alone I think that they can immigrate to Israel and should receive immediate Israeli citizenship. [ed. Funny lady, that friend of mine!]

Thank you to my dear friend for this enthralling piece….now I must go and do some payback work for her. She has recently hired me as, well….hold on, I am not getting paid for that work!!... do some slave labour for her… Damn knowing & interacting with these NGO types!


Anonymous said...

...tough crowd...

Well, I had never heard of the Lemba People before today.
I reckon they have the right idea, wanting to stay lost n all...

Champagne Heathen said...

I know!! I have been feeling mightily unloved all day! Do people not like talking religion on this blog. Surely not!!

Although, one mate just tried to comment & he said it kept crashing on him. Ah ha!

They sound great hey. I also would want to hide out, if I had created one sweet life in Venda of all beautiful places. Kinda like my plan with Vilanculos.


DaveRich said...

I am trrrrying! What an interesting post. I used to know all the tribes of Israel (Napthali, Ithacar, Asher, Dan, Benjamin...forgot the rest). I was in Joseph and his Amazing technicolour dreamcoat at school and its in one the songs. Jacob was their dad!!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating blog, dear.
I've just recovered from husky voiceness.
Now I'm battling PMS.
One drink this weekend?

Champagne Heathen said...

Let's hope my comments work today!

Dave - ha ha, I am so getting you toasted on tequila & making you re-enact the song, with actions & all!

Jamaloni - long time! So YOU got me sick! Not the mosquitoes! A drink & pizza sounds good!

Koekie said...

Hey Champs - I was very interested to learn that my beloved maid, Josie, is a black Jew. Well, not Jewish, but similar to. Now that I've read your post, it makes me wonder what her religious background really is!

Champagne Heathen said...

Koeks - really!?! Wow! I'll let my mate know, but how I wish we found all this out a few months back so we could drill her with questions!

Mr Memetic said...

Jews are fun and interesting.

Because they are trying to take over the world. The Elder Protocols of Zion say so (okay that was just a joke).

Actually, your lost tribe story reminded me of a lost heroism story. I don't know all the details. But for those Jews who went to a Jewish Day-School (I never went to the Night-School, apparently it's not quite the fun of Habonim, or something) will remember the Maccabeh story.

From the Chanuka story ("It's not spelt Chunooka, the 'C' is silent in Chanuka...").

Well, it involves oppression of a people occupied by a foreign power exerting force on them to get their own way. The Maccabees flee to the hills and start fighting back, using guerilla tactics, inciting the local population of oppressed to stand up for themselves, even if they use barbaric tactics against their foes, etc.

Sound familiar?

Come on, think about it... it has a ring of familiarity to it...

Yes, that's right, it's basically the plot to Sparticus.

I think with the right script and funding we could make millions churning out another identical story based on different source material!

C'mon, whose with me?

Mr Memetic said...

Oh, come on. Someone here must think my get-rich quick scheme is a good idea. SOMEONE?