The Falashas, whose role in Ethiopian history is well known, never presented themselves as Jews before some missionaries and European travellers got interested in them and their religious particularism, from 1860 onwards.
Ethiopian Jews fell outside of the main three Jewish genetic clusters with the highest average genetic differentiation compared with all other Jewish groups (FST = 0.047). They were most closely related to non-Jewish Libyans and South Moroccans (FST = 0.019) and then to the other North African and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations. Their closest (yet still quite distant) Jewish neighbors were Yemenite Jews (FST = 0.038). Likewise, they showed little IBD sharing with other Jewish populations (Fig. 3). By STRUCTURE analysis, their ancestry appeared to be of North African, Middle Eastern, and sub-Saharan origin with little European contribution (Fig. 4).
Despite forming a cluster on PCA and neighbor-joining tree that appeared intermediate to Jews and Middle Eastern non-Jews, the Yemenite Jews were genetically closest to Egyptians by FST (0.008), followed by Middle Eastern non-Jews, then Turkish and Greek Jews (FST = 0.010 and 0.012, respectively); however, their mean FST to all other Jewish populations was similar to that of all other Jewish populations with the exception of Ethiopian Jews (SI Appendix, Fig. S4). Their mean levels of IBD sharing with Jewish populations were comparable to the mean levels of IBD sharing of other Jewish populations, except Ethiopian Jews (SI Appendix, Fig. S4). By STRUCTURE analysis, their inferred ancestry was predominantly Middle Eastern and North African with little European contribution.
Falasha: fake black Jews, again
The infamous ex-justice of the Supreme Court Shamgar, now a leading advocate for fake Jews from Ethiopia, arranged for the Knesset State Control Committee’s demand that the government stop sabotaging the “rescue” of some 8,000 blacks posing as Jews from Gondar, Ethiopia. In fact, more than a thousand of them entered Israel last year, in addition to the tens of thousands who were already here.
Amid much criticism, we would reiterate our position:
If anything, Falasha beliefs resemble monastic Christianity, with an emphasis on purity. Fundamentalist quasi-Judaic leanings are typical of the Ethiopian Church.The Falashas’ opposition to the Church rests on their tribal opposition to the state, whose backbone is the Church.
The Falashas have never tried to establish contact with nearby Yemeni Jews. Rabbinical confirmations of the Falashas’ Jewishness are completely baseless. What conceivable basis could there be for pronouncing them the descendants of the Dan tribe or King Solomon? The diversity of their origin myths shows their falsity.
There are various hypotheses regarding Igbo origins. The rise of these myths and legends when traced historically are found to originate from outside influences and that they were very much a part of the colonial discourse of the British imperialists over their colonized subjects. The most popular of these myths was that of Jewish origins or what is generally called the “Oriental Hypothesis” which was itself based on the “Hamitic Hypothesis.” The Hamitic hypothesis proposed that the Igbo were of Middle Eastern origin, either Egyptian or Hebrew. The most outspoken proponent of the Hamitic hypothesis was the colonial Christian missionary Archdeacon G.T. Basden. The question of Igbo Jewish identity to which many Igbos lay claim was a result of the colonial discourse based on the Hamitic hypothesis.
“Despite the very negative impression of Igbo culture popularized by the British during their administrative reign in Nigeria…both British and Igbo chroniclers also noted much in common between the Igbo cultures and ‘civilized’ European culture. As a result, the myth grew that the Igbo were either descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel or the ancient Egyptians, or had at some point in their history been influenced by one of these societies. This Hamitic myth of Igbo origins was originally supported by limited circumstantial evidences…but is entirely unsubstantiated by either linguistic or archeological evidences…The Hamitic theory came to be a part of apolitical debate on the intrinsic value of Igbo society and culture and has lingered to this day for the same reasons.”
Igbo History and Society: The essays of Adiele Afigbo, Ed. Toyin Falola, World Africa Press, 2005, p. 8
“Later [colonial] educated Igbo would glom onto the Hamitic theory ‘“to show that they had not always been as ‘despicable’”’ as the colonialists found them. In the post-independence period, Afigbo argues that the theory of Hebrew origin has continued to be attractive to the Igbo. For instance, he suggests that:
Publicists and others soon started drawing parallels between Igbo business acumen and their sufferings at the hands of other Nigerian ethnic nationalities on the one hand, and Jewish experience throughout history on the other. Between 1967 and 1970 embattled Biafra provided the perfect parallel to the state of Israel surrounded by hostile Arab nations. The Igbo not only made this comparison themselves, but believed in it. They also came to hope that they would weather the Nigerian storm just as the Israelis are weathering the Arab storm. Thus there is no mere history…but an ideology for group survival.
“In this way, the Hamitic theory of Igbo origin has survived among the Igbo.
“For their part, the British colonizers had their own reasons for promoting the idea that certain Igbo peoples had been influenced by ‘civilized’ Middle Eastern societies like the Hebrew or Egyptians but were not necessarily biological descendants of those peoples. To claim the Igbo were one of the lost tribes of Israel Afigbo explains, ‘would, in the intellectual climate of the time be to assign this despised colonial people a higher place on the world tree of culture than the colonial masters would find convenient.’ A much more politically savvy explanation was that ‘these traits showed that the Igbo were once under Egyptian or Jewish cultural dominance.’ The political ramifications of this interpretation were quite advantageous to the British because, ‘implicit in this claim was the idea, not hitherto emphasized by any one, that British colonialism was not a radical departure from the past. Instead it was in some sense a continuation of the cultural education of the Igbo which had been started long ago by the Egyptians.’ Furthermore, this theory helped the British established a typology through which they could administer the notoriously decentralized Igbo areas directly. Thus, Afigbo explains, ‘it came to be argued first that Igboland was once under Egyptian influence, secondly that the spread of Egyptian culture in Igboland was the work of a small elite who after inter-breeding with the people became the Nri and the Aro of today, and thirdly, that if the British really wanted to rule the Igbo ‘indirectly,’ then they had to do so through the Nri and the Aro.’ Politically, the Hamitic theory was the key to the benevolent imperialism of the British in Igboland.
“As politically compelling as the Hamitic theory of Igbo origin was to different people, Afigbo notes, the theory is not based in fact and has long been debunked in academic circles.” Afigbo, pp. 9, 10
“G.T. Basden in Niger Ibosregaled popular Igbo imagination in 1937 with Hebraic origins and proved it through cultural norms that resonate, ranging from the symbolism of blood, through rites of passage to specific forms of economic and political organization. Communities in the north-western Igbo culture theater adulated him with honorific titles; one of these imaged him as the ‘mouth that speaks for the people’.” Afigbo, p. 19
“One of the other principle contribution of Afigbo to the rehabilitation of African history is found in the decolonization of Igbo origins from the shackles of the Hamitic hypothesis. The proponents of the monstrous paradigm had, for no other than mischievous intents, assigned any item of cultural achievements found in Negro Africa to some kind of oriental origin. Its application to the Igbo was first encountered in the work of Equiano, an ex-slave freed in Britain, who claimed that the Igbo are a lost tribe of Israel. Equiano based his claim on such common cultural practices as circumcision, conferment, purification of women, naming children after specific events and experience as also found in Hebrew culture. Along this perspective, the colonial scholars who started research on Igboland from about 1900 quickly spread the Hamitic hypothesis is eastern Nigeria. Such aspects of Igbo life as its traditions of origins, democratic political culture, Aro trading and oracular oligarchy, Nri priestly tradition and cult ceremonials, Nkwerre and Abiriba skilled iron works and lot more – were all misunderstood to be of oriental origin. In what Afigbo has described as their search for ‘noble ancestry’ these flattered Igbo communities (the Aro, the Nri and Abiriba), began to concoct histories of origins that linked their remote ancestors with either Israel or Egypt.” Afigbo, pp. 46-7
“Early in the century the Rev. G.T. Basden saw a very close resemblance between Igbo culture and Jewish culture without quite saying the Igbo were of Jewish descent. But such was his form of words that the hasty would draw that conclusion.” Afigbo, p. 126
“The Oriental Hypothesis
“The theory was put forth [from British colonialists] that the Igbo came from the East. Some commentators had speculated that the Igbo were either one of the lost ‘tribes’ of Israel or Egypt and that for some inexplicable circumstances, they left the East and wandered across until they finally came to their present abode. The exponents of this theory found similarity of culture between that of Igbo and some of the Eastern peoples. Circumcision, system and manner of naming children, sentence structure and similarity in some words, religion and ritual symbols, love of adventure and enterprise were used to explain derivation from the East. Even as late as April 1984, one Dr. Chuks Osuji (1984, p.2) claimed in an article in the Sunday Statesman that:
Some scattered efforts have been made to investigate origin of the Igbo man. Some of these efforts have yielded some positive results. All of them have traced the origins of the Igbos to Hebrew. Many foreign scholars working independently have earlier given clue to this fact. They have associated the overwhelming characteristics of the Igbos to those of the Jews.
“Olaudah Equiano, an Igbo ex-slave and an eighteenth century commentator on Igbo society, links the Igbo with the Jews (Edwards, 1967, p. 12). G.T. Basden (1912) has also opined that:
The investigator cannot help being struck with the similitude between them (the Igbo) and some of the ideas and practices of the Levitical Code.
“The Aro, in particular, were believed to have derived from an alien stock because of the level of socio-political organization the Aro had reached at the time of British invasion. The Nri were also attributed to culture carriers of Eastern provenance (Jeffreys, 1956). These speculations have no historical basis.”
A Survey of The Igbo Nation, Ed. G.E.K. Ofomata, Professor of Geography, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 2002, p. 40
Genetics and Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa Presented at SAfA 2004
From high antiquity to recent history6, one of the more bizarre episodes in the attempt to link genetics and linguistics is the case of the Lemba in Southern Africa7 (Hendrickx 1991; Spurdle & Jenkins 1996; Thomas et al. 2000). If you believe the many websites, the Lemba are a black Southern African Bantu speaking group who have Jewish Ancestry. They purportedly observe customs such as not eating pork, male circumcision, and keeping one day a week holy. According to their oral history, they came to Africa from “Sena in the north by boat”. The original group, which is said to have been almost entirely male, made its way to the coasts of Eastern Africa. If the Lemba do indeed have Jewish ancestry then one might expect to find a similarity between the Y chromosomes of Lemba men and those of Jewish men living in other parts of the world.
Needless, to say, this has stimulated the ‘lost tribes of Israel’ lobby. Tudor Parfitt, a lecturer in Jewish Studies has made a miniature media career through a book and television programme, Journey to the Vanished City: Search for a Lost Tribe of Israel (Parfitt 1997). In this bold essay into the unknown the brave hero ventures into South Africa and lo and behold uncovers the Lemba. This was linked to a study that compared the Y chromosomes of around 136 Lemba to those of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, Yemeni and non-Lemba Bantu speakers (Thomas et al. 2000). Researchers found evidence of Semitic origin in the Lemba, although it was not clear whether this origin was Jewish or Arab, or a mixture of both. The study also found that the Lemba carry the Cohen modal haplotype (CMH) at a frequency similar to that found in Jewish populations. The CMH has been suggested as a signature for the ancient Hebrew population. Non-Lemba Bantu speakers in the study did not carry the CMH. The researchers concluded that the Lemba most likely have a mixture of Jewish, Arab and Bantu origins, although the CMH present in Lemba men could have an exclusively Jewish origin. It is therefore claimed that the genetic evidence is therefore consistent with the Lemba oral tradition of a Jewish origin. Wilson & Goldstein (2000) even go so far as to refer to them as a ‘Bantu-Semitic Hybrid Population’.
The whole story has more than a whiff of Wilbur Smith. These ‘traditions’ are almost entirely spurious and do not date from the earliest records of the Lemba, but are an example of reinvention spurred by the interests of outsiders. The Lemba only now claim to be of Jewish origin because they have told this is the case, just as they now wear skull-caps and shawls in conformity with this spurious tradition. It seems very likely that even the claim that there is ‘Semitic’ DNA would be difficult to support and the likelihood that the frequency of CMH is really similar to modern day Jewish populations unlikely in the extreme. Bizarrely, the Lemba are now also claiming to have built Great Zimbabwe. Assuming the genetics result reflect anything at all, it is probably intermarriage with Arab traders in the past few centuries. It is noticeable that the Lemba have no language of their own and indeed no linguistic trace remains of their supposed Jewish forbears. Nonetheless, as quoted in Thomas et al. (2000), the Lemba are now writing books about themselves, recounting traditions of apparent Jewish origin. Search websites on Bantu genetics and this is the main topic they want to discuss; Judaic websites have begun to elaborate an entire mythology of the lost Jewish populations of sub-Saharan Africa8. Ruwitah (1997) has indeed pointed to this reinvention but to no good effect. By some irony, a series of studies of the Falasha, the ‘Black Jews’ of Ethiopia, who have always claimed to be Orthodox Jews and who were certainly practising Jewish religion when first encountered by outsiders, show no Jewish genetic traits at all (Lucotte & Smets 1999).
6 It is hard not to be reminded of Karl Marx’ observation “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, so to speak, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Opening sentences of ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’.
7 See an uncritical review at http://www.bioethics.umn.edu/genetics_and_identity/case.html#lemba.
8 See http://dickinsg.intrasun.tcnj.edu/diaspora/part1/pwrpnt/Judaism/sld013.htm
This article addresses the outside origin hypothesis that suggests the Igbo have a Jewish origin.
After carefully studying this paper I found that there are indeed elements of indigenous Igbo philosphy that resonate very strongly with elements found in the Hebrew Bible and Judaic thought, however the author never makes this association. The Igbo author even quotes Martin Buber. Still however, there was nothing mentioning Igbos in connection to Jews. The author mentions and compares the different Outside Origin hypotheses of some Igbo clans. There was nothing in the paper that mentioned origins as Jews, Israel or Hebrew as being one of them.
Though there are many examples and sources documenting the supposed oral history of the South Africa Lemba, we will base our examination from the information or “evidences” presented in the following article which serves as a representative sample for a jumping off point to discuss the problems that are inherent in the constructions or inventions of various African Jewish historiographical schemes:
Black Jews of South Africa: biological and cultural constructions of identity – November 19, 2002
Oral history.-The oral history of the Lemba forms the basis for most theories concerning their origins. Zimbabwean Lemba have a tradition that they came from the north and that their fathers did skilled metalwork for the Arabs (Hughes et al. 1976). An extensive summary of southern African Lemba oral history by Van Warmelo (1974) indicates that the Lemba ancestors are believed to have come from a huge town across the seas, where there were many craftsmen in metalwork, pottery, textiles, and shipbuilding. They came to southern Africa to trade, especially for gold. With time, they left behind men with the unsold cargo, establishing posts on the coast and further inland. One day they received the shattering news that their hometown had been taken by the enemy, and they could not return. They thus began taking local wives, and the different trading posts marked the establishment of the clans known today. More detailed descriptions of Lemba oral history by Professor Mathivha of the Lemba Cultural Association (Mathivha 1992) suggest that the Jewish ancestors of the Lemba, as traders in the 7th century BC, migrated from “the north” to Yemen, where they established both a large community at Sena (Sa’na) and several trading posts along the eastern African coast. The Jewish community of Sena (Sa’na), termed “Basena,” was later expanded by exiles escaping the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. At some later stage “trouble broke out between the Basena and the Arabs,” resulting in the migration of some Basena to Africa. Here the group split into two, one moving westward to settle in Ethiopia (the “Falashas”), the other (the Lemba) moving southward, finally to establish communities in southern Africa. Dates for the migration from Yemen appear to be inconsistent, and those quoted for settlement en route to southern Africa range from 450 BC to 50 AD (Mathivha 1992). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1914832/pdf/ajhg00024-0161.pdf
CESNUR – Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne – http://www.cesnur.org
“The Black Jews of Africa”: A Review by Massimo Introvigne
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By “Black Jews” scholars usually mean the followers of a number of movements born in the United States at the end of the 19th century around the claim that African Americans descend from the Lost Tribes of Israel, and should return to the practice of Judaism. The oldest U.S. Black Jew movement was established by William Saunders Crowdy (1847-1908) in 1896; the largest trace their origins to Frank S. Cherry (1870-1965) and Warren Robertson (1880-1931). In Israel, although some American “Black Jews” – from Ben Ami Carter’s Original Hebrew Israelite Nation of Chicago – have emigrated there, the name more usually designates the Falasha, i.e. the Ethiopian Jews who became citizens of the Jewish state under the Law of Return. The two movements are connected: the great promoter of the Falasha cause, Jacques Faitlovitch (1881-1955), took an interest in the American Black Jews and in turn influenced several American groups now claiming some sort of ethnic relationship with the Falashas.
Less well-known are a number of Black Jewish movements in Africa. They claim to descend either from the Lost Tribes or from an early immigration of Jewish tribes from Arabia or North Africa chased southwards by Islam. A new book by Edith Bruder, The Black Jews of Africa. History, Religion, Identity (Oxford University Press, New York 2008), originally a dissertation under Tudor Parfitt, fills the gap with a map of many groups claiming to be “Jewish” in sub-Saharan Africa. Falashas, on which a large literature exists, are excluded. And only a few pages are devoted to the Lembas, a tribe of some 70,000 members in South Africa, also largely covered in literature about Jewish identity since DNA research published in reputable journals lent some credibility to the claim that they do indeed descend from Jewish tribes from Arabia. Bruder judiciously notes, however, that most media misunderstood the impact of DNA research on the Lembas, and mistook mere hypotheses for final proof.
Bruder surveys all legends and historical reports connecting Jews to sub-Saharan Africa. The book discusses in detail legends about the Queen of Sheba and the Ten Tribes, particularly those locating them south of a mythical rivers Sabatyon, which cannot be crossed except on Saturday (when however no pious Jew would travel), and the very scarce reports which can be regarded as historical about the presence of Jews in the Middle Ages and in early modern centuries south of the Sahara. From this survey Bruder concludes that some claims of African groups to have Jews among their ancestors are not absurd. Disentangling fact from legend is however almost impossible, the more so after Christian missionaries made several tribes familiar with the Bible, and local prophets started comparing the sufferings of Israel with the sufferings of Africa. The identification thus from mythical often became mystical, guided by prophecy and revelations. This is the case of one of the most well-known African Black Jewish movement, the Abayudaya of Uganda, founded by Semei Kakungulu (1868-1928) based on celestial revelations, and almost destroyed by the persecutions of Idi Amin Dada (1928-2003). This movement, like several others in Africa, is now being revived and taught in the ways of a more orthodox Judaism thanks to the efforts of American and Israeli organizations, including the very active Kulanu.
The Abayudaya are more well-known than several other groups, to which Bruder’s book is a very useful and welcome guide. The Zakhor Jews of Timbuktu, Mali, may have some justifiable claim to a Jewish ancestry. They are proud of this ancestry, and quick to attack any dismissal of it as anti-Semitism, but on the other hand they are religiously “de-Judaized” in the sense that they do not want to go back from their historical conversion to Islam. “We are Muslim like yourself”, (p. 142), they say to their hostile Islamic neighbors who look suspiciously to anything Jewish for reasons connected with international politics.
More doubtful is the claim that the Igbos, the third-largest ethnic group in Nigeria, descend from Jewish ancestors. This does not prevent some 30,000 Igbo to congregate in more than twenty-five synagogues, although some claim to be, precisely as descendants of the Lost Tribes, “pre-Talmudic” and (not unlike the Karaites in Europe) accept the Torah but not the Talmud. The Talmudic branch, on the other hand, currently tries to be recognized as Jewish by Israeli authorities, and is supported by Kulanu. The same is true for the House of Israel in Ghana, a movement with some 800 member headquartered in Sefwi Wiaso whose origins lie in a vision by Aaron Ahotre Toakiyarafa (?-1991). The House of Israel maintains increasingly important relations not only with Kulanu but also with U.S. Black Jews of Ghanaian ancestry.
The Havilah Institute, supported by high profile Tutsi expatriates in Europe, claims that Tutsis of Rwanda and Burundi also descend from the Lost Tribes. Rather than conversion to Judaism, the Institute seeks a better awareness of the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis during the wars in Rwanda, and liberally compares this genocide with the Holocaust. Its efforts have met with some degrees of success as evidenced, Bruder notes, by the involvement of European Jewish organizations, and of Kulanu, in demonstrations and other actions denouncing the anti-Tutsi persecutions in Rwanda.
In Cape Verde there is a Cape Verde-Israel Friendship Society which, unlike similar organizations elsewhere, does not limit its activities to supporting the State of Israel but claims that many local Africans in fact descend from Jews expelled from Portugal in the 15th century. Bruder observes that it is more probable that families with Jewish traditions in Cape Verde in fact descend from Moroccan Jews who relocated there in the 19th century. A similar movement exists in Angola.
In South Africa, Jewish ancestors are claimed by the members of several “Zionist” African-initiated churches who are, however, Christian. Some regard themselves as Jewish, including The Israelites (163 of which died in the Bulhoek Tragedy of 1921 in a skirmish with the white police) and the Black Philadelphia Church of Soweto, which now has some 1,000 members. The origins of these South African Black Jews go back to the influence of the American movement of William Saunders Crowdy, and the same is true for the 5,000-member Jewish community of Rusape, Zimbabwe, whose current leader is a former Rastafarian.
Bruder devotes several pages to theories about Jewish origins of the population of Madagascar. They were taken seriously by French colonial administrators, and today there is a movement, the Descendants of David, based on these claims.
African Black Jew movements are not a thing of the past. Bruder claims that “in recent years a myriad of other Judaizing societies, which are not included in this first survey, are burgeoning in West and East Africa and claim a Lost Tribes descent”. She quotes the Beit Avraham community in Kachene, Ethiopia (not a part of the Falashas), Rabbi Yisrael Oriel’s group in Cameroon, and an emergent community in Laikipia, Kenya.
Bruder explain that discussions of the Jewish identity are not part of her book. They do surface, however, whenever Israeli rabbis and politicians are confronted by the issue whether to ignore the African Black Jews, to take their claims at face value and allow them into Israel under the Law of Return, or to prepare them for a formal conversion to Orthodox Judaism.
Hebrewisms of West Africa by Joseph J Williams
The parallels that http://www.hebrewisraelites.org/hebrewism.htm and others similarly like minded see between indigenous African cosmology with the cosmology of the Hebrew bible that Joseph Williams in his ”Hebrewisms of West Africa,” and others call “Hebrewism,” “Judaism,” or “Jewish,” is understood or interpreted to indicate some Africans and African traditions emanate or originate from Hebrews, Hebrewisms or Israel. The Africa Israel Hypothesis proposes that these evidences of “Hebraic” influence do not owe their origins to Hebrews, Hebrewisms or any other sort of “Hebraic” influences, but rather, the indigenous African cosmology is instead THE SOURCE of what Williams calls “Hebrewisms” (actually “Africanisms” ) that found their way into the Hebrew bible.