Monday, January 23, 2012

lemba people (Vhashavhi or Vhalemba)

The Lemba or 'wa-Remba' are a southern African ethnic group to be found in Zimbabwe and South Africa with some little known branches in Mozambique and Malawi. According to Parfitt they are thought to number 70,000.[1] Many of them claim a common descent to the Jewish people.In south Africa the Lemba people are incorporated in Vhavenda tribe and they are also reffered to as 'Vhashavhi'..

Although they are speakers of Bantu languages related to those spoken by their geographic neighbours, they have specific religious practices and beliefs similar to those in Judaism, which some[who?] suggest were transmitted orally. Today, many Lemba are Christians (including Messianic Jews) or Muslim, and maintain several Jewish practices. Recent genetic analyses have established a partially Semitic (Middle-Eastern) origin for a significant portion of the Lemba population.[3][4]

The name "Lemba" may originate in chilemba, a Swahili word for turbans worn by East Africans or lembi a Bantu word meaning "non-African" or "respected foreigner".[5]

Judaic or Arab links

Many Lemba beliefs and practices can be linked to Judaism. According to Rudo Mathivha,[2] this includes the following:

They call God Nwali.
They observe Shabbat.
They praise Nwali for looking after the Lemba, considering themselves part of the chosen people.
They teach their children to honor their mothers and fathers.
They refrain from eating pork and other foods forbidden by the Torah, and forbid combinations of permitted foods.
Their form of animal slaughter, which makes meats fit for their consumption, is a form of shechita.
They practise male circumcision; (furthermore, according to Junod,[6] surrounding tribes regarded them as the masters and originators of that art).
They place a Star of David on their tombstones.
Lembas are discouraged from marrying non-Lembas, as other Jews are discouraged from marrying other non-Jews.
Circumcision, not marrying non-Lembas, their dietary practices and a suggested relationship between many Lemba clan-names and known Semitic words; e.g., Sadiki, Hasane, Hamisi, Haji, Bakeri, Sharifo and Saidi led W. D. Hammond-Tooke to the conclusion that they were Arabs.[7]

Lemba traditions and culture

According to some Lemba, they had male ancestors who were Jews who left Judea about 2,500 years ago and settled in a place called Senna, later migrating into East Africa.[8] According to the findings of British researcher Tudor Parfitt, the location of Senna was more than likely in Yemen, specifically, in the village of Sanāw within the easternmost portion of the Wadi Hadhramaut.[9] The city had a vibrant Jewish population since ancient times, but it dwindled to a few hundred people since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.[10]

According to their oral tradition, the male ancestors of the Lemba came to southeast Africa to obtain gold[7][11]

After entering Africa, the tribe is said[who?] to have split off into two groups, with one staying in Ethiopia, and the other traveling farther south, along the east coast. The Lemba claim this second group settled in Tanzania and Kenya, and built what was referred to as "Sena II". Others were said to have settled in Malawi, where descendants reside today. Some settled in Mozambique, and eventually migrated to South Africa and Zimbabwe, where they claim to have constructed or helped construct the great enclosure[8] (see below). Most academics agree, though, that for the most part, the construction of the enclosure at Great Zimbabwe is attributable to the ancestors of the Shona.[12]

The Lemba prefer their children to marry other Lembas, with marriage to non-Lembas being discouraged. The restrictions on intermarriage with non-Lemba make it particularly difficult for a male non-Lemba to become a member. A woman who marries a Lemba male must learn the Lemba religion, dietary rules and other customs. She may not bring any cooking equipment from her previous home, as it may have been tainted by inappropriate use (see Kashrut). Initially, she may have to shave her head. Her children must also be brought up as Lembas. Lemba men who marry non-Lemba women are expelled from the community unless the women agree to live according to Lemba traditions. Normative Judaism only recognizes matrilineal descent; however, patrilineal descent was the norm among the Israelites who lived prior to its adoption.

Lemba tradition tells of a sacred object, the ngoma lungundu or "drum that thunders", that was brought with them from Sena, Yemen. Tudor Parfitt, Professor of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, has theorised that it was the Ark of the Covenant, lost from Jerusalem after the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.[13] In a Channel 4 programme, Parfitt claimed he had traced a missing copy of the artefact to a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe. Radiocarbon dating showed it to be over 600 years old, and Parfitt suggested that it was a replica made while the Lemba were in Yemen, after the original Ark had been destroyed.[14] In February 2010 the Lemba ngoma lungundu rediscovered a few years before, believed by some Lemba to be a nearly 700-year-old replica of the Ark of the Covenant, went on display in a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe.[15]

In the Zoutpansberg region in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Lemba were so highly esteemed for their mining and metalwork skills that surrounding tribes regarded them as an almost alien (but very welcome) community.[7][11] In the 1920s their medical knowledge earned them great respect.[16][17]

DNA testing

The Lemba have become world famous because of genetic testing that has demonstrated the authenticity of some of their oral traditions. [18]A genetic study in 1996 suggested that more than 50% of the Lemba Y-chromosomes are Semitic in origin.[3] A subsequent study in 2000 reported more specifically that a substantial number of Lemba men carry a particular haplotype of the Y-chromosome known as the Cohen modal haplotype (CMH), as well as, a haplogrup of Y-DNA Haplogroup J found amongst some Jews and in other populations across the Middle East.[19][20] Studies have also suggested that there is no Semitic female contribution to the Lemba gene pool.[21]

One particular sub-clan within the Lemba, the Buba clan, is considered by the Lemba to be their priestly clan, while among Jews, the Kohanim are the priestly clan. The Buba clan carried most of the CMH found in the Lemba. This is the element in the Y chromosome that appears to be a signature element, if you like, for the Cohanim or Jewish priesthood. The fact that we found this marker in such high concentrations in one of the Lemba subclans, the Buba—much higher, incidentally, than the general Jewish population—seemed finally to provide a real, useable link between the Lemba and Jews.[10]

Among Jews the marker is also most prevalent among Jewish Kohanim, or priests. As recounted in Lemba oral tradition, the Buba clan "had a leadership role in bringing the Lemba out of Israel" and into Southern Africa.[22]

More recently, Mendez et al. (2011) observed that a moderately high frequency of the studied Lemba samples carried Y-DNA Haplogroup T, which is considered to be of Near Eastern origin. The Lemba T carriers belonged exclusively to T1b*, which is rare and was not sampled in Jews of Near East or Africa, but shares a similar estimate expansion time with the T1* Somalis. T1b* has been observed at low frequencies in the Bulgarian and Ashkenazi Jews as well as in a few Levantine populations.[23]

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