How Jewish ancestry of the Lemba of Zimbabwe and SA makes them not marry other inhabitants 

Stephen Nartey October 17, 2022
A leader of the Lemba people. Credit: Jekesai Njikizana /AFP/Getty Images

The Lemba of Zimbabwe and South Africa are believed to have a direct lineage with Jewish men who migrated from Israel 2,500 years ago to Africa. There were seven who undertook that uncertain pilgrimage from their land of birth. But, as they intermarried with inhabitants of their settlements, their numbers grew from seven to 150,000 in the present day, according to the World Jewish Council. 

Oral tradition has it that the Lemba tribe migrated to Africa through Yemen. However, in keeping with customs and traditions, the Lemba are not in favor of their children marrying outside their circles. They also uphold Jewish customs of not eating pork and other unclean foods as specified by the Torah. 

Observance of a holy day in the week, wearing the yarmulke-like caps and placing a Star of David on the tombs are some characteristic features that set the  Lemba tribe from others in the region. Though they are thousands of miles away from Israel, the Lemba pray in Hebrew and Arabic. 

What has heightened their belief of Jewish ancestry is the use of a historical relic of the biblical Ark known as dngoma lungindu, which is known as the drum that thunders. A recent exhibition of the ark at a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe, settled doubts people had about the ancestry of the Lemba tribe. 

According to oral history, the ark dates back 700 years and was built with pieces of the original ark, according to the BBC. It is considered sacred because it remains kept in the 10 commandments. 

Scientific validation of the Lemba tribe’s Jewish roots emerged after DNA testing showed they hailed from the Buba, one of the priestly clans as well as belonged to the Jewish priestly line of Cohen. There is now a revival among the Lemba tribe following the DNA testing that showed that more than 50 percent of all males of the Buba clan had Cohen genes.

They believe to have migrated with the Torah which was lost on their exodus from Israel to Africa. Prior to the scientific validation, the Lemba had always insisted that they were descendants of the Israel tribe.

They practiced Jewish customs and laws which were handed from generation to generation and used that as evidence of proof of their origins.

It is the objective of the tribe to learn the Hebrew and Torah as well as erect their own synagogue where they will worship in accordance with the customs and traditions of the old.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 17, 2022


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