Sunday, March 07, 2010

DNA evidence confirms Israelite identity of African tribe

Excerpts of Report: DNA tests support Zimbabwe tribe's claim of Jewish roots ny Haaretz Service

Scientists conducted DNA tests on a large sample of the Lemba people, which confirmed Semitic origins dating back more than two millennia.

The BBC says that the 80,000 Lemba tribe members abstain from eating pork, wear yarmulke-like skull caps, conduct ritual animal slaughter, and even put a Star of David on their gravestones.

The report says the tribe has an oral tradition that links them to the ancient Jews. They also circumcise their male children, which is not a common practice in Zimbabwe, but is one of the basic principles of the Jewish faith.

Members of the priestly clan of the Lemba even have a genetic element also found among the Jewish priestly line - known as Cohen.

"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," he added.

"They have a common ancestor who geneticists say lived about 3,000 years ago somewhere in north Arabia, which is the time of Moses and Aaron when the Jewish priesthood started," Parfitt told the BBC.

In addition, the report says, the Lemba have a sacred prayer language that combines Hebrew and Arabic, which indicates their roots were in Israel and Yemen.

"We have been a very secretive people, because we believe we are a special people," religious Lemba singer Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave told the BBC.

The tribe even uses a religious artifact they say connects them to their Jewish ancestry - a replica of the Biblical Ark known as the ngoma lungundu, meaning "the drum that thunders," which they say was made by Moses.

The tribe's oral tradition says that centuries ago a small group of men began a long journey carrying the ngoma lungundu from Yemen to southern Africa.

The Ark went missing during the 1970s and was eventually rediscovered in Harare in 2007 by Professor Parfitt.

"Many people say that the story is far-fetched, but the oral traditions of the Lemba have been backed up by science," Parfitt said.

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