The Black Jews of Africa Part 2: Jews of Nigeria, Senegal and Congo

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The Black Jews Of Africa Pt. 2

Jews Of Nigeria, Senegal and Congo

Moreover,with Israel coming under Greek, Persian and later Roman rule and dependency, renewed waves of Jewish refugees including traders and artisans began to set up more communities in Egypt, Cyrenaica, Nubia and the Punic Empire, notably in Carthage. From Carthage they began to scatter into various historically established, as well as newly emerging Jewish communities south of the Atlas mountains nearer to the modern day Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Congo. Several Jewish nomadic groups also moved across the Sahara from Nubia and the ancient kingdom of Kush towards west Africa.

Various East and West African ethnic nations lay verifiable claim to their Jewish ancestral heritage. The Falashas, the most famous of those Black Jews have been validated. Close to three hundred thousand of those black Falasha Jews live in the modern State of Isreal as practising Jews.

The Lembas of South Africa, another so-called Bantu tribe have a cogent and valid claim to Jewish ancestory and heritage backed by solid genetic evidence i.e. the prevalence of the so-called Cohen modal J haplogroup. The Lembas as a group are indistinguishable from their Bantu neighbours suggesting that most Bantus groups possess this archetypal Jewish genetic haplogroup. It implies that there are potentially more bloodline Jews on the continent of Africa than anywhere else including modern Europe and Israel.

The names of old Jewish communities south of the Atlas mountains (around the regions of modern Niger, Nigeria), many of which existed well into Renaissance times, can be found in documents in synagogue archives in Cairo. See “George E. Lichtblau”

Jewish and Islamic chronicles cite the existence of Jewish rulers of certain Jewish tribal groups and clans (self identifying as Jewish) scattered throughout Mauritania, Senegal, the Western Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana. See Ismael Diadie Haidara, “Les Juifs a` Timbouctou”, Recueil de sources relatives au commerce juif a Timbouctou au XIXe siecle, Editions Donniya, Bamako, 1999.

According to the Tarikh es Soudan recorded by Abderrahman ben Abdallah es-Sadi (translated by O.Houdas) a Jewish community was formed by a group of Egyptian Jews, who had travelled to the West Africa through Chad. See also: al-Kati M., “Tarikh al-Fattash, 1600”.

Another such community was located near the Niger River by the name of Koukiya led by a ruler known as Dia or Dji, a shortened form of “Dia min al Yaman” or Diallaiman (meaning he who comes from Yemen). According to local traditions, Diallaiman was a member of one of the Ethiopian-Jewish colonies transplanted from Yemen to Ethiopian-Abbysinia in the 6th century C.E. Dialliaman is said to have moved to West Africa along with his brother. They set up the Jewish community in Northern Nigeria which later merged with the famous 7 Hausa States. See Meek C.K., “Northern Nigeria Tribes” Volume 1, Oxford, p.66.

A 9th century Jewish traveller Eldad ben-Mahli (also known as Eldad the Danite) related accounts about the location of some of the lost tribes of the House of Israel. According to this account, the tribe of Dan had migrated from Palestine so as not to take part in the internecine civil wars at the time of Yeroboam’s succession. It was reported that this section was residing in the land of Havila beyond the waters of Ethiopia where there was much gold i.e. West Africa.

It was further reported that three other tribes had joined the tribe of Dan namely Naphtali, Gad, Asher. Those joined up with Dan in the land of Havila in the times of Sennacherib. They had an entire body of scriptures barring Esther and Lamentations. They neither used the Talmud nor the Mishna, but they had a Talmud of their own in which all the laws were cited in the name of Joshua the son of Nun. See Nahum Slouschz, “Travels in North Africa” Philadelphia 1927, p.227.

Ibn Khaldun, who lived in the 13th century, a respected authority on Berber history testified about the Black Jews of Western Sudan with whom he personally interacted. The famous muslim geographer al-Idrisi, born in Ceuta, Spain in the 12th century, wrote extensively about Jewish Negroes in the Western Sudan.

Black Jews were fully integrated and achieved pre-eminence in many West African kingdoms. For instance Jews were believed to have settled in great West African empires such as Songhai, Mali, Ghana and Kanem-Bornu empires. According to numerous accounts of contemporary visitors to the region several rulers, and administrators of the Songhai empire were of Jewish origins until Askia Muhammad came to power in 1492 and decreed that all Jews either convert to Islam or leave the region. See Ismael Diadie Haidara, “Les Juifs a` Timbouctou”, Recueil de sources relatives au commerce juif a Timbouctou au XIXe siecle, Editions Donniya, Bamako, 1999.

The 16th century historian and traveler Leon Africanus, was a Hebrew-speaking Jewish convert to Islam, raised in a Jewish household by Jewish parents of Moroccan descent. Leon Africanus travelled extensively in Africa south of the Sahara where he encountered innumerable Black African Jewish communities. Leon later converted to Catholicism but remained interested in Jewish communities he encountered throughout his travels in West Africa. See Leo Africanus (al-Hassan b. al -Wazzan al-Zayyati), Della discrittione dell’Africa per Giovanni Leoni Africano, Settima Parte, in G.B. Ramusio, Delle navigationi e viaggi. Venice 1550, I, ff.78-81r.

Additional evidence is provided by surviving oral traditions of numerous African ethnic groups, including links to biblical ancestors, names of localities, and ceremonies with affinities to Jewish ritual practices. Moreover, the writings of several modern West African historians indicate that the memories of Jewish roots historical in West Africa continue to survive.

For instance, there are a number of historical records of small Jewish kingdoms and tribal groups known as Beni Israel that were part of the Wolof and Mandinge communities. These existed in Senegal from the early Middle Ages up to the 18th century, when they were forced to convert to Islam. Some of these claimed to be descendants of the tribe of Dan, the traditional tribe of Jewish gold and metal artisans, who are also said to have built the “Golden Calf”.

Black Jews are said to have formed the roots of a powerful craft tradition among the still-renowned Senegalese goldsmiths, jewelers and other metal artisans. The name of an old Senegalese province called “Juddala” is said to attest to the notable impact Jews made in this part of the world. In addition to the Jewish tribal groups in Senegal who claim to be descendants of the tribe of Dan, the Ethiopian Jews also trace their ancestry to the tribe of Dan.

Additionally, Mr. Bubu Hama, a former president of the National Assembly in Niger and a prolific writer on African history has argued in many treatise as well as lecture tours that the Tuaregs had a Jewish queen in early medieval times, and that some Jewish Tuareg clans had preserved their adherence to that faith, in defiance of both Islamic and Christian missionary pressure, until the 18th century. In several of his books Hama cites the genealogies of Jewish rulers of the Tuareg and Hausa kingdoms. See “Lichtblau”.

Some accounts place some West African Jewish community in the Ondo forest of Nigeria, south of Timbouctou. This community maintained a Torah Scroll as late as 1930s, written in Aramaic that had been burnt into parchment with a hot iron instead of ink so it could not be changed. See Gonen Rivaka, “The Quest for the Ten Lost tribes of israel: To the Ends of the Earth”, Jason Aronson Inc., Northville, NJ., 2002 at pages 180-181.

The Igbos of Nigeria, one of the bigger nations that comprise Nigeria lay a strong claim to Jewish ancestry as borne out by their mores, laws, rituals and idioms which have a heavily accented old testament Hebrew flavour.See Ilona R, “The Ibos: Jews of Nigeria,” volume 1, Research Findings Historical Links, Commentaries, Narratives,” 2004, Mega Press Limited, Abuja, Nigeria

Some of the established Jewish communities existed in such still renowned places as Gao, Timbuktu Bamako, Agadez, and Kano. In Timbucktu, the UNESCO still maintains notable archives containing records of the old Jewish community of Mali and the Hausa states of Nigeria.

Jide Uwechia

Aug 15, 2007

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63 thoughts on “The Black Jews of Africa Part 2: Jews of Nigeria, Senegal and Congo”

  1. Several years ago I met some Masai brothers from the area that is now called Kenya. They were traveling the US speaking to groups who were willing to listen, some times host and hear about the plight of the Masia people and their suffering under Kenyan government through polities that would take some vast stretches of the traditional lands. Their vital spiritual and historical connection with the land is essential to their survival as a people…”no more land, no more Masai”.
    I had good conversation with one of them who did a lot narrative during just a portion of their presentation when they all sang and danced in the tradition. All right now, to get to my point: The Masai brother told me that when the missionaries arrived and at some point shared with the Masai people the Old Testament/Torah story of Jacob and Issac, the Masai had heard it before because the same exact story is in their oral storytelling tradition going back long before Western Christianity arrived in Africa.

    1. This Maasai you are talking about practice female Circumcision as their tradition.The government in Kenya have always advised againast that but no fruition. Now how is that Jewish.The bantus in Africa are the true Isralites

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