The Founding of the Abayudaya and the Creation of a Jewish Community in Uganda: Ishaqa Speaks on Rasta Livewire

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The Founding of the Abayudaya and the Creation of a Jewish Community in Uganda;

( A Journey in the Life of Semei Kakungulu and the Exploits of a
British Zionism)

By (Amir) Ishaq D. Al-Sulaimani

May 2008

Jewish Culture Travel Study

The Founding of the Abayudaya and the Creation of a Jewish Community in Uganda; A Journey in the Life of Semei Kakungulu and the Exploits of a British Zionism

Semei Lulaklenzi Wakirenzi Kakungulu was born in 1869 in Kooki, Buganda and was the son of Semuwemba of the Ganda tribe. The Kakungulu families are considered to be of Bagandan royalty and according to the British,the Baganda tribe held the highest order of civilization in all of Africa. The King of the Baganda is known as the Kabaka and the first Kabaka is believed by tradition to be a man named Kintu. An interesting point but not necessarily relevant to the founding of the Abayudaya(Jewish Community of Uganda) is the tribal tradition which traces the origins of the Baganda to the Israelites and that of its royalty to the line of King David.

According to the Hebrewisms of West Africa-Joseph J. Williams (Herman Norden)

“ Speaking of Uganda to the West of Lake Victoria and Northeast of the Belgian Congo. It has an organized government with a tradition of 33 kings and a legendary line that traces back to King David. It is a proud history,the legend tells of the Ugandan people crossing the Nile centuries upon centuries ago and subduing all tribes whose countries they traversed. They claim the highest civilization in Africa.”

In accordance with tribal tradition and the reinforcing observations of Herman Norden,Semei Kakungulu the founder of the Jewish Community inUganda(Abayudaya) is indeed a descendant of King David and the tribe of Judah.Within the hierarchy of Buganda the Kakungulus traditionally serve as Princes and often married the daughters of the Kabaka.In this regard Semei Kakungulu was first married to a daughter of Kabaka Mutesa I of whom he divorced in 1905 and later married a daughter of Kabaka Kalema. Some reports claim that if a Kabaka does not properly fulfill his obligations as a King of Buganda that he can be replaced by a Kakungulu. This may be supported by recent calls to replace the current Kabaka with a son of the late Prince Badru Kakungulu.

Muslims first arrived in Buganda in 1844 during the reign of Kabaka Mutesa I. The religion was very well accepted and became the religion of the court. Born in 1869, to a royal Bagandan family it can be assumed that Semei Kakungulu was born and raised in the Muslim faith. The first Anglican missionaries arrived in Uganda in 1877. Two years later in 1879 the Catholic missions of the French followed.

It was during the reign of Kabaka Mwanga II that religious tensions climaxed between Anglicans, Catholics and Muslims with each religion plotting their strategies to secure power and influence in the region. In response,the Kabaka’s religious affiliations and alliances shifted back and forth on numerous occasions.

All three groups mentioned above suffered extreme martyrdom during this time of religious uncertainty. During the 1880’s Semei Kakungulu was converted to the Anglican Church. The British chose to invest their hopes in Kakungulu’s abilities as a competent warrior and hunter who could bring much of the region under their control. Kakungulu on the other hand was hoping that the British out of gratitude for his services would recognize his authority as a Kabaka in the east. It can be assumed that it was Kabaka Mwanga II’s opposition to Kakungulu’s vision for kingship and possibly his religious exploits as an assistant missionary for the Anglican Bishop Tucker that motivated the Kabaka to seriously act against Kakungulu by sentencing him to death by furnace. As history records this fate was averted.

As Semei Kakungulu conquered lands for the British,he was for at least a time recognized as a king(Kabaka) in the regions of conquest. In a letter dated April 29th 1901,the British Governor Sir Harry Johnson reinforces his commitment to recognize Semei Kakungulu as the king of Bukedi. Semei Kakungulu also went on to conquer Basoga where the traditional tribal rulers were removed from power and replaced by the authority of Kakungulu who in 1906 was declared, “ The First King of Basoga.” The entire affair concerning Kakungulu’s rise to power in Basoga and the replacement of the traditional monarchy was reported to me in a personal interview with a Basoga Prince, Patrick Izimba. Semei Kakungulu’s reign in Basoga lasted exactly 7 years from 1906-1913.

Around this time and in response to the European based Christian Churches a group of Bugandans began to interpret the Bible according to their own understanding. In regards to this process they created a “ Black-Nationalist Church” which opposed the Anglo-European hierarchy of the Christian missions. This Pan-African religious sect became known as the Malakite Church being named after its founder Malaki Musajakawa who in turn was a student and follower of the teachings of the wealthy and influential Bugandan Chief Joswa Kate Mugeme.

As liberators Malaki and Mugeme likened themselves unto the Prophets Moses and Aaron while drawing similar parallels between the British Government and Pharaohnic Egypt. Theologically the sect’s teachings were very literal in its interpretation of the Bible. They observed a Saturday Sabbath and shunned the eating of pork. In regards to Jeremiah 46:11( “ In vein shall you use many medicines for you shall not be cured.”) they rejected immunizations and all forms of medication considering European doctors to be Satan’s representatives on earth. The Malakite Church soon numbered 100,000 members.

Ethiopia was the only country in Africa that was not colonized by modern Europeans. Many believe this to be a direct result of the fact that Ethiopia already had their own national church prior to the arrival of the would be colonizers. Similarly the formation of the Malakite Church threatened the potential for solidifying British control over Black Africans in Uganda.The British completely understood the danger of the Malakite Church and planned to use their power and influence to destroy the sect.

1913 was not only the year in which Semei Kakungulu’s reign or mission in Basoga came to an end,but it was also the year in which Kakungulu joined the Malakite Church. Considering the anti-British nature of the Malakites it becomes quite suspicious that Kakungulu was able to join the Malakites and at the same time managing to continue on in the service of the British. He was recognized by the British as the Chief of Bukedi until 1923,and continued to receive a pension from the British until his death in 1928.

It is often speculated that Kakungulu’s joining of the Malakite Church was merely a protest to the British refusal to recognize his kingship in Basoga. Although the research that I was able to carry out in Uganda has led me to conclusions which strongly oppose the above mentioned theory, I do agree that Semei Kakungulu’s conversion to the Anglican Church and later shift to that of the Malakites was strategically,politically and economically centered being void of religious and spiritual motivations. This set of circumstances seriously calls into question Kakungulu’s motivations for his role in the later establishment of the Abayudaya (Jewish Community) in 1919.

As a member of the Anglican Church ,Kakungulu served as a missionary and assistant to the Anglican Bishop Tucker converting his conquered subjects to the faith of the Anglican Church and thereby securing British rule. Interestingly Kakungulu later became a very important missionary for the Malakite Church supposedly sowing disdain towards the British Government and the Anglican Church. In 1919 Semei Kakungulu broke away from the Malakite Church. The supposed issue of division was Kakungulu’s insistence on the necessity of circumcision. As an Anglican and a Malakite Kakungulu had been a Bible missionary for over 30 years and considering that his religious affiliations were strategic and politcal rather than spiritual, Why all of a sudden would this issue of circumcision become important to this man?

Semei Kakungulu was of Bagandan royalty. By tribal custom the Bagandans refuse to mutilate their flesh in anyway whatsoever,this includes according to their interpretation the act of circumcision. Being that Kakungulu’s shifting of religious affiliations was more so strategic and political rather than being spiritually or religiously motivated combined with the fact that he was raised with a tribal custom strongly opposed to circumcision now requires a serious scrutinizing and analysis concerning the motives for Kakungulu’s desire to circumcise and establish a Jewish community in Uganda.

In 1903 the British attempted to divert Zionist aspirations for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine by offering Theodore Herzl ,the founder of Zionism, a proposal for establishing a Jewish homeland in Uganda. The British feared that supporting a Jewish State in Palestine would seriously interfere with their own economic and political interests in the Middle East and with the Muslim world at large.

The proposal was brought to the table by the British Colonial Secretary,Joseph Chamberlain and was rejected by the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905. The Ugandan plan was fervently supported by the Jewish Territorial Organization which was led by the British Jew ,Israel Zangwill who was born in London in 1864. Zangwill’s enthusiasm and support for establishing a Jewish State in Uganda was so intense that the rejection of the proposal caused Zangwill and his Jewish Territorial Organization to split from the main body of Zionism. Herzl likewise verbalized support for the Uganda plan viewing it as an immediate refuge for Russian Jews who had just experienced the Kishnev Pogrom of 1903. In 1904, Herzl died unexpectedly at the young age of 44 and the following year the Uganda plan was rejected by the Zionists.

At the end of World War I and with the defeat of the Ottoman Turks,the British were now in control of Palestine. This shift in authority aroused the hopes of the Zionists who believed that they had the access and capability of swaying the British into supporting the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As the rulers of Palestine, the British were placed in a very awkward position. On the home front the British were subject to an intensified Zionist political campaign designed to pressure the government into authorizing Jewish independence in Palestine, while on the other hand the entire Arab and Muslim world looked to the British with intense suspicion threatening chaos and rebellion throughout the region.

It was at this time that the British plan for establishing a Jewish State in Uganda would logically resurface as a most urgent necessity in order to divert what was at least perceived as a potential disaster for the Middle East. The British realized that if the Uganda plan was to become a realistic option for Zionist settlement,a foundation or blue print for the anticipated African Jewish state would have to be erected in order to make it a logical and even preferable choice for statehood. In order to accommodate the Zionists,the British realized that they needed to change the location of the original

Uganda proposal . The original Ugandan lands proposed in 1903 by Joseph Chamberlain were in lands of what is now considered Kenya. The land was dangerously filled with lions and was home to the nomadic Maasai who were resistant to accepting Europeans and of whom would find it most difficult in transitioning to a European lifestyle. As independent cattle herders they would serve no purpose in the Zionist state which would need a caste of stable farmers and workers to serve as a reliable source of cheap labor.

The British by fate inherited two major religious problems. In Uganda the indigenous Malakite Church manifested as a source of psychological resistance to British rule which was traditionally reinforced through allegiance to the Anglican Church. At the same time the British were also in desperate need of establishing a Jewish state in Uganda in order to avoid igniting a crisis in the Middle East.

Implementing a solution to solve both of these religious dilemmas would logically be entrusted to Semei Kakungulu. With British rule firmly established in Basoga, Kakungulu was now available to be dispatched on a mission to destroy the Malakite Church. In 1913, while still working as an agent for British rule,Kakungulu supposedly converted to the Malakite faith. Within a short time he rose to a position of prominence and was placed in charge of missionary activity.

In controlling an important religious leader within the Malakite Church,the British believed that they now held the key to destroying the church from within. The British realized that the Malakites would never accept the Anglican Church since its very foundation was created in opposition to the Anglicans,however if the Malakites were to convert to Judaism it would help them to disengage from having an anti-Anglican or anti-British mentality. A rift in the Malakite Church would naturally cause dissension and weaken the church by reducing its population. The conversion of the Malakites and other indigenous inhabitants of Mbale and its surrounding areas to Judaism would also lay the foundation for establishing a Jewish state in Uganda.

In 1919,Semei Kakungulu broke from the Malakite Church. The reported issue of dissension was the relevancy of circumcision. Circumcision was accessed as a potent issue in causing division amongst the Malakites. As mentioned earlier the act of circumcision violated an integral part of Bagandan tribal custom which prohibits the mutilation of flesh. As a Bagandan created church with a centralized Bagandan hierarchy in Kampala,the leaders of the Malakites strongly opposed the idea of circumcising,thus affording Kakungulu a fundamental issue to rally around in opposition to the church.

On the other hand it was believed that Jewish recruitment in Mbale would prove much easier amongst the majority Bagisu population who already valued circumcision as a tribal custom. (This consideration may have been a part of the original British proposal concerning the Maasai inhabited lands, as the Maasai are known to practice circumcision rituals. ) It was further believed that through an understanding of the Bible that the Bagisu would ultimately shift from a puberty based circumcision rite to that which is incumbent on male infants in accordance with Jewish law. Most importantly the British understood circumcision as being a sign of a Jew, therefore a circumcised indigenous African-Jewish population would be much easier to incorporate into the planned Jewish state. The new circumcised sect was initially called Kibiana Kya Bayudaya Absesiga Katonda meaning the Community of Jews who Trust in the Omnipotent God. In time they simply became known as the Abayudaya ,the Lugandan variant of Jew. In regards to British involvement a number of Malakite informants reported an understanding that it was the British who started the Jewish sect known as the Abayudaya.

The dissension and disorder caused by Kakungulu in regards to the Malakite movement was soon followed by a direct British campaign designed to dismantle the church. In 1919 the British placed a number of restrictions on the wealthy Malakite mentor Joswa Kate Mugeme thus forcing him out of his chiefdom. Then in 1926 Mugeme and Malaki were both exiled to Lugbaraland being accused of sedition.

In exile Mugeme and Malaki were able to gain a small following amongst the Lugbara causing the British to impose further restrictions. Malaki responded with a hunger strike from which he died in 1929. Following Malaki’s death the British attempted to further break the movement by imposing health regulations(medicines,vaccines) which opposed some of the fundamental doctrines of the church. The Malakites responded with riots.

Under the leadership of Kakungulu the Abayudaya grew to a population of about 3,000 members. Within a short time a number of Jewish visitors were sent to the community. Each visitor teaching the Abayudaya a new level of Jewish practice in preparation for the anticipated arrival of the Zionists. In 1926 the same year in which the British sent the founders of the Malakite Church(Joswa Kate Mugeme and Malaki Musajakawa) into exile in Lugbaraland,a strange character named Joseph mysteriously appeared amongst the Abayudaya. Joseph stayed with the Abayudaya for six months teaching them the practices of Judaism. Joseph is accredited for “cleansing” the Abayudaya of New Testament influences and transitioning them into a complete Old Testament based faith. Joseph was at times accompanied by another Jew named Moses.

In 1927,a third Jew named Isaiah came along and replaced Joseph in continuing the march towards Judaism. On November 4th 1928,Semei Kakungulu died at the age of 59. Immediately after Kakunugulu’s death all of his children were taken away from the Jewish community as they were to be raised in the Anglican Church.

As a man of royal descent who had married the daughters of two Kabakas,a military conquerer and a supposed founder of a religious community it would be expected that a man of this stature would leave instructions for the financial,academic and spiritual well being of his surviving offspring. In regards to the latter it would at least be expected that the followers of his faith would secure the spiritual continuity of his children. Kakungulu obviously maintained his loyalty and allegiance to the British governing authorities and that of the Anglican Church. The abrupt removal of his children from the Jewish Community of which he supposedly founded and their immediate initiation into the Anglican Church was obviously done in fulfillment of the plans and wishes of Semei Kakungulu who was being rewarded for a lifetime of dedication and service to both the British Government and the Anglican Church.

The exploits and services of Semei Kakungulu on behalf of the British and the Anglican Church include the conquest of large parts of the territory of the country now known as Uganda for the purpose of promoting and securing British Colonialism in Africa. The spreading of the Anglican Church as a militant and conquering missionary accompanied by the brutal destruction of large Muslim populations who became the victims of Kakungulu’s war for the British flag and the Anglican cross.

In the service of the Anglican Church, Kakungulu’s acts of espionage helped to weaken and ultimately eliminate the threat of the Pan-African Malakite Church whose membership at one point climaxed to a staggering 100,000 followers. As a servant and potential savior of British foreign policy which sought to divert Zionist aspirations for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, Kakungulu pioneered the foundation for the establishment of an anticipated Jewish state in Uganda. In order to psychologically prepare the Abayudaya for the coming of the European Zionists the following scripture was used to emphasize the destiny of the community as it relates to embracing European Jews.

Zachariah 8:23(Old Testament) Thus says the Lord of Hosts: In those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all the languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew saying, we will go with you: for we heard that God is with you.’

After the death of Kakungulu the British continued to hold on to hopes of diverting Zionist efforts for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine to that of the Uganda plan. As late as the 1940’s Winston Churchill promoted the idea. Although the Belfour declaration outlined a plan for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, the British continued to limit Jewish immigration to that country. British resistance to Palestinian Zionism remained strong right up until 1948, the year of Israeli independence. In fact the British only stopped resisting when the Jewish Militias began to seriously target them in what the British perceived as a campaign of terrorism which ultimately resulted in the British departure from Palestine. The British also held some serious concerns about the Zionist alliance with Russia and feared the establishment of a “Communist- Jewish” state in the Middle East.

October 1947 – Ernest Bevin, British Foreign Secretary writes a private letter to an aide Hector Mcneil, “ I am sure the Russians are convinced by immigration they can pour in sufficient indoctrinated Jews to turn Palestine into a Communist state in a very short time. The New York Jews have been doing their work for them.”

In 1937, an English speaking Jew from India named David Solomon inherited the task of “ Judaizing” the Abayudaya. Isaka Kizito,a close associate of Kakungulu who likewise transformed from an Anglican, to a Malakite and then to a Jew was appointed by Kakungulu to be his successor. Kizito refused the appointment and was replaced by Yekoyasi Kaweke.

In 1944, Samson Mugambe became the Community leader. Although the British continued to resist the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine they must have come to terms with the impotency of the Uganda plan and as a result the mysterious foreign teachers of Judaism suddenly ceased to appear amongst the Abayudaya.

Samson Mugambe now inherited a Jewish community which for the first time existed without British interests and manipulations. They soon developed into a legitimately independent sect whose fate like all others would be naturally impacted by their own actions and that of their environment.

The British plan to establish a Jewish state in Uganda had an extended impact in other parts of Africa and in the Americas concerning African-Americans as well. In their attempts to convince the Zionists that Uganda was a logical and preferable choice for statehood,the British realized the need to demonstrate Uganda as a compatible and successful model for Jewish resettlement and integration. Experimental resettlement in Uganda would soon find its recruits amongst African-Americans.

In 1916, the British sent a Ugandan Prince named Kaba Rega to the United States where he was to recruit African-Americans for a resettlement project in Africa. In 1918, Prince Kaba Rega wrote a letter to the Principal of Tuskegee Institute, Mr.R.R. Morton. In the letter he mentioned that he had been active in recruiting African – Americans for resettlement which would now require the purchase of a steamship for implementation. As a Ugandan, Kaba Rega was limited in his ability to reach

African – Americans on a large scale. This task appears to have been entrusted to the Jamaican born Marcus Garvey who in 1919 just one year after Kaba Rega wrote a letter to Tuskegee dated April 23rd 1918 announced his plans for establishing the Black-Star Line. The Black-Star Line was a steamship which was to be used for the purpose of resettling African-Americans on the African Continent.

Born in St. Kitts of the British West Indies, Rabbi Wentworth Arthur Matthew came to the United States(New York City) in 1914. In 1919, he established what is now the oldest African-American Jewish Congregation known as the Commandment Keepers. Rabbi Matthew worked closely with Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford who was born in Bridgetown, Barbados and was the son of Edward Ford and Elizabeth Augusta Braithwaite. Rabbi Ford had at one time served in the Royal British Navy. He is remembered as the first African-American Rabbi and is accredited for helping Rabbi Matthew in transitioning the Commandment Keepers to an Old Testament based congregation, ridding it of its earlier New Testament influences which were for the
most part superficial but yet highly visible. During this process of transition Matthew eliminated the title of Bishop and ammended their documents of incorporation by removing all references to Jesus.

Rabbi Ford was an important member of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association(UNIA) which sought the resettlement of African-Americans to Africa. Religiously, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA promoted the newly established African Orthodox Church. The African Orthodox Church was founded in 1919 by an African-American George Alexander Macguire who was an Anglican(Episcopalian) Priest who suddenly decided to break away from the church to pursue his ambition in creating an independent African Church which in turn became the African Orthodox Church mentioned above. The African Orthodox Church was built on the fundamentals of self reliance rather than theological or practical differences. It was in design a Black version of the Anglican Church and was less confrontational or oppositional to the British than that which was professed and practiced by the Malakites. However, like the Malakites who were expected to ultimately convert to Judaism in following the example of Semei Kakungulu ,the establishment of the African Orthodox Church would serve as a point of transition to Judaism.

In 1925, two Ugandans by the name of Reuben Mukasa and Obadiah Basajjakitalo were placed in contact with Marcus Garvey. They soon developed a serious relationship with members of the American based African Orthodox Church. Reuben Mukasa also known as Spartas claimed that he wanted to join the church and to start converting Ugandans. In 1932,one of Garvey’s African Orthodox Bishops arrived in Uganda where he ordained both Mukasa and Basajjakitalo as priests. The Kabaka of Buganda lent support to the mission by donating land at Namungoona. Church membership quickly rose to 5,000 Ugandan members.

Marcus Garvey who inherited his resettlement mission from the Ugandan Prince Kaba Rega was now solidifying the Uganda connection by establishing the African Orthodox Church in Uganda. Although Marcus Garvey and the UNIA were centered around the African Orthodox Church they were likewise heavily influenced by “ Black Jews” who dreamed of a Black Zionism in East Africa.

Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford who founded Congregation B’nai Abraham in Harlem in 1924 was responsible for making the Black-Jewish dynamic an important component in Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. He is accredited for authoring the handbook of regulations for the paramilitary African Legion of which he clearly modeled after the Zionist Jewish Legion. In addition he served as the Musical Director of UNIA. Another Black Rabbi by the name of Mordechai Herman who was the head of a Black-Jewish congregation known as the Moorish Zionist Temple was also an active and influential member of UNIA.

In 1918, an English speaking Jew from Bombay, India named Rabbi Horace Hasan founded what is now the oldest “ Black-Jewish” temple in Chicago. It started out as the Ethiopian Hebrew Settlement workers Association and eventually evolved into what is today known as Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation. There is very little historical information on Rabbi Horace Hasan other than his arrival from Bombay and his role as a founder of the congregation(Association). The lack of information available was confirmed by the current Chief Rabbi of the congregation Capers Funnye. Rabbi Wentworth Arthur Matthew who founded the Commandment Keepers Synagogue in 1919 was very instrumental in the early development of Beth Shalom. Interestingly Rabbi Matthew,Rabbi Ford, and Rabbi Hasan all arrived in the United States from British possessed and obviously English speaking lands to establish Jewish congregations in the midst of African-American communities.

(Perhaps Rabbi Horace Hasan of Bombay,India was the same person as the Indian Jew, David Solomon who taught the Abayudaya(Jews) of Uganda in the 1930’s. With such little available information on either of these mysterious characters almost anything would be mere speculation or conjecture.)

Although “ Black-Zionism” often centered around Ethiopia it was commonly understood that the biblical Ethiopia was inclusive of present day Uganda. In this regard the British could easily divert any African-American settlements intended for Ethiopia to that of Uganda. The Rastafarians in Jamaica are commonly thought of as being Ethiopian centered due to their admiration and at times reverence for Haile Selaisse,however the oldest sect of the movement which was founded in 1930 is called Nyahbingi being named after a legendary Ugandan Queen. In 1913,the British arrested a woman healer named Muhumusa who claimed to be divinely possessed by the spirit of Nyahbingi. Under this supposed possession she led a revolt against British authorities.

The African-American resettlement movement to Uganda was planned by the British and initiated through the arrival of the Ugandan Prince Kaba Rega. It further transitioned under the leadership of Marcus Garvey and was to be religiously inspired through the formation of Black-Jewish congregations, the African Orthodox Church and the Ugandan centered Rastafarian movement of Nyahbinghi. The religious identities mentioned above would be used as a source of common ground in promoting the unity and acceptance of African-American Zionist pioneers in Uganda.

1919 was also the year in which a Black-Jewish(Israelite) sect in South Africa which was led by Enoch Mgijima gathered at Ntabelenga in defiance of the white governing authorities. They intended to build permanent settlements and reclaim lands which were reserved for whites only. The South African Government responded to the crisis by dispatching 800 police officers to the scene where tensions escalated into conflict. The government estimates that 100 Black Jews were killed while the congregation itself counted 800 amongst the dead. The Black-Jewish struggle for land and the resulting tragic deaths of hundreds of the sect’s followers would reasonably create a willing and needy community that could benefit from the British backed Ugandan Zionist program for the resettlement of Black-Jews to Uganda. An experimental phase of resettlement intended to create an active and successful model for European Zionism in the anticipated establishment of a Jewish state in Uganda.

The Black-Israelite sect in South Africa was an offshoot of an African-American congregation known as the Church of God and Saints of Christ which was founded by William Sanders Crowdy. The establishment of the congregation in 1896 coincided with the founding of the Zionist movement.

1893 – Nathan Birnbaum introduces the term Zionism

1896 – Herzl publishes the book,the Jewish State

1897 – The first Zionist Congress held in Basel,Switzerland

In 1903, the year in which the British proposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Uganda, Crowdy purchased 40 acres of land in Suffolk, Virginia calling it Canaan Land. In 1905, the year that the British proposal to establish a Jewish State in Uganda was presented before the 7th Zionist Congress, Crowdy sent missionaries to South Africa. A congregation was also established in Rusape Zimbabwe which remains active to this day. As mentioned in the words of some of his close associates,Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement envisioned a joint venture in which African – Americans would be resettled in Africa under the leadership of the Zionist movement.

Herzl, like the British Jew, Israel Zangwill originally supported the British proposal to establish a Jewish state in Uganda. ( Although the 7th Zionist Congress rejected the original Uganda plan a minority of Jews did respond to Chamberlain’s proposalfor resettlement. The first of these Jewish Settlers arrived in 1905. By 1907,there were approximately 15 Jewish settlers who later went on to form the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation and Burial Society.

1919, also marked the founding of the British Israel Federation which advocated the British to be descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. This may have been implemented with the intent to divinely reinforce the need for the British to retain full control of Palestine and to reject the perceived spiritual necessity of establishing a Jewish State in Palestine.


In 1971, Idi Amin Dada came to power through a military coup which ousted former Ugandan President Milton Obote. One of Amin’s objectives was to create a self sufficient nation that would function independent of Post Colonial European domination and exploitation. In order to promote this agenda,Amin implemented a policy that would reduce the number of non-governmental organizations and religious sects due to the fact that the majority of these entities were controlled by foreigners at central locations outside of Uganda particularly in the United States and Europe.

Amin reduced religion to a limited number of nationally recognized Churchs and Mosques. In the process of Amin’s bureaucratic reformation on religion the Abayudaya (Jews) along with hundreds of other religious sects were forced to close down.

With no access to an open and free practice the majority of Jews(Abayudaya) converted to Christianity or Islam,thereby seriously reducing the population of the community. The remainder of the Abayudaya either abandoned practice and observance being reduced to a superficial secular Jewish identity or secretly maintained Jewish observance in defiance of the governing authorities.

Since the fall of Idi Amin Dada in 1979, the Abayudaya have resurfaced with a gradual revival of Jewish practice and identity. By the 1990’s, an American Jewish organization called Kulanu became active with the Abayudaya in an attempt to draw the community closer to world Jewry. The vast majority of American Jews visiting the Abayudaya were of the Reform and Conservative branches(sects) of Judaism,however on occasion Orthodox Jews such as Rabbi Worch did visit in an attempt to expose them to Orthodox Judaism by teaching for extended periods of time.

Following in the example of their pluralistic mentors,the Abayudaya likewise embraced the sectarian divide as the community split into Conservative and Orthodox factions. In 2002 a Conservative religious court(Beth Din) came to Uganda and converted a few hundred of the Abayudaya . Sometime later, Gershom Sizomu,a grandson of the late Samson Magombe was accepted for Rabbinical studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He is expected to graduate and be ordained as a Conservative Rabbi in June of 2008. After Graduation Gershom will return to Uganda where he will teach in a Yeshiva.

Uri Katula, another grandson of Samson Magombe is now leading a group of Abayudaya who ultimately hope to be converted in accordance with the Halacha of Orthodox Judaism. Uri believes that Orthodox Judaism is more authentic and sincere than that which is practiced by the Conservative Jews. Uri is the Rabbi of the Putti Synagogue and professes to have approximately 150 followers.

Although Conservative Judaism has demonstrated itself to be more tolerant and accepting of the Abayudaya it has brought about a number of controversial social disruptions which by tradition were alien to the Abayudaya and as a result have caused further division and discomfort in the community. Rabbi Elliot Dorf, a mentor of Rabbi Gershom Sizomu at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles is considered to be one of the major architects for the acceptance of homosexuality, same sex unions, and the ordination of homosexual Rabbis within the Conservative movement. Rabbi Dorf’s daughter recently revealed herself to be a Lesbian.

In accordance with the American-Jewish experience with Conservative Judaism’s liberal standpoint on homosexual acceptance a number of homosexuals and Lesbians have come to visit the Abayudaya, at times demanding accommodations and advocating recognition of their lifestyle. One Lesbian woman proudly circulated pictures of herself and her partner. Some Abayudaya,later expressed concerns about the woman since she was acting in the capacity of a “ Big Sister” to one of the younger Abayudaya girls by sponsoring her education.

Although certain members of the Abayudaya have claimed to have confronted some of the more aggressive homosexual visitors by speaking in opposition to their lifestyle it appears that they are more so reluctant to openly express opposition for fear of losing funding for the community. The acting Rabbi at the Conservative Synagogue in Nabagoye, Aaron Kintu Moses stated that his brother Gershom had better not implement any teachings that promote homosexuality when he returns from the United States as an ordained Conservative Rabbi. However on a recent visit to the United States Aaron himself was taken to a homosexual Synagogue in Washington D.C.Without his prior knowledge or consent. During the course of my interview with Aaron, he was able to express his sincere disapproval and disgust that he felt upon entering the homosexual synagogue, an act of which he vowed to never repeat,but yet he had made no mention of expressing these feelings to his American-Jewish sponsors who scheduled the itinerary for his visit. The Conservative Abayudaya seem to be struggling to define morality in the midst of the extreme liberalism of their American-Jewish sponsors and mentors and the traditional cultural norms of the greater Ugandan nation.


The evidences presented in this research do suggest that the Abayudaya(Jews) of Uganda who were founded by the Bugandan Prince Semei Kakungulu in 1919 were actually the manifestation of a British plan to create a Zionist Jewish state in East Africa.

Between 1919 and 1944,the Abayudaya were manipulated in the Zionist aspirations of the British in regards to the Ugandan plan. Towards the end of World War II,the British seem to have abandoned their plans to establish a Jewish state in Uganda due to the Zionists’ refusal to respond positively to British efforts. Under the leadership of Samson Magombe(1944) the Abayudaya began a natural development from which they were soley influenced by their own actions and that of their environment.

The British plan to establish a Jewish state in Uganda which by 1919 centered around Semei Kakungulu and the creation of the Abayudaya(Jewish) Community in Uganda also began to impact African-Americans. This manifested in the creation of a number of Black-Jewish congregations in the United States who were unknowingly being prepared for possible resettlement in Uganda in accordance with the mission of the Ugandan Prince Kaba Rega. The mission of Kaba Rega was to transition under the leadership of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro ImprovementAssociation(UNIA).

In addition to the core issue of resettlement UNIA promoted the creation of an independent African Orthodox Church. The African Orthodox Church was founded in 1919 by an African-American Episcopalian Bishop, George Macguire and was later established in Uganda as well. Black-Jewish congregations, the African Orthodox Church, and the Ugandan centered Rastafarian movement of Nyahbinghi were to collectively serve as a point of unification for Black Zionism in Uganda which sought to incorporate African-Americans into a model Zionist project in Uganda.

By the 1990’s American-Jewish contact with the Abayudaya resulted in a division amongst those seeking to identify with Conservative Judaism and those gravitating towards the Orthodox. A number of controversial social issues imported by American-Jewish “Missionaries” such as the acceptance of homosexuality ,abortion and birth control have seriously impacted the Abayudaya who are struggling to define their sense of mortality in relation to their socially liberal Jewish mentors and sponsors and their more traditional Ugandan neighbors.

( In addition to the British plan to establish a Jewish state in Ugandan,the Germans sought to create a Jewish state in Madagascar, while the Japanese initiated a plan for for a Jewish state in Japanese controlled Manchuria known as the Fugu Plan. The Russians were also active in the creation of a Jewish State in the Russian controlled parts of Manchuria which became known as Birodizhan. )

The purpose of this research project is to explore the origins of the Jewish Community of Uganda known as the Abayudaya from its earliest history to the present.

I.A Study of the Founder of the Ugandan Jewish Community

Semei Kakungulu

Early Life History
Religious Revelations and Transformations
Impacting Events & Motivations for Adopting Judaism

II.British Zionism( The Ugandan Plan= A Jewish State in Uganda)

Semei Kakungulu and the Uganda Plan
The Abayudaya and the Uganda Plan
African-Americans and the Uganda Plan
South Africa and the Uganda Plan

III.Abayudaya(Jewish Community of Uganda)

Religious Developments
Outside Influences
Sectarian Divide

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3 thoughts on “The Founding of the Abayudaya and the Creation of a Jewish Community in Uganda: Ishaqa Speaks on Rasta Livewire”

  1. Hi,very interesting and informative.Right now Iam writing my dissertation on the Orthodox Bayudaya at Putti,an off-shoot of the Nabugoye group.My central question is: How did that group survive the isolation,persecution without external input? They could have been totally absorbed and annihilated by Islam and Christianity,how did they survive numerically,religiously after Kakungulus demise until the recent contacts with international Jewry? I will be grateful for suggestions and other sources to read.You can share my address.Thank you.

  2. @ Kevin – Remember the community was founded by the prestigious Semei Kakungulu who is known throughout Uganda.As a competent military leader and member of BaGandan Royalty(Married to two daughters of the Kabakas) he was able to establish the community with a very strong organized foundation which was grounded in respect for leadership. In addition the Abayudaya were a break off from the Malakite Church. What is more amazing than the survival of the Abayudaya is the survival of the Malakites who maintain congregations to this very day. What makes the Malakite survival even more impressive is the fact that they continue to receive no international support. To summarize the answer to your question: The survival of the Abayudaya can be accredited to the fact that they were founded by such a prestigious military leader(Kakungulu) combined with their origins in the Malakite religious order which was a militant resistance movement.

  3. Hi,Ishaq,thank you for your response,which now brings up more insights.Do you have any data on the Malakite,I would be glad to access it?

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