The population of the Lemba tribe in Southern Africa is between 70,000 to 80,000 people. In 2002, they were estimated to be 50,000 people. These people live in South Africa and central Zimbabwe. According to some genetic tests carried out by British scientists over the years, these people have the Jewish origin. The name “Lemba” may have originated from Chilemba, a Swahili word for turbans worn by some Bantu people, or Lembi, a Bantu word meaning “non-African” or “respected foreigner”
According to the Bible in the book of Hebrew, Jacob the son of Abraham had twelve sons. Each son became a leader of the twelve tribes of Israel. As years went by, these tribes separated and moved to different parts of the world such as China, India, Japan and Ethiopia due to political and geographical reasons. The Lemba people are some of the groups believed to have descended from one of the twelve tribes and to have made their settlement in Southern Africa.
Lemba Tribe: Their Culture & People
Today, these people still maintain several Jewish practices and customs. For instance, every male child undergoes circumcision rituals just like the Jewish. They still offer animal sacrifices. However, before an animal sacrifice is eaten, all the blood must be drained completely from the body. According to their traditions, meat is not supposed to be mixed with blood. They believe in one God who is the creator of heaven and earth. They have strict rules concerning intermarriages and, they strongly emphasize that a Lemba man should only marry a wife from his own community similar to the Jewish community. A non-Lemba man who wishes to marry a Lemba woman must undergo rituals such as circumcision and all purification procedures before he will be qualified to do so. A Lemba man who wishes to marry a non-Lemba woman may be banished from the tribe unless the woman agrees to follow the norms and beliefs of the tribe. These include their dietary rules, religion and other traditions. The woman is in most cases prohibited from carrying any cooking utensils from her old home. Previously, the woman may need to shave off her hair. More than that, any child resulting from such marriage must be brought up as a Lemba.
One day of every week is considered holy. These people spend this day giving thanks and praise to their God. They also follow the ten commandments given to Moses by God. They hardly eat animals prohibited in the Old Testament such as pork and fish without scales. These communities respect the Sabbath day. Children in these communities are also taught how to obey and respect their parents at a tender age.
These communities have a ritual sacrifice called Pesah which resembles Jewish sacrifice of Passover. They perform their sacred prayers in both Hebrew and Arab languages. These tribes have a Ngoma Lungundu Covenant which has the same meaning as the Ark of the Covenant in the Bible. The word Ngoma Lungundu means ”drum that thunders”, which they believe is a voice from God. The calendar of the tribe follows the path of the moon.
The way Lemba people choose their priests is also similar to that of the Jewish community. They believe that only ten percent of the Lemba population priests are descendants of Aaron. According to DNA tests researchers, Lemba males carry a high concentration of Jewish priestly DNA chromosomes than both the European and the Jewish population. These tribe also place the star of David on their tombstones.
However, there are some other customs and rituals which are similar to the Muslim religion. For example, these communities perform their circumcision rituals between the age of seven and fifteen years, unlike the Jewish people who perform the same rituals some days after birth. The ritual slaughter of animals is however practised by Lemba, Muslim and the Jewish people alike.
The Lemba share a lot in common with their geographic neighbours including their language and physical appearance, but they have some disparities in religion and culture. This is linked to the fact that Lemba cultural and religious practices appear to be more Semitic than African. For this reason, many scientists have suggested that the tribe is of Jewish descent. However, before the modern era, the Lemba religion and cultural practices can be connected to Islam and Judaism.
Since Lemba people, also known as Mwenye or Wa-Remba are a Bantu ethnic group, they speak Bantu languages. The ethnic group is native to Zimbabwe and South Africa, with smaller known subdivisions in Malawi and Mozambique.