Lemba

Lemba

Lemba, also called the Valemba, Remba, and Baremba, are a small Bantu-speaking people who live in the Belingwe region of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, and Malawi, numbering only 70,000. The majority speak Shona, but generally they speak the language of the dominant group around them.

The origin of the Lemba is controversial, but the British researcher Tudor Parfitt claims he proved the Lemba are descen-dants of ancient Jews through DNA testing of Lemba, Yemeni Arabs, and Jews. They also may be descendants of Muslim traders from the African coastal cities that grew up to trade with Great Zimbabwe. Personal names also indicate a more likely Arab ori-gin than Jewish.

The Lemba are today Christians, but they do have a number of traditional practices such as strict monotheism, food restrictions, and keeping one day holy for their God, all practices that are similar to Judaism. Many of these customs are also shared with Mus-lims and Jews, such as ritual slaughter of an animal, not eating pork, and male cir-cumcision. In addition, Lemba women wear long sleeves, dresses, and headscarves simi-lar to Muslim women.

The Lemba are a small community engaged in crafts such as weaving, pottery, and iron working. The research into their origins by Tudor Parfitt has given rise to a strong sense of Jewish identity since 2003.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Afolayan, Funso S. Culture and Customs of South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Insoll, Timothy. The Archeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Olson, James. The Peoples of Africa: An Eth- nohistorical Dictionary.Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Owomoyela, Oyekan. Culture and Customs of Zimbabwe. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Parfitt, Tudor. “Constructing Black Jews:Genetic Tests and the Lemba.” http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/4580 (accessed Novem-ber 21, 2009).