Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not-so-lost tribe

The idea of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel has a long and storied history (ever hear of British Israelism, for example?)

One contender for a lost tribe are the Lemba people of South Africa:

"They do not eat pork, they practise male circumcision, they ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones."

Just another myth? The BBC reports that British scientists have confirmed the tribe's Semitic origins in the most convincing way possible--DNA tests. The tests support the Lemba oral tradition that a group of seven or so Israelite men came to the region and intermarried with the local population; there are about 80,000 Lemba today.

They also have a prized possession, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. Which is interesting because so many legends connect the Ark with Africa, especially in Ethiopia, but this is a lot farther south.

In any event, strange that BBC is reporting this without pointing out the tests took place over a decade ago! Still, it's news to us.

You can now cock an eyebrow and say: fascinating!


  1. Fascinating indeed, Mr. Daurade!

    I wonder how/why their ancestors ended up so far from home?

    The exploding ark theory was sort of weird--oddly non-professorial.

  2. I think the prof was merely stating the oral tradition, Gid!

    But yeah, these travels in the ancient world always surprise me. The Phoenecians made their way over to Ireland, the Vikings to Newfoundland, etc. I always grew up imagng the cultures as hermetic things, in their own little worlds, sometimes fighting off foreign enemies....I think this is the product of my education, of course. This is where the (non-PC) "multicultural" approach has value. The ancient world was so much more of a crucible or melting pot than we learn as youngsters.

    But SA is a long way from Israel! Why did they go? Fleeing something? Curiosity? Looking for chicks? A geek at home, an exotic species abroad?

    You know, there was, some years ago, an ancient corpse found out in the US west, very well preserved, with decidely non-Amerindian bone structure and wisps of blond hair. This was found on a reservation and the tribe used the laws protecting Indian remains to bar any investigation.

    Given the desecration of Indian graves in the past this is understandable, but a pity. You know these guys who say the Olmecs were kick-started by Egyptians or Chinese what have you. As if the Amerindians were incapable of creating their own civilizations.

    So, naturally, the reaction is to suppress anything which might feed this speculation.

    DNA testing will certainly challenge a lot of nationalist asumptions, for better or worse....

  3. I watched the documentary w while back (a couple of years ago, I think). I just tried briefly finding the show I was watching (History Channel, I think), the closest I got was this:,8599,1715337,00.html

  4. I also have to comment on the finding of European corpses in "Indian" (no longer quoted, as that what they are called here in the US) buiral mounds.

    I have researched my local town's history (mid 1800's, just a baby for you folks, but then again: 100 years is a long time for Americans, and 100 miles is a long way for Europeans), and found that the settlers would bury their dead in the same burial mounds as the "natives", as there was no "concencrated" ground when they came out, so if the natives found it suitable, the newcommers thought so as well.

    We had a similar situation here, where there was a small, european girl, with blond hair, and jewelry buried in the same mound as others buried some 2-3 hundred years earlier.

  5. Anonymous, I like that Time artice. The Ark is called a "maddening McGuffin" for starters! I think Parfitt has really stuck his neck out on this one. Obviously there's a link with Israel here, and the ngoma may in fact be inspired by the Ark. I guess I'd have to read the book before making any worthwhile comment on his theory....I'm open-minded but leaning towards heavy skepticism...if only because I'd like to believe it's true.

    In your second comment, just to clarify, I am in fact American, I just live in France! I've heard of the practice yoyu describe in your hometown....are you in Ohio by any chance?

    In the case I described earlier the remaims were far older. Much older than 200 years....the controversy arose from the fact the remains appeared to have dated to before Columbus, maybe even Ice Age, but since I can't find the article this isn't very helpful....

  6. Anon, I may be talking total shit when I speak "wisps of blond hair" etc. Maybe I'm dimly remembering a half-digested account of the Kennewick man. (

    So, unless I can find out otherwise, all that I said in that paragraph should be disregarded.


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