“If racial differences are the effects of geography and isolation, civilization, on the other hand, seems to be a product of contact and communication. Every civilization, in extending the area of human intercourse, has invariably brought about new concentrations of population and a new intermingling of races.” – Race Relations and World Economy, pp 144 Race and Culture: Essays in the Sociology of Contemporary Man, Robert Ezra Park
I recently met a Black Jew of the Lemba ‘tribe’, while having a drink at Harare Rainbow Towers hotel. I had been there to purchase a ticket to watch a music concert show featuring Jamaican-American artists Morgan Heritage, Lutan Fyah and a plethora of local acts. After trying to secure a media-pass so that I would be able to secure good parking and a ‘good’ seat come the Saturday of the concert, I decided to go and relax at the foyer-cafe’. My phone was running out of battery and so ran out to my car to fetch a charger and adapter. Back in the cafe’ while looking for a table wherein I could sit and charge the phone nearby, I met a very tall, dark and corporate suited man who was also looking to charge his phone, we decided to sit together. I thought I would just continue reading my book while he also did his thing, afterall we were perfect strangers. It only took us a few minutes to ask each others names and as I usually do with Zimbabweans, I asked for his surname and his Totem. After he said his surname was Zhou, and his name was Paul. Now as an Afrikologist, I am always looking out for connections or interrelations between the large and diverse Afrikan family. Mr Zhou told me his totem and proceeded to explain that he is a member of the Black Jews and that the totem of the Elephant ( which also happens to be the clan-name and totem of both my paternal and maternal grandparents ) …is the originator of all the Tribes of Abantu as well as what is today known as Israelites. Before our robust conversation was interrupted by his uncle who called him aside to speak to him until I left, Mr Zhou explained to me whence his people migrated from, he mentioned the so called Middle East, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Great Lakes region down to Mozambique, Malawi and a specific area in Zimbabwe. We spoke briefly about the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, the colour and racial mixtures of the people who occupy the land of Israel today. He spoke about a particular geneticist who has apparently proven that it is indeed the Jews of Afrikan descent who are the original stock or the ones who carry more than 65% of the DNA that is considered Judaic or Israelite. He also explained how and where his ancestors settled in Zimbabwe, in an area called Mberengwa, and how the head-chief or Mposi is anointed.
Needless to say, I have read plenty regarding this subject, but meeting a person who has a lived experience and extensive knowledge of self is rare. This historical reflection caused me to reconsider my present theories and beliefs regarding the matter of Jews, Judaism as well as some Christological and prophetic traditions in Afrika. My attitude towards Jews, although not antagonistic has been dismissive ever-since I began delving into what is called Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Afrikan Traditional Religion/Spirituality and my own inner journey through ancestry, AmaHubo and transcendental meditation. We cannot deny that we a complex lot as Black people, with much of our lives hidden in plain sight in our totems, gradually fading customs and transforming traditions. When Mr Zhou insists that the 12 Tribes of Israel emerged from the Great Elephant, I could not help thinking about my own ancestors, the Maseko, whose migrations from the central and northern parts of Afrika are not as well documented. I could not help thinking about the identity of the one ancestor called Ndlovu who is known as the progenitor of all the Ngcamane clans as well as many more others. While Afrikans are not a homogenous group, there are several studies and traces that confirm that we are a family that emerged from one Great Tree. Now, there is no denying that each clan, tribe and ‘nation’ practices different cultural rites and rituals but there are also many similarities and common archetypes. What has made the Israelite story so pervasive? One may offer that much of the proselytization and transfusion of the Abrahamic lore was effected through guileful and unjust means. This may be more true of Islam and Christianity, but the older of these is Judaism, the Zion philosophy. The Hebrew speaking people have been nomadic and migratory for many thousands of years. There are many contradictory and controversial theories regarding what the original home of the Jews is. Many would simply say, but that’s a no-brainer – Jerusalem in Palestine/Israel is the homeland of the Israelite folk. But a clear and unbiased reading of even the Torah, the Bible or any other of those religious texts from that part of the world, reveals that the land that these people call home, was not truly theirs to begin with. But this is a subject for another day. We shall explore how both Jews, Egyptians, Babylonians/Iraqis and Iranians became Eurocentricised and Arabianised. We will also explore how certain parts of Northern and East Afrika are occupied by peoples who have a confused racial identity. This will not be just a discussion about race, but also about the persuasive power of words, images and propaganda.
To many Afrikans today, the God of the Hebrews, the Arabs and the Europeans is the primary source of all life. Very few Afrikans are left who remember how we worshipped the Creator during our days in Kemet, Kush-Meroe, Pre-Christian Ethiopia, Uganda, The Congo, Ile Ife, Cameroon and along our journeys along the Nile and the Zambezi. Most of us take it for-granted that our cultural institutions and practices were more Earth based and cosmically connected to the daily cycles of the heavenly bodies, rather than bookwise. Even though in Egypt/Kemet we had written works or books of instruction such as the Instruction of Ptahotep and many others, these were more like practical and proverbial moral admonitions rather than dogma. There was no one holy place but several sacred sites where everything was identified to its requisite spiritual power or Neter. These reflections caused me to question the efficacy of monotheism for Afrikans and the whole concept of Zion.
As a person who has practiced Rastafari livity for almost two decades, I too have been chanting about Zion, about the JAH or the Jews and the Yahweh and other religious artifacts of the Christian and Jewish kingdom. My whole family is into what they call “Kingdom Culture”, and the author of this is supposedly the God who is he creator of all the universe. But there are certain deep contradictions to this whole story of the Heavenly Father. We who are Afrocentric in our approach to divinity, cosmic harmony and social justice have serious misgivings about this monolithic heritage which although we have professed it for centuries, still find it rather contrived in many ways.
I will explain in part two.