Another lost tribe myth? Genetic testing says not so fast. The Lemba tribe may have converted to Christianity a while ago, but their DNA says they’re Jewish. Not even that, but their priestly tribe, the Buba, have the Cohen Y-Chromosome marker that Jewish Cohanim have as well.
They wear velvet yarmulkes and knitted yarmulkes, engrave a Jewish star of David on their tombstones, practice circumcision, and don’t eat pork. They also, of course, blow a shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and eat Matzah on Passover. Intermarriage between Lemba and non-Lemba is discouraged, and any woman outside the tribe that marries in may not bring any of her cookware into her new home, a Lemba version of Kashrut laws. If the woman refuses to learn Lemba Jewish-like customs, the couple are expelled from the community.
According to their tradition, their ancestors were a mere 7 Jews who left Israel before the destruction of the second temple, passed through Yemen, and finally settled in Africa. With the constant Hasmonean Wars going on in the Holy Land at that period, it’s surprising that it started with only seven.
Professor Tudor Parfitt of the University of London, credited with the largest body of research on the Lemba tribe, called the existence of the tribe “…amazing. It looks as if the Jewish priesthood continued in the West by people called Cohen, and in same way it was continued by the priestly clan of the Lemba. Parfitt further notes that according to claims of geneticists, their common ancestor stems from about 3,000 years ago in Arabia, as established by genetic drift, “which is the time of Moses and Aaron when the Jewish priesthood started,” says Parfitt.
He has been studying them for 20 years and even lived with the tribe for 6 months. At this point, Israel does not recognize them as Jews. Indeed, though they consider their culture Jewish, many are believing Christians and even Muslims.