The Lemba Tribe of South Africa living in what was previously Venda and which is now in the north of the Transvaal, claim that they are one of the lost tribes of ancient Israel. The possibility is  that they left the Kingdom of Israel during the Assyrian exile of the 10 tribes from Samaria who were captured and placed in areas of what is today Syria and Iraq and then disappeared.

It is believed that the Lemba could  have travelled down Africa past the great lakes and originally settled in Zimbabwe where they were part of the building of Great Zimbabwe and then part of the tribe that migrated into the northern part of South Africa and became one of the tribes associated with the Venda tribe.

They are distinct however, because even though they have similar characteristics and speak the same language as the other Sotho tribes, the Lemba have very different religious traditions and customs that are extremely similar to Jewish customs and traditions which have been passed down by word of mouth for generations. The Lemba tribe adhere to kosher dietary limits such as forbidding Pork from their diet, as well as ritual slaughter practices and male circumcision. Their gravestones are marked with a Star of David and the men wear skullcaps. All of which are Jewish practices. They also have a special prayer language in Hebrew and Arabic.

To dispel the theory that this could all be a myth, DNA tests were carried out by UK scientists who found that the DNA of  a priestly clan amongst the Lemba  has many similarities and is very close to the DNA of  the priestly Cohens amongst the Jews and confirms their Semitic origins.  The women of the tribe however do not have the same DNA.

The Lemba have many other practices that are very close to those practiced by the Jewish people and although today many have become Christian and Moslem, they still adhere to their ancient culture.

They also have in their possession, a 700 year old replica of the original Ark of the Covenant – the original of which was destroyed during the destruction of the first temple – that they call the ngoma lungundu or “drum that thunders” and which they greatly prize as an ancient artefact linking them to their ancient origins from the Kingdom of Israel.

With there being so many tribes and different sections of the country to learn about, if you are visiting why not pick up cheap car hire South Africa and explore in a hire car? Prices are really reasonable and its a great idea if you are travelling as a family or group.