From Israel to Zimbabwe: Part One…tracing footsteps of the Lemba

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By Farayi Mungoshi

HAVING been brought up a Christian, reading the Bible and practicing the faith, I fell in love with the characters depicted in it.
Stories of David, Solomon and Samson became a part of me.
Whenever I would have a conversation with someone, I would find myself quoting scriptures from the good book.
I would either be advising or being advised, but whichever way the conversation would go, scriptures and the Bible were a referral point.
I still refer to the Bible whenever I am having conversations with people these days but I must say that I am not as naïve as I used to be.
I do not trust today’s prophets and pastors as I used to when I first became a Christian.
I guess the reason for that is based on the fact that I discovered that most of the pastors and prophets of today are fake.
They believe more in money than they do in God.
So when I first discovered about the Lemba, I set out on a mission to find out who they are, and if they are like the rest of us (Karanga, Ndebele, Zezuru ,among others).
The reason I did this was because of our history as a people.
While we believe and acknowledge our ancestors, we do not really pray to them but rather we pray to God/Musikavanhu through them.
Our ancestors are the link to Musikavanhu, and through them, we pray and are blessed, much like Dr Stanley Mudenge wrote in his book which tells the political history of the Munhumutapa State.
When I discovered that we (as a people historically and present) do not pray to idols, trees or animals, I began to question our origin (who we are as a people).
The reason I began to question myself was because of the similarities we have in our culture and tradition as a people, compared to that of the Lemba.
Though the Lemba are a very secretive people, and would not easily give up their secrets as a people, I discovered that most of us (Zimbabweans), despite not being Lemba, actually practice the same beliefs even though we differ in our ways.
We do not pray to idols but Musikavanhu.
So when an old friend of mine from high school, Ishmael Siringwani Mashingaidze, told me he had written a book on the history of the Lemba, I was very eager to read it.
The book was co-written with elder Birror D.K. Hamandishe who provided most of the information as was told to him orally.
However, the book is well researched and shows details and events that tally with the Bible and history.
When Ishmael told me this, I just couldn’t wait to hold my own copy of the book.
I was eager to find out how the Israelites ended up in Zimbabwe.
The first thing he told me about their history was: “We followed a star into Zimbabwe.”
I had heard lots of stories about a group of people being led to Zimbabwe by a star and so I was eager to learn more.
In my conversation with Ishmael, whom I knew as Farai at High School, I discovered that the book he had written, A Remnant of Israel, The Lemba, was one of the first of its kind as it was written by a Lemba for the Lemba and not by an outsider.
The book which starts its narrative from The Flood of Noah and the Ark, speaks in a very specific language, mentioning dates of events not mentioned in the Bible.
Most of us know about the flood, but we do not know that it happened in the year 2340 BC, neither did we know that it was on a Wednesday (May 6 2348 BC) that Noah’s ark finally rested on Mt Ararat after 40 days and 40 nights of rain.
The story, much like the scriptures we’ve read in the Bible continues from the Flood, through Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon and Ezra.
Ezra was the Prophet responsible for the expulsion of the Lemba from Israel.
Ishmael, in his book writes: “Sechaniah, Son of Jehiel of the clan of Elam spoke up and told him (Ezra) that even though Israel had sinned, there was still hope for Israel if they made a covenant with ADONAI (God) that they would send away the foreign women and the children born of them.”
And so the Lemba were told to leave Israel, the reason being that they were born of foreign wives but of Jewish fathers.
Later Mark G. Thomas, Tudor Partiff, Deborah A. Weiss, among others, would prove through DNA studies that the Lemba were indeed Jews.
I almost dismissed the book as one of the usual Christian books I’ve read before because it spoke of biblical events most of us know from childhood (apart from the specific dates of events mentioned therein) but as I continued reading the book, I discovered that it unravels some of the mysteries presented in the Bible.
A good example is the story of Solomon who had a son with the African Queen (Sheba of Ethipoia).
Most of us know that Solomon transgressed before God but we really do not know why or how such a wise man would distance himself from God.
It is only after reading, A Remnant of Israel, The Lemba, that one understands how Solomon fell from grace.
In the book, Mashingaidze describes how Solomon dreamt of the sun leaving Israel (which is not mentioned in the Bible) just before his son, Melik (begotten with Queen Sheba) would depart from Israel with the Ark of the Covenant and return to Ethiopia with it.
It is only after Melik leaves with the ark that Solomon loses his way with God.
The bible does not mention anything about the stealing of the Ark of the Covenant but Mashingaidze in his book does so, and after reading the story one would then understand how such a wise man like Solomon faltered.
The story continues through to how they (Lemba) left Israel and went to settle in Arab lands, Sena, Medina and their confrontation with Mohammed in Yemen as the Lemba refused to recognise him as a prophet.
Omar, who succeeded Mohammed, issued 12 laws that pertained to the Lemba in all the Arab nations, some of which required the Lemba to wear only dark coloured clothes like black and dark blue. They were not allowed to own or ride a horse, or to drink wine in public, among others.
It was only after the persecution of the Lemba in Arabia that the Star of David reappeared in the sky in the 8th Century to show them a way forward.
It led them to Africa.

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