The Lemba Clan, Are They Real Jews

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Black Jews of South Africa: biological and cultural constructions of identity

November 19, 2002 Text: 11 pages Figures: 2 pages Bibliography: 3 pages

Introduction Walking through the Venda Plaza shopping center in Thohoyandou, South Africa, R dai ae ta a ad a tm ,T aioe f Jws bo e . Gv g i a uznw vdo m n n si o e“ hts n o my e i rt r” i n h d h hs i m pzl ytn i e l kh ep i d“a a l k e . cm f m I al l gi e uz d ei r ud o ,e xln ,Im Ba Jw We a er s eao t e tg o ae c o r n m aoT e hv poe iwt gns N t nowing what to say and not having heard about this g. hy ae rvdt i ee. o k h ” before, I let his statement pass. My time in South Africa was devoted to working with a victim empowerment program, but I continued to wonder about the idea of Black Jews. The Black Jew or Lemba population creates a blip on a cultural map of sub-Saharan Africa. When researchers discovered and studied them over the last fifteen years, the Lemba also made a blip on the genetic map of sub-Saharan Africa. Genetic analysis of the Lemba has focused primarily on the Y chromosome, which is useful for studying variation among and distance between populations. The Lemba genetic markers support the oral tradition which says the Lemba came from the north. This paper reviews biological and cultural studies of the Lemba and the correlation between genes and oral tradition to propose a biocultural history for the Lemba people. Biology Genetic Variation across Populations Much of the study of genetic variation has focused on dissimilarity between groups. Genetic variation over time is used to postulate about the place and time of the origins of modern humans as well as subsequent movement and migration. Genetic variation is the greatest in Africa, and it is reasoned that the longer a group has been around, the more variation it will have in its gene pool. Additionally, the longer groups are apart, the greater their genetic distance (Cavalli-Sforza and Cavalli-Sforza, 1995). Maps of variation show migrations out of, around,


and back in to Africa (Cavalli-Sforza and Cavalli-Sforza, 1995). Based on comparison of genetic landscapes, maps by Cavalli-Sforza and Cavalli-Sforza (1995) show the arrival of Neolithic cultivators in northern Africa 8,000 to 9,000 years ago. The migration of people continues down the eastern side of Africa, with groups mixing and moving. According to Cavalli-Sforza and Cavalli-Sforza (1995), the Bantu arrived in South Africa 300 to 400 years ago, and the archaeological and linguistic data support the history of Bantu expansion. Cavalli-Sforza’t e o py gnt r aosi a gnr e t og ae g sr s f hl eece t nh s r ee t h uh vr e e o i li p e ad r a linkage analysis. Synthetic maps are produced from principle-component analysis of multiple gene frequencies. MacEachern (2000), however, criticizes Cavalli-Soz’sn eio gns fr s yt s f ee a h s and language for its assumptions about the nature of language and groups and its lack of cni r i o t d e i o hm n oii . A r a e n ui a ntone, os e t n fh i rt f u a sc ts “ fcn t i n s r obudd d ao e v sy ee i hc t e homogeneous monoliths either frozen in place since before A.D. 1492 or caroming around the continent like cultural-ba n b lr bl”MaE ce ,00 7) G nr sn ec as er g ii d as ( c ahr 20: 0. ee lyt t m p i la l n 3 a hi provide a visual representation of variation, but they do not show how the variation came to exist nor do they reveal anomalies. The Lemba are an anomaly in the genetic patterns of Southern Africa. Variation and the Y Chromosome The primary genetic research on the Lemba has used the Y chromosome for comparison with other groups. The Y chromosome has many characteristics that make it favorable for investigating lineage. Almost all of the Y chromosome consists of non-recombining regions and the information is passed intact from generation to generation, from father to son. The variations, called polymorphisms, occur so infrequently that they are commonly called unique event polymorphisms...
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