The “lost tribes” of the Jewish Faith also settled in Africa.
In many ways, the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe and South Africa are just like their neighbours.
But in other ways their customs are remarkably similar to Jewish ones.
They do not eat pork, they practise male circumcision, they ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones.
Their oral traditions claim that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago.
It may sound like another myth of a lost tribe of Israel, but British scientists have carried out DNA tests which confirm their Semitic origin.
These tests back up the group’s belief that a group of perhaps seven men married African women and settled on the continent. The Lemba, who number perhaps 80,000, live in central Zimbabwe and the north of South Africa.
Lemba women do not have Jewish DNA
And they also have a prized religious artefact that they say connects them to their Jewish ancestry – a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant known as the ngoma lungundu, meaning “the drum that thunders”.
The object went on display recently at a Harare museum to much fanfare, and instilled pride in many of the Lemba.
“For me it’s the starting point,” says religious singer Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave.
“Very few people knew about us and this is the time to come out. I’m very proud to realise that we have a rich culture and I’m proud to be a Lemba.
“We have been a very secretive people, because we believe we are a special people.”
Religion vs culture
The Lemba have many customs and regulations that tally with Jewish tradition.
They wear skull caps, practise circumcision, which is not a tradition for most Zimbabweans, avoid eating pork and food with animal blood, and have 12 tribes.
They slaughter animals in the same way as Jewish people, and they put the Jewish Star of David on their tombstones.
Members of the priestly clan of the Lemba, known as the Buba, were even discovered to have a genetic element also found among the Jewish priestly line.
“This was amazing,” said Prof Tudor Parfitt, from the University of London.
“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.
“They have a common ancestor who geneticists say lived about 3,000 years ago somewhere in north Arabia, which is the time of Moses and Aaron when the Jewish priesthood started.”
Prof Parfitt is a world-renowned expert, having spent 20 years researching the Lemba, and living with them for six months.
The Lemba have a sacred prayer language which is a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic, pointing to their roots in Israel and Yemen.
Despite their ties to Judaism, many of the Lemba in Zimbabwe are Christians, while some are Muslims.
“Christianity is my religion, and Judaism is my culture,” explains Perez Hamandishe, a pastor and member of parliament from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).