The Lemba people living in Venda, in the Limpopo province, are said to originate from one of the ten tribes of Israel, who crossed into Africa in about 650 BC. They are proud of their roots as the Black Jews of Africa, and gather at least once a year to celebrate their customs.

Did you know?

There are also Lemba people living in north-eastern Zimbabwe.

The far-northern reaches of Limpopo province hold mysteries and legends like the Rain Queen, the Sacred Lake and the Lemba, who regard themselves as descendents of one of the ten tribes of Israel.

The Lemba emblem is the Star of David, with an elephant at its centre. The elephant signifies the clan's membership to the Venda nation, and it's their symbol of might, peace and intellect.

Should you meet senior Lemba, John Hadji, out at East Lynne Farm near Elim, he will tell you the first person to call his group ‘black Jews' was the old Boer Republic's president, Paul Kruger.

'My Uncle Abel cooked for him,' John will confirm.

The Lemba in Limpopo believe they were separated from the other Jewish tribes about 2 700 years ago.

'Our forefathers left Israel during a time when Jews were persecuted by Nebuchadnezzar, in 650BC. They came down through Yemen, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique, before finding this place,' says John.

Some of the Jewish traditions still maintained by the Lemba include male circumcision, eating kosher meat and burying their dead with the heads pointing towards Judea.

Each year, they gather a week before the regular Jewish New Year at a farm called Sweetwaters, called together by the Lemba Cultural Association in a bid to maintain their culture and recall their roots.

In recent times, skeptics have questioned the Lemba's links to Judaism, and their ancestry remains controversial.

Genealogical scientists in the United Kingdom compared DNA samples of the Lemba to that of Arabic Jews, Azhkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews.

They found that the Lemba males had Y chromosomes that aligned, in parts, to other Jewish groups. It is believed that an initial group of seven Jewish men may have married African women, and started this interesting lineage.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Guide: Daniel Khosa
Tel: +27 (0)72 235 4543

Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge
Tel: +27 (0)12 556 3406

How to get here

Head for Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge outside Elim near the Limpopo town of Makhado - the guide takes you out from there.

Around the area

Ask the same guide to take you on a tour of the Ribolla Art Route in the area - the work is world-class.

Get around

A self-drive with a guide is best.

Where to stay

Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge outside Elim.

Best buys

Pottery and wooden sculptures from the Ribolla Art Route.

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