The Lemba of Southern
The Lemba do not view themselves as a religious group. To them, "Lemba" is a cultural distinction, a group that follows traditional cultural practices and mores. Lemba live culturally as Lemba, but despite their belief that Lemba culture has ancient Hebrew origin, some live religiously as Christians and Muslims. The Lemba do not practice what Western Jews would identify as “Judaism,” other than those who have come to the religion in recent years, but they do have a large number of cultural practices that they attribute to the ancient Jews.
The Lemba’s unique ritual practices still serve to separate them as a "chosen" group. African tradition has shaded some of their Judaic practices.
As Dr. Tudor Parfitt detailed in his book about the Lemba, Journey to the Vanished City, Lemba observances are diverse and intriguing, and differ from urban to rural followers of the religion. Some Lemba claim that while they used to circumcise their males on the eighth day, they now wait until the eighth year or later as other African tribes do. Lemba funeral rituals, while following ancient Jewish customs, are also distinctly African. When a Lemba man dies the other Lemba wrap him in an ox skin and lay him on his side or back in the ground, placing his tools and farming implements beside him. The relatives of the deceased shave their heads and mourn for seven days during which time they do not work. On the seventh day there is a feast at which the community’s spiritual leader sacrifices an ox, a sheep or a spotless goat and sprinkles the blood of the animal over the heads of the assembled or passes it around for them to drink. The priest then calls the Lemba ancestors by name as the men kneel and call out the word "Hundji" which is supposed to be one of the Lemba places of origin. The Lemba rituals for female conversion into the tribe are also a jumble of Jewish purification ritual and African custom. To join the Lemba through marriage, women endure exhaustive purification ceremonies during which they crawl on ant-hills to have the ants bite off their "pig skin," have fire set upon them to burn off their gentile impurities and eating raw ox so that they vomit out their previous soul, after which they stick their head through the hole in the wall of a hut, have their head shaved, crawl through the hole and become Lemba. When a Lemba girl reaches puberty, in order to become pure the Lemba require her to sit up to her neck in river water for two weeks with a gourd on her head to teach her humility. They also give her a sharp, conical wooden object decorated with a red tassel upon which they expect her to impale herself in the river for three more days. In another Lemba ceremony that appears to weave Jewish tradition with African, the Lemba conclude Utungara, a harvest festival in part reminiscent of Biblical harvest festivals like Succot, by reciting the names of their ancestors then drinking beer and drumming as some members of the tribe become "possessed" with the ancestral spirits, dancing nude until the sun rises.
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