began trading with tribes in the northern part of
Mali as long ago as biblical times and pushed
further and further into the foreboding Sahara
throughout the centuries. In the eighth century A.D.
the Rhadanites (multi-lingual Jewish traders)
settled in Timbuktu and used it as a base from
which they could solidify their trade routes
through the desert. In the 14th
and 15th centuries Jews
fleeing Spanish persecution settled in Timbuktu.
Members of the Kehath (Ka'ti) family founded
three villages that still exist near Timbuktu --
Kirshamba, Haybomo, and Kongougara. In 1492, King
Askia Muhammed took power in Timbuktu and
threatened Jews who did not convert to Islam with
execution. Some Jews fled, some converted, some
remained in Mali and faced centuries of
persecution and the occasional massacre. By the
20th century there were
no practicing Jews in Mali.
However, in the 1990s Malian
Jewry has begun to experience a revival. Ismael
Diadie Haidara, a historian from Timbuktu, has
been at the forefront of the movement to explore
Malis Jewish past. In 1993 Haidara
established Zakhor (the Timbuktu Association for
Friendship with the Jewish World) as an informal
association of Malian descendants of Jews. Zakhors
members hope to teach their children about their
Jewish heritage, learn and use Hebrew as a second
language and publish histories of their ancestry.
In Timbuktu alone there are almost a thousand
descendants of Jews who have become interested in
exploring their identity.
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For more information e-mail:
Jay Sand JayPSand@yahoo.com