Professor Joseph J. Williams, who held doctoral degrees in history and cultural anthropology and was the author of several books on black civilization and culture in Africa and the West Indies, after more than eleven years of intensive research, wrote a book entitled “Hebrewism of West Africa”.
The book documents the origins and extents of the Hebrew religion and culture in West Africa and has 443 pages documented with more than 1,400 foot notes citing over 900 different scholars and eye witnesses. The book reveals that black culture, far from being lost in the backwaters of the African jungle, was and continues to be very much in the mainstream of civilization as we know it today.
Professor Williams begins his book by recalling his discoveries and observations while living for five years on the West Indian Island of Jamaica. Intrigued by certain similarities with Hebrew customs this famous Jesuit scholar then began an eleven year search to determine if there really were affnities between Middle East customs and those found in Africa and the West Indies.
The study led to some rather startling results and conclusions. In the first place, many Hebrewisms were discovered in Ashanti tribal custom. Then several Ashanti words were found to have a striking resemblance to those of equivalent Hebrew meaning. Finally, the Supreme Being of the Ashanti gave strong evidence of being the Yahweh (God) of the Old Testament.
“The question,” he says, “naturally arose, how to explain these parallels of cultural traits? Should they be ascribed to mere coincidence or independent development? Or have we here a remarkable instance of difussion across the entire breadth of Africa?
The answers to these questions Professor Williams deduces can be found “by trying to trace the story of the dispersion of the Jews” from the Middle East and by studying the “ tribal beliefs and practices and the records by early European travellers, particularly those who had written of the manners and customs of the African Black man.”
Why the study about the Ashanti of West Africa? The answer is that they represent a large grouping of peoples about whom a fair amount of information is known. Today this region is divided into several nations such as Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Dahomey or Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. In fact, according to Ernest Chantre, a director of the Anthropological Society of Lyons (France), “the Ashanti constitute an aggregate of negro types.”
The problem confronting Professor Williams was whether the lineage of these Ashanti can be traced or connected to other civilizations. Andre Arcin is quoted by Williams to conclude that “From Ethiopia, Middle Egypt and Central Sudan descended the Ashanti and tribes known as Bantu.”
Professor Roland B. Dixon, an anthtropologist from Harvard University in his study of the physical characteristics of the Ashanti, notes similarity” to the Chad group of people in the Sudan”.
The black immigration, he adds, “was in part a westerly drift from the Chad-Nile area, and in part direct southward movement from the western Sudan and the Sahara borders forced by the expansion in the Sahara region of the Caucasian peoples who have poured into northern Africa since very early days.”
“The very word Ashanti has itself a strong Hebraic flavour,” says Williams. “ the terminal syllabus ”ti” in the names of West African tribes usually has the general meaning of the race of or the men of’ or the children of” comments Louis Desplagnes in his book about the people of central plateau of Nigeria.
Williams reaches the inevitable conclusion that “this would make Ashanti the people of Ashan. There was in fact a town of the name Ashan in the domain of Judah.” Dr. Gerson B. Levi talks about Ashan in his contribution of the same name found in the Jewish Encyclopedia. He says “Ashan: Town in the domain of Judah (Joshua 15: 142), but which was in the actual possession of Simeon (Joshua 19:7; I Chronicles 4: 32).”
As far as customs and religious practices are concerned, according to Professor Williams, the Mosaic laws concerning marriages within the tribe to preserve the inheritance of daughters within the family of their fathers (Numbers 36:5-12) are very simillar to Ashanti practices. And the cross-cousin marriages of the Ashanti “ are “ strictly similar to that of the Hebrew daughters of Salphaad who . . .were supposed to be married to “the sons of the brothers of their fathers” (Numbers 3 6 : 11 ) .
On Female child-birth and menstruation, the Ashanti mother is considered “unclean” for eight days after the birth of her child. On the eight day the child is given a name and on the fortieth day, a related ceremony is observed.” “In all this we are certainly reminded of Hebrew customs,” says Williams.
J. Leighton Wilson, who was a missionary in the Guinean area for 18 years, in his book “Western Africa, Its History, Condition and Prospects” published in 1856, explains that in the Northern region, the practice of Judaism is “prominently developed, some of the leading features of which are circumcision, the division of the tribe into separate families, and very frequently into the number twelve, blood sacrifices with the sprinkling of blood upon the altar and door-pots” and other usages which he classifies of Jewish origin.
Dr. William Bosman in his book about his travels in Guinea observes that the women must accept an oath-drink to acquit themselves of any accusation of adultery. Bosman claims that “this drink seems very like the bitter water administered to the women of the Old Testament by way of acquitting them of the charge of adultery.”
Mungo Park in his book entitled Travels in the Interiors of Africa, written in 1810, observes the legal whippings among the Teesee people in the Kassob region. He says, “the number of stripes was precisely the same as are required by Mosaic Law, forty, save one.”
We already noted that scholars believe there is a common origin for the Ashanti and Bantu peoples. They both came, it is thought, from the North-Eastern part of the continent. The Ashanti eventually migrated West-ward below and roughly parallel to the Sahara Desert; the Bantu moved mainly in the South and South-West ward directions. The word Bantu, and its variations, “means people or humans”, the root in Proto-Bantu is reconstructed as -ntu.
Today we find the Bantu peoples a majority throughout Central Africa in a belt extending from Zambia and Mozambique on the East coast through the Central African Republic (formerly French Equatorial Africa) to the Congo, Angola, South Africa and Namibia on the West coast.
If one takes ovaHerero, ovaMbanderu, ovaHimba, ovaTjimba, ovaZemba, who are all cousins of ovaWambo and related to other tribes who are in Zone R according to Malcolm Guthrie’s classification comprising of Mbundu, Nyanyeka, Khumbi, Kuvale, Ndombe, Mbali, Kwisi, they also use circumcision and the practice of marrying the deceased brother’s wife as well as cross-cousin marriage, and within the tribe, to preserve the inheritance of daughters within the family of their fathers as well as other rituals of purification and division of the tribe into twelve plus the use of totems. Indeed, apart from Ndonga, Kwanyama, Kwambi, Ngandjera, Kwaluudhi, Mbandja, Mbalanhu, Kolonkadhi-Eunda in Namibia, you also have Ndogwena-Kwankwa, Evale-Esinga, Dombondola, and Kafima in Southern Angola who make up the 12 tribes of OvaWambo.
One can also add to these people the Xindonga in southeastern Angola and northeastern Namibia comprising of Liyuwa, Mashi, Mbukushu, and Kwangali-Gciriku who are related to the Ngangelas comprising of Ngonzelo, Luchazi, Nyemba, Luvale, Luimbi, Mbunda, Mbuela, Yauma and Nkangala ethnic groups.
In the Congo, Herbert Ward says “there exists a remarkable affinity of certain customs to ancient Hebrew law.”
In Angola, we learn from W. Merlin Ennis that “there are many indications that there was at least a common source from which arose the Hebrew Culture; and that this (Angolan culture) arose from that.
According to G.T. Basden, who was for many years a missionary among the Igbo of Nigeria, “there are certain cutoms which point to Levitic influence at a more or less remote time. This is suggested in the underlying ideas concerning sacrifice and in the practice of circumcission. The language also bears several interesting parallels with Hebrew idiom.” “Besides the Ibo, we also find reference to Judaism in the northern half of the country populated today largely by the Hausa and Fulani (Feul or Peul) peoples.”Edmond D. Morel devotes considerable space in his book about the Fulani of West Africa. He concludes that after the overthrow of the Hyksos rulers in Egypt, many of their Hebrew kinsmen found their way into the interior of Africa by way of Cyrenaloa (Libya).
In summary, we see clearly the evidence that African Hebrews settled in Black Africa through the Ashanti, Fulani, Songhul, Bantu and others and that Hebrew heritage permeated Black Africa from coast to coast which makes Black Africans part of the “root stock” of the original Israelites, even if much of their original Hebrew heritage may have become corrupted through centuries. Most white Jews are descendants of Greeks, Romans, Armenians and others who adopted Judaism as their religion.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.