web analytics
May 27, 2015 / 9 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post


Senegalese Tribe Sounds Jewish, Acts Jewish but Says It’s Muslim

An African tribe, ‘Sons of Israel,” says it is descended from Jews and is "chosen.” Their language resembles Hebrew. They use the Star of David. But they are practicing Muslims.
By:
Dougoutigo Fadiga outside the Bani Israel clinic near the Senegalese village’s sacred tree

Dougoutigo Fadiga outside the Bani Israel clinic near the Senegalese village’s sacred tree
Photo Credit: Cnaan Liphshiz

He will welcome you into his earthen-floor home, introduce you to his three wives, and let you sample their cooking. But Dougoutigo Fadiga does not want foreigners to come near the sacred tree of his village deep in the Senegalese bush.

“The tree is holy grounds,” says Fadiga, president of this remote settlement of 4,000 souls. “Our Jewish ancestor, Jacob, planted it when his people first settled here 1,000 years ago.”

The lush kapok tree towers over the parched shrubbery at the edge of Bani Israel, a dusty community in eastern Senegal near the border with Mali. The residents, all Muslims, are members of a tribe whose name means “sons of Israel,” and they trace their lineage to two clans – Sylla and Drame – they say are descended from Egyptian Jews.

“We are all practicing Muslims and we don’t want to become Jewish,” Fadiga says. “In fact, we don’t like to talk too much about our Jewish background, but we don’t hide it either. We know our people came from Egypt to Somalia, and from there to Nigeria, where they split about 1,000 years ago. One branch of the two families went to Mali, another to Guinea, and we settled here.”

The truth of such claims is difficult to establish, but West Africa has had a documented Jewish presence since at least the 14th century, when several Jewish merchants set up shop in Timbuktu, in western Mali. Jews kept trickling in from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, and later from Morocco.

Gideon Behar, Israel’s former ambassador to Senegal, says Jews maintained a constant presence in the area until 1943, when the last Jewish settlement was uprooted from Guinea-Bissau, Senegal’s southern neighbor, then a Portuguese colony under the rule of pro-fascist dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

“Bani Israel is a striking example because of its name, but there are many, many other ways in which this area’s little-known but rich Jewish presence has influenced it,” says Behar, one of the few Westerners to have visited Bani Israel.

Behar believes the historic presence is responsible for some of the faint Jewish traces still visible in the region. West African musicians often decorate the traditional, 21-string bridge-harp known as kora with Jewish symbols, including the Star of David. And some words in Wolof, a widely spoken language in Senegal, bear more resemblance to Hebrew pronunciation than Arabic, which is spoken in neighboring countries.

The Wolof word for cheek is pronounced “lekhi,” as in Hebrew. One of Wolof’s words for wise is pronounced the same as the Hebrew word “chacham.” A weaver or fabric merchant is called “rab,” similar to rabbi.

The Bani Israel also have a cultural trait in common with Jews: an aversion to intermarriage. According to Fadiga, the community tries not to assimilate, preferring to wed with members of the tribe who live in neighboring villages.

“I believe there is an element of truth to the tradition of the Bani Israel, especially since they have nothing to gain from pretending,” says Behar, who returned from Senegal in 2011. “They’re not seeking Israeli citizenship, nor are they claiming to be Jewish. In fact, their Jewish ancestry and name can only give them problems.”

The story of Bani Israel’s origin is not universally accepted in Senegal. Abdoul Kader Taslimanka, a Senegalese writer who published a book last year about the community, “Bani Israel of Senegal,” says the name has nothing to do with Jews and in fact is taken from the title of a chapter of the Koran.

Some accounts do, however, support the last leg of the journey that Fadiga describes.

In his village, Fadiga is known as the marabou, the local equivalent of a shaman or bush doctor.

Unlike most villages in the area, the Bani Israel live in houses made of brick instead of mud and thatch huts. It also was the first village in the area to have a clinic and electrical generators, according to Fadiga.

Such relative luxuries are financed by about 1,000 Bani Israel who live in the Senegalese capital of Dakar or in France, sending monthly donations back to the village. Unusual for the region, the money is not sent directly to relatives but is placed in a communal trust that pays for health services and schools, which in turn service not only the village but the entire remote region.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Senegalese Tribe Sounds Jewish, Acts Jewish but Says It’s Muslim”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems deployed in a military exercise.
Russia to Deliver S-300 Missile System to Iran… Eventually
Latest News Stories
Elephants in the Water

With temperatures soaring, everyone is getting in the water…

Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems deployed in a military exercise.

Russia closed its deal Monday to deliver the powerful S-300 missile defense system to Iran… eventually.

Flash flooding in Israel. (illustrative only)

Flash floods and more rain in Texas means a rising death toll and desperate people searching in kayaks.

Israel Minister of Senior Citizens Affairs, Gila Gamliel.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Netanyahu government voted Wednesday to form a new ministerial committee on Arab affairs.

Shurat HaDin calls for expulsion of PA soccer chief Rajoub for inciting terror – hours before Swiss arrests of FIFA officials for various charges of corruption.

Rabbi Riskin believes the Rabbinate must be prepared to accept Halachic decisions that aren’t Ultra-Orthodox.

The case also called for banning the sale of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Liberation newspaper in Egypt over “blasphemy against Prophet Mohamed.”

Saed Erekat: Israel first must agree to all of our terms before we negotiate.

The temperature is expected to reach extreme levels today, drink water.

“In the chaos of the conflict… Hamas…granted its security forces free rein to carry out horrific abuse, amounting to war crimes.”

The Israeli Air Force responded to a rocket attack from Gaza by striking terrorist sites within the Strip.

Information on more than 100,000 US taxpayers was stolen by hackers who breached the IRS.

Hamas terrorist leaders are hiding again as Israel considers a response to Tuesday’s rocket attack.

“In the chaos of the conflict… Hamas…granted its security forces free rein to carry out horrific abuse, amounting to war crimes.”

Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin plans appeal to Supreme Court over fight to stay in his position; city’s mayor also vows support.

European leaders warn that “no deal” is likely between the US-led world powers and Iran by the time talks reach the June 30 deadline.

More Articles from JTA

More than 20 cars and buildings in a Jewish community in north London were vandalized with swastikas. The Nazi symbol was drawn on approximately 27 cars in the Osbaldeston Road area of Stoke Newington on Sunday night, The Daily Mail reported. An unnamed 32-year-old man was arrested in connection with the vandalism Tuesday. The neighborhood […]

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind called on the Jewish community to attend the funeral of an assassinated New York police officer. “The brave men and women of the NYPD risk their lives every day to protect us. We value them and stand with them,” Hikind, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn, said in a statement […]

“Move Jew” scrawled on a Philadelphia home and slurs written on a synagogue and 10 garages in Chicago.

The Nazis nearly destroyed the 17th synagogue.

Cuba has “the largest pool of untapped baseball talent in the world, and Major League Baseball may tap and leave Cuba dry.

Argentina’s president Christina Fernandez has accepted an official Jewish godson for the first time in the country’s history to help counter legend of death to a seventh son. She described in seven tweets her meeting with her new godson, Yair Tawil, a member of a Chabad-Lubavitch family. He was adopted as a godson under a […]

A fundraising campaign started quietly by two first graders two years ago to help find a cure for a rare genetic disease just passed the $1 million mark.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/senegalese-tribe-sounds-jewish-acts-jewish-but-says-its-muslim/2013/05/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: