web analytics
August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



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.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Baby wearing a Hamas head band attends a Hamas "victory" rally in central Gaza City, on August 27, 2014, following the latest cease-fire.
Vast Majority of Gazan Arabs Support Terror Against Israel
Latest News Stories
Baby wearing a Hamas head band attends a Hamas "victory" rally in central Gaza City, on August 27, 2014, following the latest cease-fire.

Gazans overwhelmingly support rocket attacks against Israel, but they prefer other methods of attack even more.

First Day of School

It’s Rosh Chodesh Elul, and that means school has begun in the Chareidi school system.

Dell Smitherman at The Jewish Press.

Smitherman has witnessed firsthand both how damaging income inequality has been to the poor and how it negatively impacts families and communities.

Nick Di Iorio at The Jewish Press last week.

“It was embarrassing to be asked, Why is Egypt right now a better ally than America? Why is Israel doing more than the U.S. to protect Israel?”

Has Netanyahu ever heard of Lincoln’s phrase, “You cannot fool all of the people all of the time?”

This shot may have come from a Syrian tank…

Hamas recently indicated to international press that it would continue building up its underground network while restocking arsenal, rockets and other weaponry

Iran vowed on Monday to “accelerate” its rearming of PA Arabs in Judea and Samaria, one day after it claimed that it shot down an Israeli spy drone over its airspace.

The case of missing U.S. yeshiva student Aaron Sofer, studying in Israel, remains unsolved after six days.

“We are strong chassidic women and we take the name, we embrace it, and we own it.”

After a month, should the quiet hold, Israel and Hamas will restart indirect negotiations in Cairo on easing Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip and disarming the enclave.

Israel’s political landscape awoke Wednesday to the latest ceasefire with a sharp round of criticism for Prime Minister Netanyahu, and jostling for position amongst senior politicians who have begun to smell the aroma of early elections, possibly in the first half of 2015.

Palestinian terrorists threw stones at Jewish-owned cars in the Wadi Joz section of Jerusalem Wednesday. Three children were injured and treated on the spot. A 22-year-old man was arrested, and police told Israel Radio the man has confessed to other incidents as well. In Shuafat, in northern Jerusalem, Palestinians threw rocks at the Jerusalem light […]

Nearly 90 percent of Gaza residents support attacks on Israel, say rockets help ‘deterrence’

Chaim Yellin: We don’t want government support. We need quiet in the morning.

Mortar fire crossed the border into northern Israel from Syria near Quneitra. Two cars were damaged. Accidental shelling?

More Articles from JTA

Nearly 200 Hollywood elite, including Sylvester Stallone and Seth Rogen, signed a statement condemning Hamas as its conflict with Israel continues.

Police entered the apartment after relatives were unable to contact the couple.

If you are worried about your child marrying a non-Jew, and you should be, then move to Israel.

If “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Diaspora Jews are in big trouble.

Al Qaeda wants the US to free terrorists in return for freeing Warren Weinstein.

At least six Haredi protesters were arrested and a police officer was wounded in demonstrations in at least three Israeli cities Sunday following the arrest of a yeshiva student for ignoring a draft notice. Hundreds of protesters blocked busy intersections in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit and Beit Shemesh. The yeshiva student has been arrested […]

Police in Melbourne arrested seven pro-Palestinian protesters who stormed the roof of an Israel-based company.

Violent assaults on Jews are becoming more common around the world.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

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: