web analytics
October 30, 2014 / 6 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



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
Mu'taz Hijazi
Non-Apartheid Alert: Suspected Shooter Worked in Begin Center
Latest News Stories
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat  at the Temple Mount on October 28, 2014.

The “silent” intifada is roaring at the gates, Harriet, and threatening to bash the door in. It’s silent no more. Who’s really inciting terrorism?

Tourists gathered after woman hit with rocks thrown by Arabs at Kotel, Oct. 30, 2014.

Female tourist injured when struck by rocks thrown by Arabs at the Kotel.

Jerusalem Arabs are rioting near the home of the killed terrorist in the neighborhood of Abu Tor.

Go4China panel at the conference in Tel Aviv with real estate tycoon, Ronnie Chan, Shenyan Fan, and Eric Zhao Dongliang.

China has acquired $7 billion in Israeli assets in the past three years.

Alleged shooter of Yehuda Glick worked in the Begin Center restaurant.

PM Netanyahu blames PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for terror attack aimed at killing Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick.

Disability rights foundation calls on US to denounce using name of a disability as a derogatory term.

Iran claims to have foiled a sabotage attack on tanks used to transport nuclear “heavy water.”

Sweden’s new prime minister-elect has recognized the so-called ‘state of Palestine,’ albeit illegal, without borders.

The assassin shot Glick in the stomach, neck, chest and arm.

Temple Activist Yehudah Glick at Machon Hamikdash, The Temple Institute, in the Old City of Jerusalem. In the above photo, Yehudah Glick is examining a model of the Temple. If you haven’t visited the new Temple Institute Museum, you should, it’s highly recommended.

Knesset members express fury at assassination attempt by an Islamic Jihad terrorist against Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick Wednesday night.

Both the gun and the motorcycle used in the assassination attempt were found in Hijazi’s home.

Well-known Temple Mount activist, Yehuda Glick, was seriously wounded in a shooting in Jerusalem late Wednesday night and is being treated for serious wounds in Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital.

He turned to Yehuda in a thick Arabic accent and said, “Yehuda, I am angry at you,” and then shot him three times point blank.

More Articles from JTA
Journalist and author Eric Lichtblau.

The book should make Jews in America fell a little bit queasy, to say the least.

Chief Rabbis David Lau (L) and Yitzhak Yosef opposed the bill on giving local rabbis power for conversion.

The bill would take power away from the Haredi Chief Rabbis but but does not authorize non-orthodox conversions.

Student groups hosted at least 374 anti-Israel events during the 2013-2014 academic year, with about 40 percent of them focused on how to initiate Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns on campus.

Israel’s ambassador to Jordan suggested that King Abdullah’s recent rants against Israel stems from pressure by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.

“God is trying to wake us up,” said the grandfather.

The mortar, which hit Israel on Tuesday morning, did not cause any injuries or damage.

Leslie W., 48, and his partner Akiwa H., 56, are charged with having sold more than 88,000 pounds of non-kosher meat for a marked-up price.

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: