During our stay at the Jewish community in Ghana, I learned the story of how the Jews in Ghana came to be. There are a few theories that predict how they got to Ghana, where they have lived for about 150 years. The most common belief is that before they came to Ghana from Ivory Coast (just West of Ghana) and fled due to persecution. Before Ivory Coast, they lived in Mali, where they were also persecuted for being Jewish and had to leave. They wandered to Mali from Israel, as they believe that they are one of the lost tribes.
Some believe that they came from Eastern Africa and migrated over time from Ethiopia and other countries from that region. It is also possible that they are descendants from King Solomon, who was said to have black skin. No one truly knows…..so how do they know they’re Jewish?
Until about 80 years ago, they didn’t know. They didn’t realize that they were Jewish until one man had a vision. He claimed he saw a screen being projected on the wall showing a map of Israel and the lost tribes. Others sat beside him, but he was the only one who could see this screen. For around a year, this man could not communicate with anyone and was perceived as a crazy. It is told that he would stare directly into the sun for hours at a time during the hottest hours of the day.
Some people took him to see a juju doctor in hopes of curing his illness. But, when he got close to the juju doctor, the juju doctor demanded that he not come any closer, for he could sense that this man was communicating with God, and that he would be no help against such a powerful spirit. He advised the people to wait until he was done speaking with God, and that he would eventually be okay.
After about a year, the madman became normal again and could communicate with others. He began sharing his vision and telling everyone about what he saw. He explained that this was a sign explaining that they were all Jewish, and a part one of the lost tribes of Israel. They realized that their traditional practices lined up with many Jewish practices. They had been observing the Sabbath by never working and they had been circumcising their male infants eight days after they were born, commonly known as a Jewish Bris. They had also been engaging in other acts that appeared to stem from the Laws of the Torah. Many people thought he was still a madman and resisted his beliefs and remained Christian, while others followed, and established a Jewish community.
In the 1980’s, the community decided to find out if there were any other Jews outside of Ghana and West Africa. The “madman” wanted to find out if Israel did exist as a Jewish state, and if there were more Jews out there. So, he journeyed to Accra to look for an Israeli Embassy, but came back disappointed because the embassy did not exist at the time (there is one now…I think it just reopened in 2011). Later on, he decided to go to Ivory Coast, where they thought some Jews remained, to look for an Israeli Embassy. They were thrilled to discover that not only was there an embassy in Ivory Coast, but Israel was indeed a Jewish state. They also learned that there were Jews living in America, Europe, and all over the world. Then, they wrote a letter to the Israeli Embassy. Two years later, they heard back. Ever since, they’ve been recognized as a Jewish community and hosted several guests who have visited to celebrate Jewish holidays and enjoy a wonderful experience. The community leader, Joseph, still believes that the entire village of about 1,000 people are all of Jewish descent, though they are practicing Christians and don’t believe they are Jewish. It will be interesting to see what happens to this Jewish community in the years to come, since they are ‘losing’ many Jews due to intermarriage and conversion to Christianity. Definitely another unique and awesome experience to learn about here in Ghana!
Thanks for reading! More blog posts to come soon!