BLACK AND JEWISH
As I know that many people will wonder about me, I thought it better to say something about myself, which shall be the truth, before anyone begins speculating. Well now, where does my story begin? I believe that, to answer that question, I should take the reader as far back as two thousand years ago. We shall go back to Israel, to the time of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.
My ancestor was an Essene who, like a great deal of them, had openly become a follower of Rabbi Yeshua Bar Joseph of Nazareth while remaining a fully practicing Essene. He was thirty years old at the time of the destruction of the Temple, and he and his fellow Essenes regularly gave shelter to some of Rabbi Yeshua’s chosen apostles and leading disciples in his Community.
My ancestor’s name was Yehuda “Jared” Ben Pinchas-the-Levite. And his father was Pinchas Ben Shimon-the-Levite, an Essene who was also one of the Essene disciples who followed Rabbi Yeshua everywhere he went. But before that he was one of those who represented the Essene sect in the Temple. He had the duty to make a record of all the major events, and mot of the times everything that took place in the Temple for his Superiors.
He was a scholar who could speak Greek and Latin; as well as the secular Hebrew and the more vernacular Aramaic language. He also translated documents for his Superiors. As Yeshua’s career progressed when he began to take disciples, Pinchas was ordered to follow Yeshua and record everything that took place around him.
Much later, two years before the destruction of the Temple, all the Essenes who had been quite numerous but lived in three main separate groups, gathered together, their prophets having foreseen a lot of the future events. With them was John the son of Zebedee; a relative and an Apostle of Yeshua who was now a very old man. Their meeting was to decide about their future and a way to ensure the survival of their faith. It was the end of their world, as they saw it.
And as they knew that many of their people were being killed, they officially annulled the strict vow of celibacy that some of them had taken in order to become Essenes clerics. And they decided that they should separate and go, if possible to foreign countries and marry the native women of the chosen countries in order to ensure the survival of the children of Abraham.
Many decided to go to Tibet, some to Persia and India, others to Egypt and to other North African countries. Others headed toward the European countries.
A lot more chose to go to Ethiopia and the rest chose to remain in Palestine and fight the Romans. These ones went and joined the troops of the resistance army of the Zealots. My ancestor Yehuda was among those who went to Ethiopia. He was thirty years old.
For a while he lived with the Falashas, another community of Black Jews, who lived on an island in an Ethiopian lake. Then he befriended a young Hebrew man who was an ambulant merchant. He regularly travelled south by boat to African coastal cities, selling fabrics to rich indigenous inhabitants, kings and dignitaries.
This young man was from a wealthy Hebrew family, long established in Ethiopia, whose members had always been in the same line of business as himself. Textiles… My ancestor’s friend got him interested in his travelling salesman’s business and they began to regularly sail together.
That is how they arrived one day at the coasts of the African country now known as Cameroon. It used to be their last stop before they returned to Ethiopia. And they usually remained there up to a full month before they set sail again.
My ancestor’s friend, who already had a girl there with whom he had two sons, introduced him to a pretty girl with whom he fell in love. For three years he came and went, still seeing the same girl.
Finally, he and his friend decided to establish themselves there and marry their girls; as the Romans had begun to arrive in the North of Africa, pursuing and persecuting any Hebrews who attempted to adhere to their Jewish faith.
My ancestor Yehuda and his friend, thus married their girlfriends, and brought their children up together, setting up their own community, and following the patriarchal tradition in the way it was set up. My ancestor being the eldest of the two, it was decided that he should be the Chief and the Priest. He thus undertook the children’s religious education, and ruled lovingly over them all. While his friend took care of other mundane problems like the finances, lodging, subsistence, security and the supervision of community activities.
At that time, vast areas of land belonged to no one, and of course the country was not yet called Cameroon. Thus they were able to clear and appropriate large tracts of land. The distribution of land for the building of houses was also the duty of my ancestor.
Also they each married three wives. Thus within two decades they had formed a small, young and thriving Jewish community. They encouraged their sons to marry very young, at about thirteen or fourteen years of age. And my ancestor having been an Essene, this was therefore religiously speaking an Essene community. But right from the start, theirs was a bilingual community, all speaking Aramaic and their wives’ indigenous mother tongue.
They tended to live apart, and had quite a different lifestyle from the rest of the people there. They had their own customs and traditions that they had to practice and some of them were very demanding. And when their daughters married, they insisted that their husbands came and lived in their community and converted to their faith.
This rather displeased the parents of the young men, and what with jealousies arousing from seeing this new community prospering so well, enmities soon developed. The community, because of these hostilities, moved further on inland; setting up a village close to one of the main Cameroonian rivers, the Sanaga, and settling there.
For a long time they lived there, and slowly their Aramaic was abandoned, for the local language, which was also different from the first coastal language they had also been using. There, they lived in peace till the end of the nineteenth century. But their spoken Sanaga was spiced with deformed Aramaic words.
The Autochthones of the Sanaga region had given my people the name of the “Engolki”. And we are still known by that name now. My ancestor Yehuda Ben Pinchas having been a rather short man, most of us have inherited that trait.
They again had to leave that village early in the twentieth century; the colonists having by then occupied and being in control of most of Cameroon. And the Christian missionaries had also arrived, and were forcefully converting all the people with the help of the authorities.
When these authorities discovered that my people were a Jewish community, and that they refused to assimilate to this new state religion, they singled them out, and they began persecuting them.
Cameroonians are sedentary people. But our community was forced to become a small wandering tribe, hated, despised, victimized and chased away from everywhere they tried to settle and put down roots. And as they moved, our community was separated into two main groups.
One group was made up of a few families not related to us. And our group, the Chief family, which was made up totally of families of blood relatives up to four or five times removed. Of the group that separated from us, part of them unfortunately became totally assimilated into Christianity. And we lost touch immediately.
The rest set up home two kilometers from a village that is situated about six kilometers from the village where my family lives now. That new settlement was immediately requisitioned by the Cameroonian authorities on the advice of Christian Religious Readers, it was then turned into a leper colony and many leprous people were moved into it.
But one family to which we are distantly related luckily left that settlement and went to live elsewhere, about forty kilometers in another county from us. But they have kept in touch with us up to this day. They are also called “Engolkis” by the Autochthones of the area where they live. Although they are all Roman Catholics now, we are still very much in touch since they too are descendants of Yehuda-the-Levite. The other people who had remained at that settlement were all contaminated and died as lepers.
That leaves my family properly speaking, and a ‘cousin family’ with which we live together in the same village, only in two main different groups. All of them too are descendants of the original family founded by my ancestor Yehuda.
We moved quite a few times in the early years of the Twentieth Century, before my great-grandfather and the son of one of his cousins, twice-removed, came back to settle where my family still lives now. There in the South of Cameroon, they put roots in a small village; in it I was born in the late nineteen fifties.
We are still called the “Engolkis” by the people of that village. We are still despised and hated. We are still insulted and we are still provoked: ‘Didn’t the Jews murder Jesus? ‘Engolkis’, What does that mean anyway? Who are you people anyway, and where did you even come from?’ They regularly asked when I was little; I still remember…
All members of my family are Black-skinned like the rest of the villagers. We speak the same language as them; but they call us ‘foreigners’ all the same. And they still say that we do not belong in their midst. That is probably due to a fair skin trait that we have in our genes. They flare up from time to time in all generations, where children will be born totally devoid of the black pigment.
Still my family is very large, because it comprises not only those descended from my own grand father, but those from his brothers, sisters and direct cousins. A very, very large family… But of course things have changed now. The girls from the family who now marry outside of the community can freely choose to go and live with their husbands.
Religious tuition was available to both girls and boys equally. Right from the start when my ancestor set up our Community, there was no sign of the pharisaic chauvinistic attitude that has survived till now in Orthodox Jewish communities.
Before my great-grandfather, David Metogo died, my grandfather who was called Solomon Ondoua-Metogo, married my grandmother Marguerite, the daughter of a Christian Presbyterian Deacon. And she gave birth to two daughters and a son. The firstborn child was a daughter, my mother Rachel. The second was Naomi, my aunt. And finally, there came my uncle David.
Such is the story of how we, a clan of Black Jews, happened to be in Cameroon, instead of anywhere else, as we have always known in our family. And as my grandfather Solomon Ondoua told me, slightly before he passed away…
As an Essene, I accept the true teachings of Rabbi Yeshua as he taught his followers and my ancestor Pinchas-the-Levite, not the Christian version. We call my ancestors simply Pinchas Halevy and Yehuda Halevy. And like my ancestors and Rabbi Yeshua’s original followers, I believe in his teachings. As I also believe in the teachings of Moses and those of the Prophets and other eminent Rabbis of blessed memories. But I do not as such, worship Rabbi Yeshua as a god. And I am still waiting for the promised Messiah, just like Rabbi Yeshua himself did, and like he taught his followers to wait.
I am a Jewish Essene like Rabbi Yeshua was; I am not a Christian. My grandparents brought me up with my elder sister Marie Therese, whom we affectionately called ‘Fillette’. My uncle David was at college, and my sister preferred to go and stay with my mother at every opportunity. I was the only one left to sit and listen to my grandfather, asking him deep questions and willing to learn when he offered to train and teach me.
Normally in the patriarchal way, the teachings are passed from father to son, but it was different with us. Even though as Jews we were Orthodox, but as we were also Essenes there was luckily no discrimination towards women. Both boys and girls got the religious teachings if they were interested. Those who showed outstanding abilities were the ones who were chosen to get the Qaballah, the secret esoteric Jewish teachings. As my grandfather was getting on in years, he had to choose someone to receive the secret teachings. So he chose me.
From the book “THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE” BY rABBI dESIREE