Hebrewisms Before Youtube, Enslaved ‘Africans’ Shared Social Memories of Being Biblical Israelites

A simple search on a metropolitan street corner or a few key strokes on Youtube will produce a plethora of voices rising to a crescendo, the chant, ‘Ani Israel.’ Men, women, and children of all ages and understandings publicly voice their opinions, disagreeing on different aspects of the ‘walk,’ yet one point connects them all; the idea that they are the descendants of biblical Israel.

Over the past century, these adherents and their progeny have excelled beyond belief, taking hold of the laws of the bible and practicing them in their exile. Whole communities have converted their entire lifestyles, eating kosher, keeping the Holy days, learning Hebrew and even wearing the prescribed tassels also known as Tzitzit. History reveals that this occurrence or awakening is more than mere happenstance or ‘wishful thinking,’ for some this ‘feeling’ is a engrained soul memory encoded within their very DNA.

Modern naysayers who presume the authority and power to pursue and wrestle away Israelite heritage from their downtrodden claimants have doubled in recent years. Their targets are namely, the ‘blacks’ in the west whose numbers are bountifully increasing through fevered efforts to proclaim ‘the truth.’ Surprisingly, after studying several slave narratives, I came to realize that the social memories of being Israel wasn’t a ‘new phenomenon’ but were, in fact, a common thread in many of the older testimonies. Before YouTube and street preaching there were oral traditions and slave narratives.

This article is going to look at one man in particular; his autobiography titled The Life of Olaudah Equiano sheds light on this topic. In this narrative, Olaudah also was known as Gustavus Vassa the African gives a compelling and sometimes unfathomable recounting of his experience in his homeland, his life as an enslaved ‘African’, his travels at sea, and ultimately his journey to being a freed man. His story reads like biblical Josephs’, Jacob’s son, sold into Egypt who later became a high-ranking official.

Olaudah was born in 1745 in the kingdom of Benin in a remote land called Essaka. He asserts that like biblical Israel who named their children from an event, circumstance or ‘fancied foreboding’ his parents named him Oladuah which in his language meant “vicissitude or fortunate” also interpreted as “one favored.” True to his name Olaudah’s life followed a path of being favored in unfavorable conditions. His father was a chief man who was given the title Embrenche, it was his responsibility to help judge matters of law and pass down punishments to offenders. In one of his many comparisons to biblical Israel Equiano says this:

“Like the Israelites in their primitive state, our government was conducted by our chiefs or judges, our wisemen, and elders; and the head of a family, with us, enjoyed a similar authority over his household with that which is ascribed to Abraham and the other Patriarchs.” Equiano, Olaudah pg. 20

How did they get to West Africa?

According to many prophetic proclamations’ throughout the biblical text, the punishment for ancient Israel breaking the commandments of the Creator was among other things the final expulsion from the Promised Land. In today’s resurgence of Israelite thought, Deuteronomy 28:46-47 is used as a universal identification card, the curses which the text says, “shall be upon you for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed forever, because thou servest not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things. ”

In the sketch of his life, Equiano speaks about the religion of the Eboe people back in his village.

“As to religion, the native believe that there is one Creator of all things,…They believe he governs events, especially our deaths or captivity;”

From here I will count nine other similarities that the author outlined in his life story.

1. His description of a Levitical type group of priests.

“Though we had no places of public worship, we had priests and magicians, or wise men. I do not remember whether they had different offices, or whether they were united in the same persons, but they were held in great reverence by the people…They wore their beards, and when they died they were succeeded by their sons. Most of their implements and things of value were interred along with them… None accompanied their funerals but those of the same profession or tribe. These buried them after sunset, and always returned from the grave by a different way from that which they went.” Pg. 18

2. Kingdom of, dancers, musicians, and poets

“We are almost a nation of dancers, musicians, and poets. Thus every great event, such as a triumphant return from battle, or other cause of public rejoicing is celebrated in public dances, which are accompanied with songs and music suited to the occasion. The assembly is separated into four divisions, which dance either apart or in succession, and each with a character peculiar to itself”. Pg 12

3. Their favorite color being blue similar to the cord of blue commanded to be used for the making of Tzitzit commanded in the book Numbers chapter 30

“As our manners are simple, our luxuries are few. The dress of both sexes is nearly the same. It generally consists of a long piece of callico, or muslin, wrapped loosely round the body, somewhat in the form of a highland plaid. This is usually dyed blue, which is our favourite colour. It is extracted from a berry, and is brighter and richer than any I have seen in Europe. Besides this, our women of distinction wear golden ornaments; which they dispose with some profusion on their arms and legs.” Pg. 12

4. The laws of uncleanness/needah namely his recounting of the female menstrual cycle

“Every woman too, at certain times, was forbidden to come into a dwelling-house, or touch any person, or anything we ate. I was so fond of my mother I could not keep from her, or avoid touching her at some of those periods, in consequence of which I was obliged to be kept out with her, in a little house made for that purpose, till offering was made, and then we were purified.” Pg. 18

5. The day starting at evening, year being calculated by the solstice

“We compute the year from the day on which the sun crosses the line, and on its setting that evening there is a general shout throughout the land;” Pg 17

“They (the priest) calculated our time, and foretold events, as their name imported, for we called them Ah-affoe-way-cah, which signifies calculators or yearly men, our year being called Ah-affoe”. Pg 18

6. Some of their offerings being eaten with bitter herbs

“They have many offerings, particularly at full moons; generally two at harvest before the fruits are taken out of the ground: and when any young animals are killed, sometimes they offer up part of them as a sacrifice. These offerings, when made by one of the heads of a family, serve for the whole. I remember we often had them at my father’s and my uncle’s, and their families have been present. Some of our offerings are eaten with bitter herbs. We had a saying among us to any one of a cross temper, ‘That if they were to be eaten, they should be eaten with bitter herbs.” Pg 18

7. Practice of circumcision

“We practised circumcision like the Jews, and made offerings and feasts on that occasion in the same manner as they did.”

8. Manner in which people proclaimed curses

“I remember we never polluted the name of the object of our adoration; on the contrary, it was always mentioned with the greatest reverence; and we were totally unacquainted with swearing, and all those terms of abuse and reproach which find their way so readily and copiously into the languages of more civilized people. The only expressions of that kind I remember were ‘May you rot, or may you swell, or may a beast take you.” Pg. 18

9. The unclean laws concerning touching the dead

“I have before remarked that the natives of this part of Africa are extremely cleanly. This necessary habit of decency was with us a part of religion, and therefore we had many purifications and washings; indeed almost as many, and used on the same occasions, if my recollection does not fail me, as the Jews. Those that touched the dead at any time were obliged to wash and purify themselves before they could enter a dwelling-house.” Pg. 18

This narrative connects to current research being discovered about people groups scattered across the globe. In the 2012 Film Re-emerging the Jew of Nigeria looks closer into the longtime memories of being descendants of biblical Israel. Olaudah also an Eboe/Igbo let important traces of history in his now 200-year-old narrative, where he confessed to the reality that time and tradition skewing some of the practices of the Eboe people of his village.

What about the Color issue, aren’t Jew’s white?

The author answers these queries in this way.

“As to the difference of colour between the Eboan African and the modern Jews, I shall not presume to account for it. It is a subject which has engaged the pens of men both of genius and learning, and is far above my strength.”

Olaudah goes on to say that Clarkson’s, Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, ‘solves every objection on that account.’

Much of history remains hidden, however, the portion that is revealed serves as a light and a way to bring about understanding.  As it stands today the re-awakening has begun, some Israelites long lost to the knowledge of self preparing to meet their distant family members who never fell asleep.


1. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. Vol. I.
Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa.
v, [9], 272, [5] p.

2. King James Version (KJV)

3. CNN Article 2013

4. Re-Emerging Jews of Nigeria

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About Author
Emunah Y’srael is an expert in DIY Soul Improvement with over 20 years actively dedicated to her own soul journey. She is the creator of the a myriad of self-improvement projects. Emunah has authored to date four books, all available on amazon.

For question or comments on the contents of this article feel free to reach out:  @emunah_ysrael or soulonomics@gmail.com


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