Noah Tamarkin

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20122013 Forum on Peripheries

Noah Tamarkin


Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz

Jewish Blood, African Bones: Belonging in South Africa

My book manuscipt, "Jewish Blood, African Bones: Belonging in South Africa," addresses contemporary experiences of citizenship, belonging, and the nexus of racial, religious, and political identities among Lemba 'Black Jews' in South Africa. After DNA tests were conducted in the 1990s on Lemba men, many Lemba people felt there was now proof that they have Jewish blood. Yet these same Lemba people actively pursued claims to ancient bones that were slated for reburial at the World Heritage Site Mapungubwe, known as the oldest stratified kingdom in Southern Africa. How could Lemba people view their blood as Jewish and their bones as African? This apparent contradiction frames my examination of the politics of belonging and geopolitical location and highlights the convergence between diaspora and indigeneity evident in Lemba identities and political projects. The contradiction of Jewish blood and African bones echoes in other apparent contradictions that the Lemba evoke: they have been seen as either African or un-African, and as either Jewish or Muslim. What peripheries are configured through these oppositions, and how are they troubled by Lemba identity politics? I demonstrate that Lemba histories and identities enable a critical reconfiguration of the categorical oppositions indigenous/diasporic, African/un-African, and Jews/Muslims, each of which shapes belonging and exclusion in South African and global contexts. My book will contribute to interdisciplinary literatures in African studies, Jewish studies, as well as critical race and ethnic studies, and to anthropological discussions of cultural and political citizenship, diaspora, and indigeneity, together withglobal politics of race, religion, and ethnicity.