‘The Black House’, or How the Zulus Became Jews

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 44, Number 3, p.401–411 (2018)




amakholwa, Ilanga lase Natal, indlu emnyama, Magema Fuze, Ngcobo, St Helena, Zulu diaspora


In the now standardised collection of the James Stuart Archive (JSA), there is an odd mention by Zulu informants of the speculation that the Zulus were descendants of the Jews, or that they are one of the lost ten tribes of Israel. Historians who have sourced the JSA have largely ignored this discourse, preferring to read the archive as a repository of Zulu history and cultural knowledge. This article is an exploration of the notion of a ‘diaspora’ and of how literate Zulus of the 19th century read the Bible as implying an affinity between the cultural identities of Zulus and Jews. These literates constituted themselves into reading publics, and the biblical narrative of the dispersal of the Jews became one of the most popular and hotly debated topics. Literate Zulus were actively involved in biblical exegeses, not only allowing them to read biblical passages together on the pages of the newspapers but also opening up the Bible to novel interpretations and ‘refashioned’ prophetic traditions. The ‘Israelite’ or ‘diaspora’ narrative was appealing, since they used it to write about their own origins. These accounts are related in truncated ways to James Stuart by his literate informants, but their appeal – maybe even enigma – is that they are explicitly speculative, religious, fantastical, magical and ultimately destabilising, suggesting that ‘religiosity’ and ‘reading’ were synonymous (at least in the minds of Zulu or African literates). This article will demonstrate how the Judaic diaspora functioned as a template by which Zulu literates of the 19th and early 20th centuries reconstructed stories of migration, origins and history in the service of a re-imagined Zulu diaspora; what they called indlu emnyama (‘the black house’).


Publisher: Routledge _eprint: https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2018.1461457