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The Jews of Uganda
By Mende Taller - May 6, 2009


The Abayudaya (Photo: Richard Sobol)
The story of the Jews of Uganda, the Abayudaya community, is a fascinating tale of how a group of people in a remote part of the world came to Judaism through coincidence and the vision of one great man. That man was the powerful Bagandan warrior Semei Kakungulu and like many others in the Kingdom of Baganda he was initially converted to Christianity by British missionaries in the late 1800ís. The missionaries were Protestants who came to what they called Uganda along with the Imperial British East Africa Company. Their job was to not only save souls but to secure their loyalty to the British interests in Africa. They recruited Kakungulu in particular, because they wanted him to help bring the rest of the area under their control.

Kakungulu also wanted to take over additional territory but when the British limited his control to the small area of Mbale near the capital Uganda he became disenchanted with the British and in 1913 he joined the Malachites, a movement that combined Christianity with Judaism and Christian Science. The Malachites were a powerful force in Uganda who once had 100,000 followers and their religious practices included a combination of Christian and Judaic practices including regarding Saturday as the Sabbath and a prohibition on the eating of pork. One of their key tenements was to not recognize any authority but the Bible and this would soon bring them and Kakungulu into conflict with the British missionaries and authorities.

Kakungulu began to study and meditate on the Old Testament for long periods and he began to develop his own practices and to demand that his people observe all the Moses Commandments including the law of circumcision.
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