Ninety years ago, my ancestors, the renowned Pastoralist Watutsi/Tutsi Israelites of Kush — in Burundi, Rwanda, Eastern Congo, Uganda, Northern Tanzania — wore tzitzit and head tefillin. Today the survivors wear fear, humiliation, and despair. Millions of Tutsi have been killed and the ongoing Holocaust is an endless tragedy of “Again and Again.”
Dr Itzhak Ben-Zvi, the third President of Israel, was very much fascinated by the miracle of the Scattered Tribes of Israel. In 1957 he wrote a well documented book: The Exiled and the Redeemed, in which the Jews of Ethiopia hold a respectful place, just in the same chapter as the Jews of Upper Egypt and of those of Himyar (Yemen). If the book had to be re-edited today, his natural interest in the ancient and modern independent Jewish Kingdoms and states worldwide would certainly have led him to include two obviously missed sub-chapters: The Jewish Kingdoms of the South Kush (commonly called the African Great Lakes) and the Jewish Kingdoms of West Africa. The Tutsi (or Batutsi/Watutsi) are the traditional keepers of the South Kush Jewish Kingdoms. In West Africa, the Toubous are the traditional keepers of the West Africa Jewish Kingdoms.
The Tutsi and the Toubous share the same origins as their cousins, the Jews of Ethiopia, tracing their common ancestry from King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. Israeli Chief Rabbis Avraham Ytzchak Kook and Ovadia Yosef, and US Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof, would have included the Tutsi and the Toubous as descendents of Dan, following the 1500s responsum of a renowned Orthodox Rabbi, Rbadaz, Rabbi David ibn Zimrah. In fact, numerous branches of the Tutsi elite belong to the Judah lineage. The Tutsi Jewishness was obstructed by the Christian Inquisition that took place since the 1920s, and was never addressed until the late 20th Century. At that time, Havila Institute in Brussels dedicated huge efforts to enhance the re-connection of the Tutsi people to their Jewish heritage, and helped raise awareness among concerned Jewish institutions.
The Toubous face a similar but more ancient case of obstruction. They were forcibly converted to Islam centuries ago by the successive Jihads that took place in Northern Africa from the Arabian Peninsula, but they kept the remembrance of their Israelite origins.
Today, Tutsis in increasing numbers are seeking t’shuvah, return. Like the Western Jews, they envision ge’ulah, redemption. They deserve pro-active support and monitoring from concerned Jewish organizations and networks. Like the Western Jewish Diaspora, the Tutsi Jews, some parts of which have been forcibly converted to Christianity and forbidden to practice the ways of Y’’H, are People of Israel, no less than the Falasha Mura of Ethiopia.
(The author, president of Havila Institute, can reach reached at havila.institute @ gmail.com.)