Festschrift: Professor Jenkins

Lemba origins revisited: Tracing the ancestry of Y chromosomes in South African and Zimbabwean Lemba

Himla Soodyall


Background. Previous historical, anthropological and genetic data provided overwhelming support for the Semitic origins of the Lemba, a Bantu-speaking people in southern Africa.

Objective. To revisit the question concerning genetic affinities between the Lemba and Jews.

Methods. Y-chromosome variation was examined in two Lemba groups: one from South Africa (SA) and, for the first time, a group from Zimbabwe (Remba), to re-evaluate the previously reported Jewish link.

Results. A sample of 261 males (76 Lemba, 54 Remba, 43 Venda and 88 SA Jews) was initially analysed for 16 bi-allelic and 6 short tandem repeats (STRs) that resulted in the resolution of 102 STR haplotypes distributed across 13 haplogroups. The non-African component in the Lemba and Remba was estimated to be 73.7% and 79.6%, respectively. In addition, a subset of 91 individuals (35 Lemba, 24 Remba, 32 SA Jews) with haplogroup J were resolved further using 6 additional bi-allelic markers and 12 STRs to screen for the extended Cohen modal haplotype (CMH). Although 24 individuals (10 Lemba and 14 SA Jews) were identified as having the original CMH (six STRs), only one SA Jew harboured the extended CMH.

Conclusions. While it was not possible to trace unequivocally the origins of the non-African Y chromosomes in the Lemba and Remba, this study does not support the earlier claims of their Jewish genetic heritage. 

Author's affiliations

Himla Soodyall, Division of Human Genetics, School of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand and National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa

Full Text



Y chromosome haplogroups; Lemba; Cohen modal haplotype; festschrift; Trefor Jenkins; human genetics

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2013;103(12):1009-1013. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.7297

Article History

Date submitted: 2013-07-22
Date published: 2013-10-11

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