12.04.2011 08.Nisan, 5771
Chef Dennis Wasko explores the history of the Jews of Uganda and the English, Arab and Asian influences on the cuisine.
There is a small community in Eastern Uganda near the town of Mbale who practice Judaism. They are known as the Abayudaya, the “People of Judah”. Though not historically or genetically related to other Jews, this small community has been practicing Judaism in one form or another since the late 1880’s. They are devout in their practice of the religion and observe the Sabbath and Kashrut. There are several different villages where the Ugandan Jews live. Most of these are recognized by the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism. However, the villagers of Putti are still seeking an Orthodox conversion. Currently there are approximately 1,100 Abayudaya. Before the persecutions under Idi Amin, however, they numbered closer to 3,000.
This Jewish community owes its origins to Semei Kakungulu, a local military leader who was originally converted to Christianity by British missionaries. Kakungulu believed that if he converted the British would allow him to rule the territories that he conquered for them. The British did not allow this, so Kakungulu distanced himself from them and began to study the Bible. He came to the conclusion that the laws and customs in the Five Books of Moses were in fact true. When he told Muslim visitors to Mbale about his findings, they told him that only Jews observed such customs. He exclaimed “Then we will be Jewish”! By 1919, he had become clearly Jewish in his practice. He circumcised himself, his sons, and declared that his community was Jewish. He uprooted his community, moved them to an area at the foot of Mt. Elgon, and started a separatist sect. These actions infuriated the British who cut all ties with him and the community….