Abayudaya

The Abayudaya (simply meaning Children of Judah in Lugandan) are community of Ugandan Jews living in villages near to Mbale in eastern Uganda, whose knowledge and practice of Judaism developed in isolation over several generations without any significant contact with world Jewry until the 1990s.

I had wanted to visit the Abayudaya for a couple of years before doing so, after seeing a book of photographs of them and hearing a CD of their music. As an English Jew I was intrigued to find out more about these Jewish subsistence farmers living in small villages with no electricity or running water. And as a photographer with a passion for photojournalism, I wanted to do a photo story on them.

I spent two weeks with the Abayudaya capturing their lives, culture and faith. The fascinating story of the Abayudaya starts with Semei Kakungulu, who in the 1890s helped the British conquer territory and establish their rule in Eastern Uganda. Kakungulu was employed as a missionary but unfortunately for the British, Kakungulu preferred the Hebrew bible, and spread its teachings instead of the Christian one. Despite Judaism being suppressed by Idi Amin, who banned Jewish practice and ordered Jews to convert to Christianity or Islam. Today’s 800 Abayudaya, many of whom are devout Jews, are the descendants of the 300 who chose to continue their Jewish practice in secret.

The Abayudaya are proud of their harmonious relationship with their Muslim and Christian neighbours, and like their neighbours they are subsistence farmers.

A selection of images were exhibited during Black History month at The Jewish Museum.