For us OMPP (Descendants of those shipped via the middle passage from West Africa to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade) who are reclaiming our identity as Ya'ohsharalay (Israelites) it is of the upmost importance for us to know and identify who our ancestors were specifically in the West African region prior to the transatlantic slave trade. Many make the claim that there is no shred of evidence for an Israelite presence in the West African region and that our claim is founded in a pitifully mythical cry due to an identity crisis. What I will be doing in this blog is taking a brief look into one specific source that dispels this false claim and that we all should be aware of. Our claim is not mythical but very real.
Before we dive into the medieval times, we must first give some context to the term "Jew", which is referenced quite a lot of times pertaining to the West African medieval period. Back in the 2nd century BCE John Hyrcanus forcefully converted the whole Adomay (Edomite) nation who subsequently became self-professed "Jews" (Josephus antiquities book 13 section 257-258). After this the proselyting of other nations to become "Jews" began and by the 1st century CE you had a large population of "Jews" that were not Banay Ya'ohsharal (sons of Ya'ohsharal). This is the genesis of the Jewish community which has thrived from that time until today. This creates a problem with being able to discern between Banay Ya'ohsharal (sons of Israel) and the converts when reading the historical records and seeing the classification "Jew" because one can automatically assume the term "Jew" means Banay Ya'ohsharal and it does not.
According to the historical records pertaining to West African history we see that there were what we can estimate to be millions of "Jews" around in the middle ages and it requires further investigation into each account whether the term "Jew" was referring to Banay Ya'ohsharal, banay Ghasho (sons of Esau) or any other converts. There is a document found in the Timbuktu Scrolls however, dated from the 15th century to the 16th century CE, which identifies Banay Ya'ohsharal (bani Israel) in a place called Tindirma not far from Timbuktu that possessed 333 Wells. This document is called "The Ta'rikh al Fattash". Within the document it goes on to say that this community had seven princes that governed it, with each prince possessing an army consisting of 12,000 horsemen plus so many footmen that "they were too numerous to count or tally by census". Armed with this data we can safely estimate this community numbered at least in the high 100,000's if not more realistically in the millions.
After 1492 a big shift happened; Askia Mohammad I king of the Songhai empire turned on all the Jews (this includes those that were not Banay Ya'ohsharal) and they had to flee southwards via the Niger River into what we now call Nigeria and spread eastward to Cameroon and westward to modern day Benin, Togo and Ghana. These people also took on their new tribal(national) identities. At the same time in 1492 the kingdom of Portugal was shipping all the "Black Jews" that were escaping inquisitions they were facing in the European countries; from Portugal to Benin, Angola and San-tome. Thirty-three years later when the Portuguese started the ‘Transatlantic Slave Trade’, it was Banay Ya’ohsharal, whom they shipped to West Africa and sold onto the Spanish and Dutch plus traded them to Brazil. After these resources ran out, they went to the newly formed and powerful kingdoms who supplied them with more slaves. The slaves were first indentured servants until the laws in the New World had changed by the British, making those being shipped from Africa indefinite slaves.
Attached are a few pictures from the Ta'rikh al Fattash originally written in Arabic between 1493-1599 by Al Hajj Mahmud Kati translated in English by Christopher Wise & Hala Abu Taleb