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In 1997, M. E. R. Mathivha, an elder of the black Jewish Lemba people of South Africa, announced to the Lemba Cultural Association that a recent DNA study substantiated their ancestral connections to Jews. Lemba people subsequently leveraged their genetic test results to seek recognition from the post-apartheid government as indigenous Africans with rights to traditional leadership and land, retheorizing genetic ancestry in the process. In Genetic Afterlives, Noah Tamarkin illustrates how Lemba people give their own meanings to the results of DNA tests and employ them to manage competing claims of Jewish ethnic and religious identity, African indigeneity, and South African citizenship. Tamarkin turns away from genetics researchers' results that defined a single story of Lemba peoples' "true" origins and toward Lemba understandings of their own genealogy as multivalent. Guided by Lemba people's negotiations of their belonging as diasporic Jews, South African citizens, and indigenous Africans, Tamarkin considers new ways to think about belonging that can acknowledge the importance of historical and sacred ties to land without valorizing autochthony, borders, or other technologies of exclusion.
About the Author
Noah Tamarkin is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University and Research Associate at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research.