Detail from an Ark illustration by Gerard Hoet

Detail from an Ark illustration by Gerard Hoet

The news reports that the long-lost Biblical Ark of the Covenant has been found in Zimbabwe has re-ignited interest in its guardians – the Lemba tribe. It’s a great mystery – but where does fiction finish and fact begin?

“Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” African proverb.

What’s claimed to be an ancient replica, a direct descendant of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant went on display at Harare’s Museum of Human Science, Zimbabwe, February 2010. An opening ceremony was held to mark the exhibition of the ‘Ark’ otherwise known as Ngoma Lungundu (The drum of the ancestors). Government ministers attended.

Can it be The Ark, as some experts have claimed? And how could it have ended up in Zimbabwe?

But first…

The 'Ark’ - Ngoma Lungundu

The ‘Ark’ – Ngoma Lungundu

Why is the Ark still important, still talked about?

According to the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the word of God. The Ark had power – Kings consulted it, people were forbidden to look at it. It played a part in the Battle of Jericho – helping to knock down a city wall. Later, when captured by the Philistines it broke a statue of their God Dagon and made the Philistines ill, giving them hemorrhoids or maybe tumors.

So the Philistines sent it back to the Israelites. The Ark was set in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite. Unfortunately, the men of Bethshemesh were curious:

“And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.”

It was placed in King Solomon’s Temple. In 586 BC, the Babylonians entered Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s Temple. The Ark of the Covenant was lost.

But the Ark is an object of fascination and importance to many, so stories of its survival have circulated for two thousand years or so. In recent times the hugely popular movie Raiders of the Lost Ark renewed public interest.

In 2008 scholar Tudor Parfitt popularised one of the lesser known Ark stories. In his ‘The Lost Ark of the Covenant’ book he told us that the ancestors of the Lemba people of South Africa and Zimbabwe carried the Ark away from Jerusalem then hid it in Africa.

Is there any truth to Tudor Parfitt’s tale?

Tudor Parfitt is Professor of Modern Jewish Studies at the school of Oriental and African Studies in London. His life’s work has been about tracking down the lost tribes of Israel in Africa and Asia. He’s a respected academic.

Tudor Parfitt

Tudor Parfitt

The Lemba people are black Africans, based in Zimbabwe, who claim Jewish ancestry. Their story is not new – in the 1950’s missionary Von Sicard wrote about the Lemba – but it is fascinating. The Lemba seem to follow many Jewish customs, including; circumcision, not eating pork and Lembas are encouraged to marry within their own tribe of 80,000 or so.

Using new technology, Tudor and other researchers have proved that the Lemba’s stories about their Jewish past may have a basis in fact. Genetic tests confirmed that the Lemba are physical descendants of the lost tribe of Israelites known as the Cohen.

This may sound suprising, but see the links below for more information about the African Jews – many tribes claim Jewish connections.

So the Lemba have Jewish origins, but are they guardians of the Ark?

In Lemba oral tradition stories relate that they carried a vessel, their Ngoma Lungundu (The drum of the ancestors), into Africa from a great temple in Jerusalem. Ngoma Lungundu was found by Von Sicard in the 40’s, and then lost.

Three years ago, on a forgotten shelf in a museum Tudor rediscovered the Ngoma Lungundu and had a fragment carbon dated. He says the vessel was built almost 700 years ago and may have included the remains of the original Ark.

In his earlier book written about the Ngoma Lungundu, Von Sicard examined the parallels between the Ngoma Lungundu story and the Old Testament story of the Israelite Ark of the Covenant.

But Tudor has gone further and drawn criticism for suggesting that the drum may be an Ark or at least a direct descendant of the vessel constructed to hold the original tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Critics remind him that Biblical accounts do not suggest the Ark resembles a drum. Paul Hubbard from the Prehistory Society of Zimbabwe rejected Tudor’s claims on the basis that Tudor’s ‘Ark’ that resembles a drum is actually a drum – a sacred Venda African drum and does not have Jewish origins.

Talking to the Today programme in the USA, Tudor said: “A fair person would say there really is something here”.

Tudor may really be onto something… but maybe it’s not Ark shaped. Drums are revered objects in many cultures.


The tale of the Lemba and the Ark tells us that:

Ancient cultures travelled more widely than modern cultures may realise. That if you want to pass knowledge down the ages, frown on marriage outside of your tribe. That PR coups and movie-tie ins help academics to sell books. And that sometimes, stories dismissed as myth can turn out to be true.

By CR. This page published: March 2010.

Links. Read more: The largest collection of links about the Lemba, the Ark and Tudor Parfitt on the web

Zimbabwe displays ‘Ark of Covenant replica’

Lost tribe found – BBC

Ark of the Covenant – Wikipedia

Ark of the Covenant – survival stories

Tudor Parfitt’s Ark story – Daily Mail

Tudor Parfitt- Wikipedia

Excerpt from the book: ‘The Lost Ark of the Covenant’

The Ark – more theories

Tudor Parfitt at SOAS

Interview with Tudor Parfitt

Lemba community research

Researcher Paul Hubbard rejects Tudor’s Ark claims

Lemba and the Ark

Lemba and the Ark – Wikipedia

Lemba and Jewishness

Lemba, Jewsish tribes and genes

Lemba and genes, 2000

Lemba index

Tudor interview – Nova

African Jews

Lemba – Wikipedia

Time on Tudor and the Ark

Amazon reviews of Tudor’s book

Ark – more theories

More related links

Beta Israel

Shona people

Prehistory Society of Zimbabwe

Tiny tablet provides proof for Old Testament

Great Zimbabwe

Hamlet’s Mill on Drums

Von Sicard on drums


  1. Dawid Yacob September 3, 2010 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Great info very important!

  2. redd December 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    The Southern Cross of Africa was searching at Great Zimbabwe for the Arc of the Covenant. Did they find it? What further desecration of african culture is being committed there in the name of god?

  3. John Marshall June 9, 2011 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    This was a well documented (text, names & pictures), thoroughly believable account of a lifelong mission. If one reads Parfitt’s book, one will see no “desecration”; quite the opposite. That’s one of the things that supports the genuiness of the story. He has repeated opportunities to engorged himself in the deep pockets of rich backers and even gets chastised for turning the money down. Do the research before you whine about real seekers.

  4. Theresa Moldovan September 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Based on the information provided here and not reading all supporting material, I have read the bible and less the greek intrepretation, it is very very specific that the ark is a long object rectangular not a round object with polls to be carried with/and it is a Mercy seat not a drum of any sort; so i think were missing the mark; the hebrew folks and our Lord look at his measurements from the original source document

  5. joy January 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    Show us the Ark of God please. Tell us where it really is?

  6. phillip khorombi ramapala January 12, 2012 at 6:17 am - Reply

    I as a Lemba knw excetedtly where i come from and my origin,my history which i will never give up because of people who do not is the history which i will pass on to my grand children and my great grand children without fear or doubt.ngoma lungundu played a very important role for my ancesters to travell across different country,help them to also defeat enemies(here we are talking about the power it carries not a myth.i will remain proud to be a jew not for anybody and not seeking any attention but honoring Nwali and my ancesters for carrying such great history to us the younger generation and believe in myself as i know that everyday the great voice speaks to me.its hard for anybody to understand this powerful presence.thank you all,shalom.

  7. Daniel Valdebenito Rodriguez January 25, 2012 at 11:06 pm - Reply


  8. CR, Host January 26, 2012 at 6:32 am - Reply

    Daniel’s comment, translated, by Google, from Spanish to English:
    “Without a doubt. the theme is “FACINANTE”, understand that “Lemba”, are a
    Powers of God, something even more extraordinary, .. was the subject of a thesis, a class
    ARTS, in Valdivia, Chile, but unfortunately, was not assessed at its true
    , The product of “supine ignorance”, who reigned in the pedagogical IN
    Education today, as the ignorance of NAVATEOS CREATORS OF THE CATHEDRAL
    WONDERFUL, haunting and rich … VERY ATTE….Daniel/2012″

  9. A voice in the wilderness January 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    I comment today not just for the lost tribes, but that God is with us. I know that we all must see something in the past from God to hold, to touch. My fellow family of Christ remember that the Lord our God lives within us. Not in a object that can be distroyed. It was a nice juster, but that is not the true Ark of God. It is something of the past that reminds us of the truth within people who was spared and carried their traditions through the end of time. I too like to see the past to really get a good understandin of the future. You see, do not marval over miterial matters, but look unto heaven and smile….May the Lord Jesus keep us face forward in the direction of truth and lead us in the path of rightiousness. May the love of our True God Yahweh be with us all who belive in his word. Amen!

  10. Kevin February 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    Christ Crucifixion site and the Ark of the Covenant found buried under a trash pile in Jerusalem

  11. lugisani May 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Hello All…My comment will be very brief…my family on my mother’s side is Lemba…my grandmother on my mother’s side nevers set foot in a school’s classroom…bt as a child she would tell me a lot about the history of the Lemba people,which now that i am a man and can read…I realise that,what has been published across the world is inline with the same knowledge she taught me…She is still around,86 yrs old…she stil follows a lot of the traditions similar to those of Jews…Infact,all my mother’s side of the family still does…(although my mother ws married by a pure venda)..dey dnt eat pork,dey greet differently..dey practice circumcision…dey prefer not to,the difference between me and you and my grandmother is that you and I,we read these things…but her knowledge is the verbal one,passed down from her grand grand parents to her grand parents and so on…now, that should atleast tell you how much truth there is in the Lemba geneology as black Jews… for the Ngoma lungundu…I heard it frm my grand father,on my father’s side…although he didn’t tell me that it came with the Venda Lemba’s…he told me that it came with the Singo Venda group and dey used it to displace the Kwinda Venda group…now,I’m nt sure if maybe there is just a mixture of clan names bt one thing I’m sure of,is that he did say that the drum was used to take over the land and win in battles for land…Thought I should share some of this knowledge based on what my grand parents told me…not from a piece of paper..but frm what was passed down to them by their parents,from how they gow up…from their life experience itself….Thanks!…..but that being sai….I am a born again Christian and the greatest Ark is Christ Jesus,and I’m glad He lives in me….my culture and tradition is the kingdom of God,the will of God,the word of God,the literal one(bible) and the spoken one(Rhema)…Stay blessed…

  12. lugisani May 12, 2012 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    Ok…I see my comment was not that brief after all….anyways,I hope my comments and true life testimony will help share some light on this subject matter…Stay blessed

  13. Jesse Nethononda October 28, 2012 at 3:27 am - Reply

    Hi everyone, a colleague of mine told me something interesting which I am still doing research on, and willing to go all the way to Tshiendeulu for confirmation. He said the original drum was made of human skin…yep that’s right, so if anyone knows anything about this or you’re of a lemba descent ‘with connections’ please halla back. About the Lembas descending from Jews, well that maybe true given science and tradition proof. But about the Ark, now I don’t think that that is the original one, since according to the bible only a select few were allowed to touch it, ok I think the lost Israel tribe the ‘Cohen’ taught the Lembas everything about Judaism. Hence even today they still uphold that religion, but now the drum is actually an IMITATION of the real deal baby, the actual real Ark of the covenant was ordained by God Himself to be created by that certain ordained one for a certain period to a certain purpose.

    The sorceress of the Lemba people created an imitation obviously with a reference from their culture, the drum proved to be something that last longer compared to other antiques, so the misleading information about it being the original Ark of God must be removed from the net. The Bible indicates that people follow, I quote, ‘ empty traditions passed on from elders’ and that He only is the truth and no one else. I would encourage you fellow reader to seek the real truth which is Jesus… As He is NOW (because His glory changes everyday) so are we who believe in Him.

  14. arkofthecovenants January 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    Hi I was in Panama recently and the ark of the covenant was discovered. The lost city of El Dorado is discovered in Chiriqui Panama. It is quiet interesting to see who is now taking responsibility for the exciting news. check out their link at Chiriqui archaeological sites. Exciting new news, revealed and exposed.

  15. Billy October 9, 2015 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    The Ark of God’s Covenant is somewhere in South Africa, I don’t say the lost Ark because it is not lost but in the hands of the Glorified, to fulfil the prophecy about a place where people will flock to and live in peace with each other ‘SOUTH AFRICA’ and the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead. To Prof Tudor Parfitt I say you are on the right track please don’t close the chapter you have been the best, you are very close to the discovery, do more of your research amongst the South African denomination go deeper regardless of the critics. The Ark was brought down here with a purpose.

  16. Kati December 7, 2015 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Have you read Forgotten God by Francis Chan? I fear we neglect the Holy Spirit in our lrsaeedhip far too much. Can we conceive that we have an infinite power at our disposal?Also, Ezekiel 3:16-21 and James 3:1

  17. Jason James June 1, 2018 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    To all my Black people please stop trying to convince white people of our rich history and the origins of our people. We know that religion is political in today’s world therefore all positive findings about us will be falsefied by the whites. We know Hitler knew end Iranian president knows that Israel is filled with converts he calls them masqueraders with no religion. Since stepping foot on African soil the white man has been very destructive to her and has stolen and robbed her. Lots of artifacts were destroyed because they couldn’t live with the fact how much history and resources were there and connections to the past. So theyve tried to put themselves every where in history they don’t belong even in Egypt which they try to separate from Africa. They came from many areas of the continent to form that kingdom. Many tribes in Africa migrated down from Israel and just so happen to be there when the slave ships arrived. So when white people say your own people sold you please understand that they knew they weren’t natives but migrants of a different blood line. So many lies if history told by you edomites.

  18. mathema albert malesa June 19, 2018 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    I as a lemba my history about our ancestors i am meles(males’a ) of TONG ‘O’GARA SALIF of the lineage of the tribe yemen (sanna) from the the lineage of jews slaves in egypt with intermarriages with black slaves when they move out of egypt they moved along as free slaves is came to be tribes of juda arabian and be racist about the crusaders when invade betlehem and called them israelist with red and black cross a group people and bandit who volunteer to take canaan ( european ) and inslave people, as from my ancenstors, when QUEEN OF SHEBA and KING SOLOMON Build route of trade in africa for his son with queen sheba menelik a place phore (phure) rhodesia now zimba la mabwe (house of stone) for protection and worship before they extended from nswazwi (francistown) botswana to mapungubwe (place of boiling) till masvingo they where amongs those immigration till when we say ngoma lungundu that was the drum that was carried by chosen people the drum that was secret of lemba people given by king solomon to the cohen for war and voice ,the drum that thunder when the lemba attacked by enemies were beating the drum with the hand of a dead human beings and the drum was a skin of a dead human thunders will strike enemies sound of drum make enemies insane and start fighting each other and some run .my great grandfather tongogara was also having this drum due that lemba made few ngomalungundu in replace originals as they know secret of building ngomalungundu by generation till when they meat with other people those people imitate ngoma with cow skin without knowing that lemba they used this drums for rituals,or passover of war with thunder after when no war the lemba did not keep this drums they give some of their nephew chiefs that marry their daughter and carry them as dikomana or dikala and some lemba teach neighbour hood how to use ngoma lungundu and they became witch and jealously strike the people, my great grandfather was sub chief some region in north (bokhalaka),because of some problems he left the place with ngomalungundu and some his followers and follow limpopo river till to manyai (silonque) to sgubu (segupu) when and were phalaborwa (shirimandera)selematsela reformed when chief malatji (ma-kalanga) 1 with the totem of ba-boon(monkey) marry nogara (makala) and give them drums of secret to rule and bear lineage of ba phalaborwa chiefs,is when and were the lembas of ba-phaborwa ba malesa originated from tongogara from phore(phure) rhodesia or botswana (bokhalaka) immigration from yemen and intermarried with neighbour people of sotho and lost a language and mix culture that happened around the years 7000 with the trade of lembas in africa trade of mule,donkeys,sheeps,goats,chicken,ducks,pangas,machetas,iron skilled from egypt ,yemen.

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