“The Jews have assimilated in physical characters to the nations among whom they have long resided, though still to be recognised by some minute peculiarities of physiognomy. In the northern countries of Europe they are fair, or xanthous. Blue eyes and flaxen hair are seen in English Jews ; and in some parts of Germany the red beards of the Jews are very conspicuous. The Jews of Portugal are very dark. Jews, as it is well known, have been spread from early times through many countries in the eastern parts of Asia, in China, Tartary, and the northern parts of India. There are many of them in the towns of Cochin and the interior of Malabar. They hold communication with each other in their eastern colonies, which appear to be of one stock or migration ; but at what era they reached these countries it is unknown . Their residence in Cochin appears to have been from ancient times ; and they are now black, and so completely like the native inhabitants in their complexion, that Dr. Claudius Buchanan says he could not always distinguish them from the Hindoos.* He has surmised that the blackness of the Jews spread through different parts of India is attributable to intermarriages with Hindoos ; but of this there is no evidence it is probable that the preservation of the Jews in these countries as a distinct people is owing, as elsewhere, to their avoiding all intermixture with the native inhabitants. The Jesuits in China expressly inform us that the Jews settled in Honan, where they have been established for many ages, keep themselves distinct, and intermarry within their own community. It appears that the ancient Jewish inhabitants of Cochin were a people of the same migration with those of China; and it is very improbable that they differ from their brethren in the particular above alluded to.
A Possible Explanation For The Black Jews of Cochin
Forster links the black Jews in Cochin to the sun-blacked tribe of Manasseh living among the Chozars (Khazars) in the Caucuses Mountains. Prichard concludes that the black Jews must have been in Cochin since ancient times, and Forster links their arrival to the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar (587 BC – 538 BC).
“And as Manasseh had become a Tartar horde, seated, as we have seen, in the country of the Chozars it may justly be inferred that they indulged in a similar latitude ; intermarrying with their female slaves, or contracting marriages with the black Chozars mentioned by Ebn HaukaL The subject at large, and the point in hand, receive curious light from a single expression in the Cochin Manuscript ; whence it would appear both that the Tribe of Manasseh had become tawny or black ; and that this Tribe had settled in Malabar, and were the true ancestors of the Black Jews. The expression in question is tanned or sun-blacked Manasseh. It is introduced in connection with those most ancient Jewish Records, which are said to date from the time of Nebuchadnezzar; and which were spoken of as belonging to the sun-blacked tribe of Manasseh, In this one allusion, we have the parentage of the Black Jews. Is it not possible, that the black Naussers of Elphinstone may be the same stock, and that the name Nausser itself may be the corruption only, of their patronynimic, Manasseh? Without attaching undue weight to this conjecture, I venture to throw it out, in the hope that the attention of eye-witnesses may be called to the degree of international resemblance between the roving Naussers of Afghanistan and the Black Jews of Malabar.”1
Featured Image: A historic photograph showing Jewish community leaders meeting with an emissary from Israel in Ernakulam, India. Photo courtesy of the Cochin Jewish Heritage Center. https://www.israel21c.org/meet-the-cochin-jews-israels-oldest-indian-community/
- Forster, Charles. 1854. The One Primeval Language Traced Experimentally Through Ancient Inscriptions, p 330 – 331. https://archive.org/details/oneprimevallang00forsgoog/page/n358/mode/2up?ref=ol ↩︎