Many people in the world have the perception that life is tough and that almost everything in life works against them. However, I believe that life is beautiful and one should overcome any challenge that comes his or her way to become a better person in society. Here, we will learn about the story of an African man who rose to become an elite warrior in a foreign land despite the harsh conditions he faced during his early life as a slave. His name is Yasuke.
The African continent has a rich history of warriors who fought bravely for their lives and the lives of their people. Some of these African warriors are Memnon, Queen Myrina, Lusius Quietus, Malik Ambar, King Taharqa, Queen Amanirenas, Ramesses the Great, Shaka Zulu, and the famous Shango among the Yoruba.
Memnon was an Ethiopian leader and the offspring of Tithonus and Eos. During the time of the Trojan War, he came with his army to Troy’s defense and killed Antilochus during a fierce fight. After the demise of Memnon, Eos tears moved Zeus, a god, and gave him everlasting life.
Myrina was a female ruler of the African Amazons. She saved the Ethiopian princess called Andromeda from a sea monster. The female ruler was so courageous that she led her fellow warriors to many victories. The Queen led an enormous army of more than 20000 fighters and over 2000 cavalry against the Atlanteans. Queen Myrina lost her life in battle against the Thracians and Scythians.
Quietus was a Roman general of the Judaean region in around 117 AD. He was a commander-in-chief against the Jewish uprising known as the Kitos War. He was one of the most successful Berber state leaders in Roman history.
Malik was a Siddi military head in the Deccan region. His guardians sold him as a slave, and slave traders took him to India as a slave. While he was in the Indian land, Malik Ambar rose to a powerful military position. Later on, he became a popular Prime Minister of the Ahmednagar Sultanate.
King Taharqa was a pharaoh of the 25th family of Egypt and ruler of the Kush Empire. The King was the offspring of Piye and the cousin of Shebitku. Pharaoh Taharqa passed away in the ancient city of Thebes.
Queen Amanirenas was a leader of the Kush Empire. She led the Kushite army against the Roman forces in battle. History describes Queen Amanirenas as courageous and the 1-eyed queen.
Ramesses the 2nd was the 3rd Pharaoh of the 19th family of Egypt. People regard him as the bravest and mightiest king of the New Kingdom. The Pharaoh led many military expeditions into the Levant and Nubia.
Zulu was a ruler of the Zulu Kingdom. He was responsible for re-organizing the Zulu military into a force via a series of influential enhancements. People around his childhood life initiated him to a fighting unit serving as a warrior under Dingiswayo.
A Brief Description of Yasuke
Yasuke was a retainer of African origin who served under the Sengoku era Japanese Daimyo Oda Nobunaga. In the late 16th century, the African man reached the Japanese land in the service of Alessandro Valignano, an Italian Jesuit missionary. According to history, Yasuke might have been the first African that Oda Nobunaga had ever seen with his eyes. Yasuke was one of the black Africans to have accompanied the foreigners (Portuguese) to the Japanese land during the Nanban trade era or period.
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What is the Sengoku Period?
The Sengoku Era is a period in Japanese history of constant civil war, social rebellions, and political conspiracy for 148 years (from 1467 to 1615). In 1467, the Onin War, which failed the feudal system of Japan under the Ashikaga Shogunate, started the Sengoku era. Different Samurai clans and warlords combated for power or control over Japan in the power vacuum, while the ikko-Ikki arose to combat against the Samurai rule.
The arrival of foreigners in the mid-16th century (1543) launched the arquebus into the Japanese war, and Japan terminated its status as a tributary nation of China in 1549. Oda wounded up the Ashikaga Shogunate in the late 16th century and started a conflict of political integration, involving the Ishiyama Hongan-ji War until his fall in 1582.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda’s successor, finished his campaign to unite Japan and established his rule with various influential changes. In the year around 1592, Hideyoshi started the Japanese incursions of Korea, but their failure destroyed his reputation before his demise in 1598.
Tokugawa Ieyasu deposed or displaced Toyotomi Hideyori, Hideyoshi’s son and heir, at the Battle of Sekigahara in the early 17th century and reformed the feudal system under the Tokugawa Shogunate.
This period ended when the enemies of Toyotomi loyalists beat them at the Siege of Osaka in the 17th century (1615). Contemporary Japan acknowledges Hideyoshi, Ieyasu, and Oda as the 3 Great Unifiers for their revival of central authority in the nation.
Theories about the Early Life of Yasuke
According to Histoire ecclésiastique des isles et royaumes du Japon, Yasuke, the African Samurai, was likely from the Mozambican state. According to Fujita Midori, the 1st black people who arrived in Japan were of Mozambique nationality. They arrived in Japan in the 16th century as slaves who served a foreign captain called Jorge Alvares.
Discovery of the World’s Mysteries’ investigation suggested that Yasuke was a Makua called Yasufe.
The African Samurai Yasuke may have been a member of the Yao people. According to another theory, Yasuke might have been a Habshi from the Ethiopian region. According to this theory, his 1st name might have been the Ethiopian Yisake or the European’s Isaque. People also used Yasufe as a surname in Ethiopia.
It might also be possible that the African Samurai was a Dinka from the South Sudan region. This is because he was popular for his height and black skin color. The Dinka people are among the tallest in the African continent and have black skin than Eritreans, Somalis, or the Ethiopians.
Yasuke’s Life in Japan
Yasuke stepped onto the Japanese soil in 1579 in the service of Alessandro Valignano. He escorted Valignano when he came to the capital region in 1581, and his appearance caused a commotion with the native people. When Yasuke came before the Japanese Daimyo, he thought that Yasuke was one of the Europeans who colored himself with black ink. Oda Nobunaga ordered his men to strip and scrub the skin of the tall and strong African man.
Oda then realized that the skin of Yasuke remained black after the wash, and he took a deep interest in Yasuke. On 14th May, Yasuke went to Echizen Province with Frois. During this journey, they met with native warlords such as Shibata Katsutoyo and Shibata Katsuie. They went back to Kyoto on the 30th of May.
At some point in the life of Yasuke in Japan, the African Samurai entered Oda Nobunaga’s service as he was the warlord’s favorite. It is likely that while Yasuke was in Japan; he learned the Japanese language and their way of life. Oda enjoyed talking and dining with him.
According to the existing accounts, Nobunaga went to the extent of giving Yasuke his residence or house and a Katana. Oda also gave him the responsibility of becoming a weapon bearer.
After the Battle of Tenmokuzan, Oda led his men, including Yasuke, and investigated the former area of the Takeda clan. The Takeda clan was a Japanese clan that was active from the late Heian era until the 16th century. Historically, the clan was in Kai Province.
The retainer of Ieyasu described the African Samurai as:
“6 shaku 2 suns. He was very black, and his skin was like charcoal.”
In 1582, the former general of Nobunaga called Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed him and ordered his men to attack Oda in his peaceful place. Oda Nobunaga committed seppuku, an honorable suicide, to avoid his enemies capturing him. At the time, Yasuke was there, and he aided the small number of Oda’s soldiers to fight off Akechi’s forces, but the men of Akechi outnumbered Oda’s forces and this forced Yasuke to retreat using a horse.
Yasuke was very determined to protect his Lord’s son and heir (Oda Nobutada) and so he joined him while he was attempting to gather Oda men at Nijō Castle. Later on, the enemies of Nobutada captured and forced him to commit seppuku. The Akechi’s force also captured Yasuke and presented him before Mitsuhide.
The Warlord said that the African man was an animal and that his men should not kill him but return him to the Christian church in Kyoto. Many people try to guess what happened to Yasuke after this because there are no further pieces of evidence or accounts connected to his life.
The story of Yasuke is relevant and such an inspiration to the modern world. People still respect and appreciate what Yasuke did while in a foreign land (Japan). Moreover, his story serves as an inspiration for several pieces of media such as anime like Afro Samurai and games like Nioh.