One would imagine how many people from Japan wished they had the strength and body structure of Yasuke.
Who is this famous Yasuke that has a place in the history of Japan?
Yasuke was an enslaved servant of Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano. He was a Muslim Mozambique, and among those captured during the 16th-century transatlantic slave trade in his early 20s.
Although many accounts countered this claim, according to the 2013 program, Investigation by the light, by Discovery of the World’s Mysteries, points out that Yasuke could be a Makua man named Yasuke. He was equally suggested to have been a Yao clan member who came in contact with the Portuguese merchants. Backing it up with the Japanese suffix for a male name Suke.
A theory suggests that he was from the Habshi tribe of Ethiopia as it was discovered that some parts of Ethiopia still bear the name Yasufe.
Am account states that he might be from the tribe of Dinka in South Sudan. Dinka’s people are widely seen as the tallest and the darkest people in Africa known by having a decorative tattoo on their faces, although no account records of Yasuke having patterns on his face.
Yasuke, who was the servant of Alessandro Valignano, arrived in Japan with his master in 1579. Alessandro Valignano who was the inspector of the Jesuit missions in the Indies.
Arriving at the capital area in March 1581, his appearance caused a commotion as many people were marched to death as the crowd struggles to catch a view of the man taller than an average Japanese man and was believed to possess the strength of 10 men.
Hearing the commotion from his temple close to the Jesuit church, Japanese hegemon, and Warlord Oda Nobunaga, the Japanese Daimyo (famous for his role trying to unify Japan) ordered for Yasuke.
According to the letter by Jesuit Luís Fróis to Lourenço Mexia in 1581, when Yasuke arrived in Nobunaga’s temple, he was suspected to be on black ink due to his skin color. He was made to strip off and had him scrub his skin to prove his complexion. Having seen that it was his real color, Nobunaga took interest immediately in him and added him among his servants, making him his weapon bearer.
Artwork of Yasuke and Nobunaga (image credit: face2faceafrica.com)
According to the Japanese Maeda Samurai clan archive, Yasuke was given his own house after becoming the first black Samurai and a Samurai sword was given to him. He learned and became fluent in Japanese, and amongst all, rose in rank as one of the strongest Samurai who has gained the likeness of both Nobunaga and his nephew, Tsuda Nobusumi, who instantly enriched him.
During the tribal battle of Tenmokuzan, in 1582, Yasuke fought along with his new master, Nobunaga, till he was forced to commit a ritual suicide known as Seppuku in Japanese.
Yasuke was captured, but seeing him as an animal and not a Japanese, he was spared by the rival clan that attacked Nobunaga, and he returned to the Jesuits.
Until his death, no other account said about his life after on nor how he died, but he appeared on some painted Japanese artworks from the 16th century.
In 1916, the story of Yasuke appeared on Kuro-suke, the Japanese children’s book. It tells of a black Samurai that frequently dreams of his parents in Africa.
In 2017, screenwriter Gregory Widen was requested by Lionsgate to write a script based on the story of Yasuke with the late Chadwick Boseman playing the warrior’s role.