hidden figures: yasuke, the first non-japanese samurai, was black

February 3, 2017
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By T. McLendon, AFROPUNK Contributor

What is known about Yasuke is limited and fraught with the uncertainties that history is often full of, but his legacy is strong nonetheless. As the first non-Japanese samurai, many will call into question the proof, but it’s clear that he was the first and that he was Black! Although there is some contention about Yasuke’s origins, it is established that he arrived in Japan in 1579 in the service of the Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, who had been appointed the inspector of the Jesuit missions in the Indies, meaning East Africa, South and East Asia. He accompanied Valignano when the latter came to the capital area in March 1581 and caused something of a sensation. In one event, several people were crushed to death while clamouring to get a look at him, the Jesuits feared their church would be flattened but they managed to avert disaster. Nobunaga heard the noise from the temple where he was staying and expressed a desire to see him. Suspecting the black color of his skin to be black ink, Nobunaga had him strip from the waist up and made him scrub his skin. After enduring this offensive reaction, Nobunaga took a liking to him and gave him the name Yasuke as a sign of respect and endearment, and Nobunaga also was a proponent of ennoblement. The African diaspora exists in large part due to slavery and indentured servitude and the Hidden Figures honoree for today also endured this practice. In Japan, though, Yasuke was able to live as a free man, loyal only to those who showed him loyalty back. We salute Yasuke, the first Black and the first non-Japanese samurai!

Photo/background information courtesy of Japanese source