Yasuke the Black Samurai was the first Black Samurai and non-Japanese member of the revered Ancient Samurai Order, and the only African to ever be inducted as a Samurai.
The story of Yasuke the Black Samurai begins in the 16th century, as the Portuguese in pursuit of Trade traversed the world’s Oceans establishing Trade Posts from Africa to the Asia Pacific. In 1543, they arrived on the shores of Japan and immediately established a brisk Silk Trade with the Japanese.
The fate of Yasuke the Black Samurai would be tied with the Port of Nagasaki which became a very successful Portuguese Trading Post, and soon Jesuit Missionaries from the Catholic Society of Jesus arrived, following the Traders as they had done in other regions like in Africa’s Mutapa Empire.
It would be from the Portuguese African territory in Mozambique that Yasuke would rise from Christian Convert to Samurai Warrior in Japan.
Yasuke the Black Samurai was reportedly born around 1555 in Mozambique, and he may have been given as a gift by the Mutapa King to Jesuits Missionaries who converted him to Catholicism.
In 1579, Yasuke was chosen to accompany Jesuit inspector Alessandro Valignano to the Jesuit Mission in Japan. He arrived to find a feudal Japan characterised by Wars of consolidation amongst competing fiefdoms, with the Oda Clan proving itself to be the most succesful.
In 1581 before he was trained to be a Samurai, Yasuke was brought to Kyoto, which was in the centre of power of the Oda Nobunaga Clan where his starkly different features made him a local celebrity because the Japanese had never seen an African before.
Eventually news of Yasuke, the intriguing new Black resident reached Lord Nobunaga who ordered the Jesuits to bring Yasuke to his Court
Lord Nabunaga was impressed when he saw Yasuke the African, and it was him who gave the enigmatic man the name Yasuke. Yasuke’s integrity and strength endeared him even more to Lord Nabunaga and in 1581, Lord Nabunaga conscripted Yasuke into his service as a Samurai.
Yasuke was given all the rights of a Samurai which included land and a household, Japanese garments, and a ceremonial Short Katana at which point Yasuke became the first Black Samurai.
Its thought that Yasuke the Black Samurai was instructed in the Bushido code, and how to fight as a Samurai.
Lord Nabunaga favoured him so much that Yasuke the Black Samurai was one of the few people afforded the privilege of dining with him. As a good Samurai, Yasuke aided his Master in his conquest of Japan where he fought in fierce battles against rival clans.
After a series of battles in which Lord Nabunaga was victorious, Yasuke the Black Samurai escorted him to Kyoto where the Lord decided to retire in isolation at the Buddhist temple of Honno-Ji
Things would take a tragic turn however, as Lord Nabunaga would be betrayed by his close General Mitsuhide who attacked the Buddhist Temple which was largely unprotected. Facing defeat, Lord Nabunaga committed honourable suicide to avoid capture.
Yasuke the Black Samurai escaped and rushed to protect his Lord’s Son, but this too was in vain as Lord Nabunaga’s soon also committed honourable suicide in the face of defeat.
After capturing Yasuke, the hateful Mitsuhide treated Yasuke as a Black Samurai with disdain, but because he was not Japanese, Yasuke not killed and he was sent to the Christian Mission in Kyoto instead.
Little is known of what happened to Yasuke the Black Samurai once he returned to the Jesuits and its unknown whether Yasuke died in Japan or returned to Africa.
Nevertheless Yasuke the Black Samurai’s inspirational story reflects the unpredictable course destiny may have in store for us all.
In addition, it demonstrates the intercontinental process of Cultural diffusion the activities of European Traders and Missionaries had on the world.