There are some stories in history which are blurred with past but because of their exceptional content they somehow manage to breathe underneath the gravestones. Similar is the story of the first Afro samurai of the world. His original name is lost in the pages of history but his tale travels generations.
In 15000’s it was not a good time to be an African in Europe. After the fall of Abysinnian Bengal, a black kingdom run by the Ethiopians, he became a slave soldier and was sold in slavery to Alessandro Valignano, an Italian missionary. That was the time when he was bought to Japan from Ethiopia.
He was as black as ink and by Japanese local language he was called as – Yasuke. He was 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and strong muscles. Juxtaposition to his social stature ‘slave’ he rather was posed a threat to many warriors and kings.
Oda Nobunaga was a powerful feudal lord who wanted to unify Japan. He gave attention to Yasuke when there was lot of commotion after seeing his dark colored skin. Unlike Europeans, Yasuke was more celebrated figure because of his physical stature. Oda was spell bound to look at this charcoal skin man and immediately asked Valignano to leave him under his guidance.
He trained him and used him as his bodyguard. Later he became fluent in Japanese language and rose to the status of Samurai and worked as his advisor.
A powerful master, Oda was expert in strategizing politics and war moves, but due to his intimidating nature, he wasn’t liked by his fellow lords.
It could be due to two reasons. First – he abolished all toll roads, which could gave other lords monetary benefits to fight against him. Secondly – he accepted and supported Christian missionaries believing that would lessen the power of Buddhists.
In 1582, a vassal named Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed him, and once Oda lost on battlefield he had to commit ritual suicide. This news shattered Yasuke, as his entire acceptance in Japanese culture was largely dependent on the favor of the powerful warlord.
Though he put up a brave fight but gradually surrendered his sword to Akechi, who decided to return him to the Jesuits. This was the last time when Yasuke was mentioned in history books and comic scripts.
In recent years, Yasuke has started gaining some attention in Japaneese and western pop culture. In 1999 and 2000, his story gained critical appreciation in Japan as it was made into manga “Afro Samurai”.
In 2007, it was converted into popular anime which was loved by teenagers and children.