MGM has announced that they will be producing a movie about the fascinating life of Yasuke, the only officially recognized samurai from Africa. Find out more about his extraordinary journey.
In discovering Yasuke's story, you might wonder why his life hasn't already been documented. Anecdotes about the samurai era, and the days where the Shogun reigned over feudal Japan fascinate all lovers of history and martial arts. Supermen, legendary warriors, ancestral soldiers, feudal knights of Japan... There's a lot of conflicting information and facts that are difficult to confirm. But the little we do know about the only African samurai in history is quite fascinating!
If you want more details, we suggest you get your hands on Serge Bilé's book, "Yasuke, black samurai", or Frédéric Marais's awesome comics, "Yasuke", available on Amazon.
A freed slave turned samurai
Yasuke was born in Mozambique between 1530 and 1540. A member of the Makua ethnic group, he was captured in adolescence by slave traders from Goa, India, and sold to Jesuits, for whom he fetched water. In 1574, he was in charge of the protection of Italian priest Alessandro Valignano during his trip to Japan. After stopping in Malaysia and China, the two men got to Arima in 1579.
Once they got to Kyoto, Yasuke's life changed completely. This province was under daimyo (local governor in feudal Japan) Oda Nobunaga's rule. The man was fascinated by the Jesuit slave's skin color: he had never met black person before. He asked Valignano to give him Yasuke, and the Italian priest accepted. Fascinated by the intelligence and physical strength of the man he called Kuru-san (literally "Mr Black Man"), Nobunaga had a lot of affection for the slave, so he freed him. He even gave him the title of Samurai and put him in charge of his personal safety.
Yasuke disappeared a few years later, after a military defeat of Nobutada, heir to Nobunaga, against the army of Akechi Mitsuhide, a samurai from the province of Mido. We only know that he was taken prisoner and handed over to the Jesuits, his new "master" considering that his African origins didn't deserve such a rank in Japanese society. There's no trace of Yasuke after this event. We hope that the future film, written by Stuart C. Paul, will tell us more.