Header: Japanese Samurais, 1900s.
Top row: (1) A wedding party in Seoul - 1900. (2) People of Asia. (3) San people of the Kalahari desert and Southern Africa, compared with young Chinese girl, right. (4) Ainu, the Black Japanese, Oguejiofor Annu.
Bottom row: (1) The Ainu with a bear. c.a. 1840. Brooklyn Museum. (2) Black people of Malaysia. (3) Photos of Chinese people. (4) People of China.
“For a Samurai to be brave, he must have a bit of Black blood.” - Japanese Proverb
It was the year 672 A.C.E. when “a civil war referred to as the Jinshin Disturbance ensued [in Japan] between the forces of the brother of Emperor Tenchi, Prince Oama, and the former’s son Prince Otomo.” Angry that he’d been passed over in the royal succession, Prince Oama went into the eastern provinces of Yamato to enlist the military support of local influential families. “Among the families solicited is the first mention of a Sakanouye-Okina (d. 699)...Okina was a close associate of Prince Oama. Serving as a general to Oama, Okina was instrumental in crushing the forces of Prince Otomo, who ultimately committed suicide. With the uprising suppressed, Prince Oama acceded to the throne as the Emperor Temmu.”
In what reads like a classic medieval Japanese war story of love, honour, treachery and revenge, you would be forgiven for thinking that the characters involved were modern Asian in features and complexion, however, Sakanouye-Okina, the person responsible for ensuring Prince Oama’s place on the throne, was actually a proud Black African. Furthermore, he was the great-grandfather of Sakanouye Karitamaro who was the father of the legendary “Sakanouye Tamuramaro, a famous general...a Negro,” and the very first Shogun of Japan.
There is significant evidence of the African presence in ancient Japan. A Japanese proverb states that: “For a Samurai to be brave, he must have a bit of Black blood.”
Another recording of the proverb is: “Half the blood in one’s veins must be Black to make a good Samurai.” The African presence in Japan can be traced back to remote antiquity. An Associated Press report published on 15 February, 1986, announced:
“The oldest Stone Age hut in Japan has been unearthed near Osaka....Archeologists date the hut to about 22,000 years ago and say it resembles the dugouts of African bushmen, according to Wazuo Hirose of Osaka Prefectural Board of Education’s cultural division.
Other homes, almost as old, have been found before, but this discovery is significant because the shape is cleaner, better preserved and is similar to the Africans dugouts.”
In 1911 one of the most highly regarded scholars of Japanese culture, Professor Neil Gordon Munro wrote:
“The Japanese people are a mixture of several distinct stocks. Negrito, Mongolian... .That the Japanese have inherited an infusion of Mongolian characters goes without saying, but breadth of face intraorbital width, flat nose, prognathism, and bracheephaly might be traced to the Negrito stock as dolichocephaly in Europe appears to have been derived from that of the Negro.”
The race infusion hypothesis is further supported by the thorough work of respected anthropologist Roland B. Dixon (1923), and another highly respected historian and anthropologist Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop in his book Civilisation or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (1991). In this work Diop remarked:
“In the first edition of the Nations negres et culture (1954), I posited the hypothesis that the Yellow race must be the result of an interbreeding of Black and White in a cold climate, perhaps around the end of the Upper Paleolithic period. This idea is widely shared today by Japanese scholars and researchers. One Japanese scientist, Nobuo Takano, M.D., chief of dermatology at the Hammatsu Red Cross Hospital, has just developed this idea in a work in Japanese that appeared in 1977, of which he was kind enough to give me a copy in 1979, when, passing through Dakar, he visited my laboratory with a group of Japanese scientists. Takano maintains, in substance, that the first human being was Black; then Blacks gave birth to Whites, and the interbreeding of these two gave rise to the Yellow race; these three stages are in fact the title of his book in Japanese, as he explained it to me.”
More recent studies that have successfully traced all human DNA back to the African, confirm the race infusion hypothesis.
The most outstanding person of early Japanese history was arguably the Black Africoid warrior immortalised as “a paragon of military virtues,” Sakanouye no Tamuramaro. One of the earliest scholars to write about this exemplary Shogun was anthropologist, Alexander Francis Chamberlain (1865-1914).
Chamberlain was born in Kenninghall, Norfolk, England and immigrated to America when he was a child. He graduated from the University of Toronto with honours in languages and ethnology, and received his Ph.D. from Clarke University in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1892. Being somewhat of a landmark, he was the first person to receive a degree in anthropology at an American university. He became an assistant professor of anthropology at Clark and the department editor for the American Anthropologist and the American Journal of Archaeology.
In April 1911 one of Chamberlain's essays was published for the Journal of Race Development entitled The Contribution of the Negro to Human Civilisation.
In this essay he openly stated in an exceptionally frank and matter of fact manner:
“And we can cross the whole of Asia and find the Negro again, for, when, in far-off Japan, the ancestors of the modern Japanese were making their way northward against the Ainu, the aborigines of that country, the leader of their armies was Sakanouye Tamuramaro, a famous general and a Negro.”
In E. Papinot’s Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan, the Sakanouye (or Sakanoue) family are described as an ancient family of warriors that descended from Achi no Omi. In the chronicle of Shoku Nihongi an account shows that the family’s ancestors moved from Korea to Japan, and Tamuramaro’s father, Sakanouye no Karitamaro (728-786) petitioned for higher official rank.
The Sakanouye family were considered the most “illustrious branch of the Aya family of immigrant descent, the Sakanouye maintained a long tradition of expertise in archery and horsemanship, becoming court generals in Japan beginning in the seventh century.” By the early fourteenth century, the Sakanouye family distinguished themselves as poets, scholars, and legal experts.
After Sakanouye Okina (the great grandfather of Karitamaro) helped crush Prince Otomo’s forces, Prince Oama, now Emperor Temmu was “so impressed by the bravery of the warriors of the east that he even thought of transferring the capital to that district.”
The Jinshin Disturbance was so renowned that the region to the east of Heiankyo became associated with the Azumabito, or “Men of the East.” According to one scholar “This refers to a recognizable type, somewhat uncouth by Kyoto's standards, but courageous and skilled in the use of the bow, spear and sword...Heian Japan's frontier country could be called the 'Wild East', meaning the north as well as east of the Fuji Lakes.”
There was no match to this group of highly skilled warriors of the east, according to one historian, George Sansom, not even the Emperor’s imperial troops were their equal. “By the eighth century C.E., this group of private warriors dominated the country.”
On their exceptional prowess, Sansom stated:
“They were known as Azumabito or Men of the East, and their praises were sung in early Japanese literature. The regular government forces in the eastern provinces were not of this mettle. Their commanders were so notably unsuccessful that in 783 the Emperor publicly rebuked them for cowardice and ordered a new campaign to be undertaken under competent leadership.”
The eighth century A.C.E. saw a significant rise of Buddhism, principally due to propagation by some Japanese emperors, which put an enormous strain on the general population.
A coup was staged in 757 by Tachibana no Nakamaro under the pretext of assisting these people. The father of Tamuramaro, Sakanouye no Karitamaro (728-786) assisted in suppressing their revolt. He also assisted in crushing the rebellion of Fujiwara no Nakamaro by assisting the Empress Koken Shotoku in 764.
“During this turbulent period Karitamaro demonstrated great bravery and military leadership, and later on became Chinjufu-Shogun. Sakanouye no Tamuramaro continued this tradition, and followed his ancestors in service to the court.”
An outstanding warrior, Sakanouye no Tamuramaro was a military commander of the early Heian royal court. Heian derives its name from Heian-kyo, the original name for Japan’s early capital city Kyoto, and it meant “The Capital of Peace and Tranquillity.” The term samurai was first used during the Heian period (794-1185 A.C.E.), and according to Papinot, the “word comes from the verb samurai, or better saburau, which signifies: to be on one’s guard, to guard; it applied especially to the soldiers who were on guard at the Imperial palace.”
Regarding the remarkable Samurai, one scholar explained:
“The samurai have been called the knights or warrior class of Medieval Japan and the history of the samurai is very much the history of Japan itself.
For hundreds of years, to the restoration of the Meiji emperor in 1868, the samurai were the flower of Japan and are still idolized by many Japanese. The samurai received a pension from their feudal lord, and had the privilege of wearing two swords. They intermarried in their own caste and the privilege of samurai was transmitted to all the children, although the heir alone received a pension.”
Sakanouye no Tamuramaro was such a prolific warrior, he had no equal, and therefore he was his own role model. So much so that historian James Murdoch remarked:
“In a sense the originator of what was subsequently to develop into the renowned samurai class, he provided in his own person a worthy model for the professional warrior on which to fashion himself and his character. In battle, a veritable war-god; in peace the gentlest of manly gentlemen, and the simplest and most unassuming of men.”
Tamuramro’s career began in the Nara period (710-794 A.C.E.), and his biographies reveal his steady rise through the military ranks. He first served as a lieutenant of the inner palace guards, but it was not too long before he eventually assumed the position of captain.
Due to his knowledge of both civil and military codes, he was later granted the promotion of major captain and the office of major counsellor by Emperor Saga. By this time the Ainu had grown into a powerful military force. Although they were “possibly distributed throughout the whole of Japan thousands of years ago,” during this period they occupied a considerable portion of north-eastern Honshu, Japan’s main island and become formidable enemies of the expanding Japanese rulers. “Unsuccessful commanders in 783 were sharply rebuked by the Emperor Kammu for their cowardice and inability to drive out the Ainu, and were summarily dismissed.”
Frustrated by his lack of success, in 788 the emperor ordered the government to assemble a mighty army and arsenal to confront the Ainu. The provinces were ordered by Emperor Kammu to provide tribute in the form of military armament. The armour was provided by Kanto, Dazifu in Kyushu provided the iron helmets, and the arrows were provided by Tokaido and Tosando.
The emperor’s imperial troops were subjected to a series of bloody battles against mounted Ainu soldiers, which resulted in only a handful of victories. As a response to the inadequate performance of his soldiers, in 791 the emperor summoned a “man of the east” appointing him to the title of “Envoy for the Pacification of the East.” The appointed envoy’s deputy was none other than Sakanouye no Tamuramaro, who would go on to achieve far greater fame than his appointed superior.
Regarding this pivotal period in Japanese history, Sansom remarked:
“At length in 791 a commander was appointed, and given the title of Seito Taishi, or Envoy for the Pacification of the East; his deputy was one Sakanouye Tamura Maro, celebrated in Japanese history as a paragon of military virtues. Tamura Maro preceded his superior officer to the front in 793, and in 795 they both returned to the capital in triumph. But for a decade or more it was necessary to keep up the pressure against the Ainu and to encourage farmers to settle near the effective frontier so as to provide a permanent defence against raids and sallies, which Tamura Maro's successes had not entirely checked. In order to finish the affair he was given a new commission in 800 and sent off again. In a series of campaigns lasting until 803 he finally accomplished his purpose, and was able to push the frontier as far north as Izawa and Shiba, where strongholds were built and garrisoned. So important was his task in the eyes of the Court that the title of Sei-i Tai-Shogun or Barbarian-subduing Generalissimo, which he was the first to hold, was sought after by the highest military officers in the land for the next thousand years.”
Tamuramaro’s extraordinary achievements were duly rewarded with high civil as well as high military positions. “In 797 he was named “Barbarian-subduing Generalissimo” (Sei-i Tai-Shogun), and in 801-802 he again campaigned in the north, establishing fortresses at Izawa and Shiwa and effectively subjugating the Ainu.
In 810 he helped to suppress an attempt to restore the retired Emperor Heizei to the throne. In 811, the year of his death, he was appointed great counsellor (dainagon) and minister of war (hyobukyo).”
Such was the high regard held for this warrior, as Murdoch stated:
“Tamuramaro founded a shrine in the district of Izawa in Mutsu dedicated to Hachiman in which he hung up his bow and arrows. As has been said, this Tamuramaro was one of the very few soldiers whom military exploits had sufficed to raise to power and place in the councils of the State, and it was he that furnished the model on which successive generations of aspiring warriors endeavoured to form themselves. Before starting on their expeditions, later Shoguns (Generals) invariably went to worship at his tomb and invoke the aid of his spirit.”
Buried at the village of Kurisu near Kyoto, it is believed that Tamuramaro’s tomb is known under the name of Shogon-Zuka. Tamuramaro is the founder of the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple. “He is the ancestor of the Tamura daimyo of Mutsu. Tamuramaro was not only the first to bear the title of Sei-i Tai-Shogun, but he was also the first of the warrior statesmen of Japan.”
For centuries after his death this Black man continued to be revered as the model samurai, who was the first to receive the highest rank that could possibly be bestowed on any Japanese warrior, that of Sei-i Tai-Shogun.
Runoko Rashidi, Ivan Van Sertima, African Presence in Early Asia, Transaction Publishers, USA, Seventh printing 2009.
Runoko Rashidi, African Star Over Asia: The Black Presence in the East, Books of Africa Limited, United Kingdom, England, 2012.
Spencer Wells, The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, Random House Trade; Reprint edition (Feb 2004).
Images above: (1) Black Buddha at Nara, Japan. (2) Fudo Myo, patron of the Samurai and one of the Five Wisdom Kings in Japanese mythology. (3) Possibly Korean "Giseang" (similar to a Japanese Geisha), and their coach bearers - 1900. (4) The Ainu with a bear, c.a. 1840. Brooklyn Museum.
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