Swordsmanship was a vital component in the young Coxinga’s education, not purely as a skill that a gentleman warranted, but also as a means of self-defence. [His father Nicholas] Iquan had many enemies, among the Dutch, Chinese and Japanese, and China was still reeling from the after-effects of drought and famine. As the son and heir of China’s richest man, Coxinga was a valuable prize for kidnappers, and he was assigned minders hand-picked from Iquan’s own personal battalion, the Black Guard. When the boy asked his father where he had found such fearsome warriors, Iquan simply replied that they had come from ‘beyond the sea’.
Experience had taught Iquan that he could trust nobody; though he may never have known, his own mother had even conspired against him with [Dutch commander] Pieter Nuijts, so his paranoia was wholly justified. His Chinese associates were former pirates whose allegiance was unsure, his family were often out to get whatever they could, and he had long since learned never to trust the barbarians of Europe. Consequently, Iquan recruited the Black Guard from a place that had no relationship to any other country or associate: Africa.
The Black Guard, approximately 500-strong, had once been Negro slaves in the service of the Portuguese, but were now all freed men. Iquan had somehow acquired them in Macao, and had turned them into his own imposing private army. Perhaps some of them were among the slaves who fought so bravely to defend Macao from the Dutch in 1622, freed in the aftermath only to find themselves thousands of miles from home, with no hope of getting back. Others may have defected from the service of the Dutch, though Chinese sources imply that Iquan bought them in Macao and freed them himself. With many of its members unable to speak any language but Portuguese, the Black Guard was Iquan’s most trusted unit, and he ‘confided more in them than in the Chinese, and always kept them near his person’. Their mere appearance struck fear into his enemies, and rumours spread that even devils had joined Iquan’s forces at Anhai: black-skinned giants with strangely curly hair, whose imposing forms were bulked out still further by hefty armour under gaudy silks. Fortunately, the Black Guard did not get to hear of such tales, as they were all devout Catholics, whose war-cry was a blood-curdling scream of Santiago, in praise of their patron St James.