Monthly Archives: October 2020

Early Jesuits Adapt to Japan, 1580s

From African Samurai, by Geoffrey Girard and Thomas Lockley (Hanover Square, 2019), Kindle pp. 60-62:

Now that he was here to see it for himself, the actual state of the mission in Japan, unsurprisingly, had not met Valignano’s expectations.

In particular, there was significant discord between Japanese converts (especially the most senior ones not used to being gainsaid in their own domains), and the non-Japanese missionaries (who often behaved as if they knew everything). To meet the grievances of the Japanese community, Valignano quickly held consultations to identify ways in which the earlier mission had been mismanaged. These included overly strict discipline, racial discrimination in admittance to holy orders, an insistence on the superiority of European ways and a refusal to support the learning of the Japanese language by some senior Europeans—in particular the mission superior, Cabral.

Another problem Valignano faced was that most Europeans did not appear very civilized to the locals who saw them as, frankly, vulgar. By comparison, the Japanese were consistently well mannered. Valignano wrote, “even the children forbear to use inelegant expressions among themselves, nor do they fight or hit each other like European lads.” Upper-class Japanese people, particularly, considered Europeans dirty, ill-mannered and ignorant of proper comportment. The Japanese were also used to daily bathing, and the ability to eat without touching food with their hands—both customs Europeans of the time customarily scorned.

Having identified these impediments, Valignano issued decrees on how Jesuits should conduct themselves and adapt more to local norms. (Though, even the relatively broad-minded Valignano still balked at bathing regularly and forbade his charges, including the Japanese and African ones, from doing so.) By the time he left Japan for the first time in 1582, he’d already opened three more seminaries with the aim of training locally recruited brothers and priests. The mission relied upon its native Japanese followers to help celebrate masses, marriages and funerals in Japanese, and for diplomacy in many cases. Until Valignano’s arrival, Jesuit policy had forbidden Japanese men from becoming full members; they, instead, had to remain as semipermanent acolytes. One of the most important things Valignano would do during his tenure as Visitor was facilitate the first non-Europeans becoming full Jesuit members and ordained priests in Japan.

Then, to make Catholic priests’ status more recognizable to the Japanese, Valignano reorganized the mission structure to more closely resemble that of the social organization of the Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto. Japanese religion at this time had become a fusion of imported Buddhist beliefs and native animist beliefs, hence, Buddhist “saints” were worshipped in the same places as ancient animist gods called kami. Sometimes kami and Buddhist saints eventually mixed in together and became one entity. Buddhism itself, was divided, sometimes violently, by sect, some of which, like Zen, had their origins abroad, and others, like Nichiren, which started in Japan. Valignano copied their ranking system so locals would understand the social standing of the Jesuits and know which priests were more senior. Initially the priests had intentionally dressed poorly, marking their vows of poverty, but Valignano changed that, and they smartened up, or at least made sure their clothes were clean. This made the Japanese more open to the new religion, because it looked more like traditional ones, respectable, blurring the lines somewhat and gaining the Catholics more respect.

Valignano also directed the missionaries and other Jesuit workers to systematically learn as much Japanese as possible. Only then, when they could speak directly to the locals in their own tongue, could they truly reach out across Japan for the Church. Perhaps influencing his plans, Valignano was particularly taken with the Japanese language, calling it “the best, the most elegant, and the most copious tongue in the known world,” adding, “It is more abundant than Latin and expresses concepts better.”

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An African Mercenary Arrives in Japan, 1579

From African Samurai, by Geoffrey Girard and Thomas Lockley (Hanover Square, 2019), Kindle pp. 19-20:

Yasuke was in his early twenties, no more than twenty-three.

He’d been a soldier for half his life, visited a dozen sultanates, kingdoms and empires. A young warrior who knew himself and more of the world than most ever do.

He was a very tall man, six-two or more—a giant for his time, comparable to meeting a seven-footer by today’s standards. He was also muscular by the standards of any day, thanks to relentless military drill and a childhood, and lineage, built on a diet of abundant meat and dairy.

Arriving in Japan, Yasuke’s eclectic attire revealed his familiarity with a much wider world. He was primarily dressed, quite smartly, in Portuguese clothing—baggy pantaloons to stop mosquito bites, a cotton shirt with a wide flat collar, a stylish doublet of dark velvet. But he carried a tall spear from India, its blade crafted into an unusual wavy shape with two “blood grooves” cut into the steel to make the blade lighter while still sturdy. He also carried a short curved Arab dagger at his side; both weapons shone like mirrors with constant attention from Yasuke’s whetstone. His dark head was wrapped in a stark white turban-like cloth to protect it from the sun.

This was not, clearly from his garb alone, Yasuke’s first arrival somewhere new, someplace utterly foreign. He was, rather, an experienced and well-traveled man in an ever-shrinking world.

He’d been on the move since he was a boy. From the swamps and plains of his birthplace on the banks of the Nile, to the mountains and deserts of northeast Africa, the fertile coasts of the Arabs, dusty Sind and the green of Gujarat. He’d likely fought alongside, and against, Hindus, Muslims, Africans, Turks, Persians and Europeans, and escaped death as a teenage soldier countless times before being employed by Valignano in Goa. The abducted child soldier was now simply the soldier. Well trained in weapons, strategy and security. Even, thanks to time spent beside leaders from several cultures, conversant in diplomacy. His experience and skills were of a caliber sought across the whole world, highly in demand among the rich and powerful.

This unexplored Japão (as the Portuguese called it) was merely the next place he was to be for some time as he put those same skills to work and did the job of protecting an employer and staying alive. The tide, he understood, must be taken when it comes.

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Navajo Code Talkers in Action

From Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez (Dutton Caliber, 2011), Kindle Loc. ~1870:

Our messages relayed calls for ammunition, food, and medical equipment back to the supply ships waiting offshore. Messages transmitted the locations of enemy troops to U.S. artillerymen. Messages told of something unexpected that had happened in battle. Messages reported on our own troop movements. Messages forwarded casualty numbers, the Navajo code keeping the Japanese from learning of American losses in each foray. Throughout the days of battle to come, we sent those numbers back to our commanders on the ships each night.

After being in operation for just forty-eight hours, our secret language was becoming indispensable.

The hilly terrain on Guadalcanal posed real problems for the men operating mortars and artillery. Muzzle-loaded mortars were low-velocity, short-range weapons with a high trajectory, particularly well suited to uneven terrain. A mortar could drop into an enemy trench that artillery fire flew right over. Shells fired by field artillery reached a higher velocity and followed a flatter trajectory. Howitzers were similar to mortars in function, but larger.

The men firing all of these weapons dealt with a serious issue. Artillery, howitzers, and mortars targeted an enemy who was frequently nose to nose with the American soldiers at the front. Marksmen had to clear the hills and the heads of our own troops, causing them no injury, while drawing an accurate bead on the enemy. This became especially ticklish when we were “walking fire in.” That meant that our weapons were shooting behind the enemy and drawing them closer to the American troops at the front line. As they drew closer, we continued to fire behind them, moving both our fire and the Japanese troops closer and closer to our own troops. There was no room for error in a maneuver like that. The old Shackle communications system took so long to encode and decode, and it was so frequently inaccurate, that using it for the transmission of on-the-fly target coordinates was a perilous proposition. Frequently, in the midst of battle, instead of using the Shackle code, the Marines had transmitted in English. They knew the transmissions were probably being monitored by the Japanese, so they salted the messages liberally with profanity, hoping to confuse the enemy.

We code talkers changed all that.

Roy and I traveled close to the mortars. And the mortars, due to their short range, placed us well within the enemy’s line of fire. Not as close as the riflemen, who were always out front leading the attack, but still close.

Sweat streamed down my back. I transmitted coordinates detailing the locations of Japanese and American troops. I knew men’s lives depended upon the accuracy of each word. I wiped my brow with a sleeve, but never stopped talking. Out of the corner of one eye, I saw a flash of fire. Sand and shrapnel kicked up into the heavy gray sky. I kept talking.

Just then, a spotter, sent out to locate a pocket of Japanese soldiers and artillery, returned. Someone handed a slip of paper to me, bearing the exact Japanese location. The same paper also reported the location of forward U.S. troops.

I squinted, rubbed my eyes, read the paper again. Any error could cause the death of my fellow fighting men. I’d sent hundreds of messages. Messages swam in my brain, jamming and tumbling over one another. I shook my head to clear it.

I translated the data into Navajo code and spoke into the microphone that fit neatly into my fist like a baseball. I glanced in the direction my transmission would travel. Roy and I crouched so close to the American artillery and mortars that I could almost have shouted the information.

I spoke clearly, carefully. I pictured the code talker who received my message translating it back into English for the gunnery men. I imagined those men planning a trajectory, one that would fire over the heads of the Americans and hit the Japanese.

If a soldier was shot right beside us, we had been warned not to stop and help. Our transmissions could not be interrupted.

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Navajo Legacy of the Livestock Reduction Act

From Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez (Dutton Caliber, 2011), Kindle Loc. ~1130:

It was odd that in Depression times, the mutton of the slaughtered animals was not preserved as food. Nor were the wool and leather utilized. A small portion of the meat was canned for later use, although the meat from Grandma’s herd and neighboring herds was simply destroyed. Three or four years later, some canned mutton was distributed to chapter houses on the Checkerboard and the reservation.

Some Navajo families were paid a pittance for their destroyed livestock, less than three dollars per head of sheep, when the market value vacillated between eight dollars and fourteen dollars per head. Other families were never paid. I am not sure whether my family received any money for their dead animals.

There are historians who suggest that the government’s stock reduction program was aimed at making the Navajos less independent and more dependent upon the “generosity” of the government in Washington, D.C. I don’t know about that, but I do know that for us Navajos, the government’s “livestock reduction” program ended in failure.

Historians name John Collier, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1933 to 1945, as the instigator of the massacre. But I remember another man, E. Reeseman Fryer, who, during the New Deal, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the superintendant of the Navajo Reservation under John Collier. He served from 1936 until 1942, and was personally responsible for implementing much of the livestock reduction program. This man was especially resented. He was a white man, enjoying a position of power over the Navajo tribe.

The popular belief was that what Fryer fried was the Navajos.

The extermination went on for some six years, with different sections of Navajo land targeted at different intervals. By the time it stopped, the rain had stopped as well, and the grass continued to dry up.

The effect on the Navajo sense of community was devastating. In the time before the massacre, friends and neighbors helped one another. When someone fell sick, neighbors pitched in to care for their animals. Medicine men and women were summoned to cure both people and animals. Neighbors and family assisted by gathering together at night and praying for the sick to recover.

The livestock reduction challenged this sense of community by pitting Navajo against Navajo. Those who kept livestock resented the Navajo exterminators who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Neighbors put up fences to enclose their pastures, saving them for the sheep that they had left. The year-round migration from one community grazing area to another that had always been the norm as I grew up became impossible. As a result, ties between neighbors weakened.

The toll in self-respect was also huge. Families, unable to protect their own livestock, felt powerless. And nothing could have done more to erode the local work ethic. What was the point of working hard to build up wealth, a sizable herd, when the government just stepped in and destroyed it?

The massacre killed more than livestock. It changed the dynamic between neighbors; it changed the meaning of hard work; it changed everything.

After the Long Walk, the livestock massacre is considered the second great tragedy in Navajo history. A story now woven into oral tradition, the extermination is discussed wherever Navajos meet, so that like the Long Walk, it will never fade from memory.

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New Deal Raw Deal for Navajos, 1930s

From Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez (Dutton Caliber, 2011), Kindle Loc. ~1079:

Father, working at the trading post, learned that families all over the reservation and the Checkerboard were devastated by the massacre of their livestock. Any family with more than a hundred head of sheep and goats was subject to the “reduction.” The number of animals killed varied on a sliding scale, depending on how big each herd was. Horses and cattle were also killed, but their deaths were more humane. They were shot rather than burned.

The shocked families warned one another not to protest. There were rumors of arrests.

A historical perspective on the politics of this disaster doesn’t soften the blow still felt by the families who were deprived of their livelihood. The program may have been well intentioned, but like many other political decisions, the results proved disastrous.

It was during the Great Depression, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected in 1932, was president. His legislative agenda, the “New Deal,” initiated many programs and public-works projects designed to help employ the needy. The disastrous livestock reduction might never have occurred if four things had not come together.

First, reservation and Checkerboard land, aggressively grazed by livestock, was less productive than it had been. Sheep were the primary animals raised, and they graze close to the ground, often killing the roots of plants. The dust bowl in the southwestern Great Plains had created a more serious problem than the problems on Navajo land, but still, overgrazing was then under the microscope of public awareness. As John Collier wrote: “The Navajo reservation is being washed into the Boulder Dam reservoir.” This government project, begun in 1931, is now known as the famous Hoover Dam.

Second, the overgrazing coincided with a federal New Deal push for a huge park to be created on Navajo land. The proposal, first made in 1931 by Roger Toll, died, but was renewed when Roosevelt was elected. People argued that the park would create jobs, but it would also absorb land needed for grazing Navajo livestock. The National Park Service decided that the Navajos could continue to live on the parkland, but they would have to retain their “quaint” ways of life, continuing to raise sheep and implementing no improvements. This would do nothing to relieve the already overgrazed conditions. It was driven home to officials that fewer animals would mean fewer demands for grass.

Third, John Collier, the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, felt pressured to do something to rehabilitate Navajo grazing lands. He opposed the Navajo National Park, but proposed a stock reduction program as the solution to the overgrazing problem.

And fourth, Collier also promised to expand the land area of the reservation in return for the reduction in livestock. He wanted to incorporate lands already used by the Navajo for grazing, making their stewardship official. This would include at least some of the Checkerboard Area. The idea seems somewhat contradictory, since with more land, more animals could be supported, but the land was, by then, so poor that Collier felt a livestock reduction would still be in order.

As planned, Collier’s recommendation for reservation expansion lessened the vehemence of Navajo objections to his proposed stock reduction. The stock reduction proposal passed. The Bureau of Indian Affairs jumped in, employing Navajos to execute the reduction mandate. In an attempt to make up for the diminished income from their liquidated livestock, the government also promised the Navajos an education that would lead to jobs with various New Deal public-works programs.

But then John Collier proposed the “Indian Reorganization Act,” a proclamation of “cultural freedom” for Indians which basically proposed to make the various tribes into corporations administered by the United States government. The act was passed by the Pueblos but rejected by the Navajos. Still, Congress passed the act in 1934, leaving the future of the Navajos poorly defined in the eyes of the government.

Once the livestock massacre was completed, with the Navajo sheep population having been reduced from a high of 1.6 million in 1932 to only 400,000 in 1944, the promised geographical expansion failed to take place, although, to his credit, John Collier did fight to obtain more land for the reservation. The proposed national park was also defeated, a small blessing for those who kept sheep and other livestock. Only a few Navajos were given public-works employment. And the education program that was promised—preparing more Native Americans to work on the numerous public-works projects—did not materialize for the members of the Navajo tribe, the tribe that had rejected John Collier’s Indian Reorganization Act.

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A Navajo Shepherd’s Day, 1920s

From Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez (Dutton Caliber, 2011), Kindle Loc. ~437:

After breakfast, we all helped Auntie pack bedrolls, the remaining food, and the heavy water bag onto the big brown “sheep horse.” This horse lived on the range with the sheep and carried the items necessary for us Diné to survive.

Snow, a white eighty-pound dog, stood alert at one side of the herd. Five other dogs took up their posts around the fringes. Then my two aunties, my uncle, my two brothers, and I moved out with the animals. We walked through deep grass, never worrying about our flocks having enough to eat. Other Navajo families shared the range, with no fences to keep anyone out.

After grazing in one place for two or three days, Grandma’s herd moved on to new grass. I knew that the constant movement was good for the safety of the livestock. Predators did not gather in any one area, knowing where to find the animals.

We followed the sheep. The day grew warm and quiet. A straggler headed toward a clump of juniper. I glanced at Old Auntie. She nodded, then watched me throw a small rock out beyond the lamb, turning her back in toward the rest of the herd.

A gray shadow flashed off to my right. Coyote? The hated animals often lurked among the thick piñon and sagebrush. I stood absolutely still and waited, then carefully bent down and picked a stone, fitting it into the rubber of my inner-tube slingshot. Young Auntie held a coffee can filled with rocks at the ready. The noise of the rocks, when the can was shaken, would scare a coyote. But I heard and saw nothing.

Just as I turned back to the herd, the sharp cry of a kid rang out. A coyote had grabbed the baby goat by the leg, pulling it into a clump of sagebrush. My heart beat fast as I aimed the slingshot, heard it thud, then charged toward the fracas. Young Auntie shook the coffee can, creating a racket. Old Auntie yelled and plunged from across the herd. Three dogs raced over, barking and growling. The coyote dropped its prey, running with its tail between its legs.

The mother goat and I reached the kid before Auntie did. It cried piteously. Four punctures marked its leg. Blood flowed freely.

“Good,” said Auntie, when she arrived. “The blood will clean the wound.” She examined the leg. “It’s not bad. He can walk.”

I stayed close to the kid and his mother as we continued our trek. Coyotes posed a serious threat to the lambs and kids, and sometimes even to the older animals. And any animal lost to a coyote was a double loss. Not only was the wool (or in the case of a goat, the milk) gone, but the meat as well. Even if our dogs recovered the carcass, no self-respecting Navajo ate meat killed by the devil coyote. Everyone knew evil people came back as coyotes after they died.

The scared little goat kept up with the herd. As the few scattered remnants of rain clouds evaporated, a turquoise-blue sky arched over us. The temperature in the early part of the “moon of large plants”—the white man’s month of May—rose to the midseventies. Life was good.

Some days we covered between fifteen and twenty miles on foot. That day we walked eleven miles or so, stopping to build camp on a slight rise in the shade of a piñon grove. Snow, the big sheepdog, selected the rise that day. He, like his six humans, preferred to watch the sheep from above, keeping an eye out for danger and stragglers.

I scratched behind the big dog’s ears. “Good boy.”

Snow, like all of the dogs, herded by instinct. Every morning he approached the sheep, eager to be moving. On the days when we stayed put, Snow climbed a rise and watched, ever alert.

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