Category Archives: Netherlands

African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 4

The following is part 3 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

Chinese and Sino-Japanese merchant-pirates also recruited Japanese and African mercenaries. In the early Zheng Zhilong (or Nicholas Iquan), father of the famous Coxinga, recruited about 500 African soldiers from Macao to form his “Black Guard”. Zheng Zhilong and his raider-traders were a multicultural military force that included numerous Japanese, but he trusted his African troops more than any of his other soldiers and used them as his bodyguards.

After the Manchus took Beijing in 1644, Zheng Zhilong and his son Coxinga became staunch supporters of the Ming loyalist resistance in southern China. Zheng Zhilong was eventually convinced to join the Manchus and took 300 of his African mercenaries with him. These African soldiers were soon incorporated into the Manchu army and fought as a separate unit against Ming loyalists who Zheng Zhilong’s son Coxinga continued to support. Coxinga’s mother was Japanese, his bodyguards were African and Indian, and his chief envoy was an Italian missionary. Among his ‘Chinese’ loyalist troops were German and Dutch defectors as well as Japanese and Sino-Japanese soldiers.

In 1661 Coxinga attacked the Dutch fort at Zeelandia in Taiwan. Dutch commander Frederick Coyett complained about Coxinga’s elite musketeer ‘black-boys,’ some of whom he suspected of being recruited from among former slaves of the Dutch. Once again, these African mercenaries fought alongside Coxinga’s multicultural force of Japanese as well as Indian and Malay soldiers. The Dutch were defeated and forced to leave Taiwan and to this day Coxinga is considered a national hero by both mainland and Taiwanese Chinese because he is regarded as the first to defeat European imperialists. He did so with the help of Japanese, African and European mercenaries.

Evidence of encounters between Japanese and Africans in many other locations in Asia during the early modern period can undoubtedly be uncovered. In c. 1600, the Captain of Malacca had a Japanese bodyguard, for example.

The study of encounters between Japanese and Africans on land and at sea between Africa and Japan can add to our knowledge of African and Japanese diasporas as well as to the history of Japanese-African relations. This brief account of a few encounters between Japanese and African mercenaries in southern China and Southeast Asia during the early modern period will hopefully stimulate more research on this topic.

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African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 3

The following is part 3 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

The Dutch also employed both African and Japanese mercenaries who often fought together. In 1608, Japanese mercenaries helped the Dutch East India Company fight the Portuguese in the Spice Islands. In 1613 the Netherlands East India Company ships leaving Hirado transported Japanese adventurers to Java. Hendrik Broewer, chief of the Hirado factory, recorded that 68 Japanese left Hirado in February 1613 but that there was not enough room on the ship for the 300 Japanese requested by Dutch Governor General Both. Of the 68 Japanese sent, 9 were carpenters, 3 smiths, and 2 or 3 plasterers, but 51 were sailors and soldiers. In 1615, the Dutch signed a contract to obtain 59 Japanese, of whom 7 were carpenters and 2 were grooms, but 50 were sailors and soldiers.

After laying the foundation for the city of Batavia in 1619, Governor General Coen repeatedly asked the chief of the factory at Hirado to send as many Japanese as possible. By January 1620, 71 Japanese soldiers had arrived and Gov.-Gen. Coen took took 87 Japanese soldiers with him when he attacked the Bandanese in 1621. By this time the total number of Japanese residents at Batavia – including women, children and slaves – was certainly over 100, but many Japanese mercenaries were soon sent to Amboina and other places so that by 1622 the number of Japanese mercenaries in Batavia decreased to 30 while their numbers elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies were growing. Additional Japanese and African residents of Batavia arrived when the Dutch captured Portuguese ships. In 1637, 13 Japanese prisoners from a Portuguese junk captured off the island of Bintan arrived at Batavia, for example, where they obviously encountered Africans.

One Japanese mercenary, Anthony Japon, appears in records as a mardijker or soldier. In 1652 he was a sergeant of the black citizens (swarte borgerije). He is listed as an ensign by 1653 and as a lieutenant by 1655, but he was also a slave trader and a money-lending. Another resident, Michiel Itchiemon of Osaka, was Captain of the Japanese residents in 1626 and his son, Domingo Itchiemon, was a mardjiker soldier.

In 1622 Japanese and African mercenaries fought together and against each other when the Dutch attacked Macao. In 1621 the Dutch learned that the Ming rulers of China had asked the Portuguese of Macao to provide them with 100 mercenaries and cannon to fight the Manchus. The Dutch concluded that this left Macao vulnerable and so eight ships with multicultural crews, including Africans, were sent to attack Macao. Along their way the Dutch encountered a Siamese warship with twenty Japanese sailor-soldiers who had fled Portuguese service and now offered their services as mercenaries to the Dutch.

When the Dutch fleet reached Macao on 22 June 1622 with about 600 Europeans and 200 sailor-soldiers from Japan, Africa and elsewhere, they found themselves confronted with eight Europeans who commanded numerous African and Chinese soldiers. Some accounts state that the African defenders were slaves armed by their masters, but others suggest that Guinean mercenaries helped to defend the Portuguese port. In any case, African soldiers, whether slaves fighting for their freedom or Guinean mercenaries (or both), were crucial to the successful defense of Macao in 1622 against the Dutch and their Japanese and other mercenaries.

In 1623 the Dutch beheaded 10 Englishmen, 10 Japanese mercenaries and a Portuguese overseer of slaves at the English East India enclave on Amboina. The justification for this famous “massacre of Amboina” was that a Japanese mercenary arrested by the Dutch on suspicion of spying in February 1623 confessed under torture to a plot by English factors, aided by Japanese mercenaries, to attack the Dutch and seize Fort Victoria. There were “about thirty” Japanese mercenaries “regularly employed by the [Amboina] castle authorities” at this time. Some of the slaves overseen by the unfortunate Portuguese overseer who was beheaded were probably Africans, which puts Japanese and Africans together on Amboina at this time.

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African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 1

The following is part 1 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

Krieg, Handel und Piraterie, (War, trade and piracy)
Dreieinig sind sie, nicht zu trennen. (Are an inseparable trinity.)
Goethe, Faust, II, 5:3

Studies of early encounters between Africans and Japanese have focused on the presence of Africans in Japan during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The fact that Africans came to Japan on Portuguese and Dutch ships, resided in Japanese ports, accompanied Europeans on visits to Japanese rulers, and served Japanese masters has been well-documented by scholars. Very little attention has been paid to early Afro-Japanese contacts in the lands and on the seas between Africa and Asia during either the millennium before the first appearance of Africans with Europeans in Asia or during the era of European maritime empires in the early modern period.

Such encounters undoubtedly took place from time to time during the millennium before Africans first visited Japan. African merchants and slaves are known to have visited China during the era of the Roman Empire and during the Tang dynasty African slaves were imported into China, whose capital at Chang’an was a huge metropolis which received visitors from Japan as well as Southwest Asia. Arab, Persian and other visitors from Southwest Asia brought Africans to China with them in subsequent centuries as well. Traders from the Ryūkyū Islands (including Okinawa) sent ships to ports in the straits of Malacca, where they undoubtedly encountered African merchants and slaves before the Portuguese conquered Malacca in the early 16th century. However, few if any details about Japanese-African encounters during the millennium before the sixteenth century may ever come to light due to a lack of specific evidence.

Beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, both European and Asian sources provide considerable evidence of Japanese and Africans encounters in numerous southern Chinese and Southeast Asian ports where a floating population of freebooters from all over the world found frequent employment as servants, sailors and soldiers for hire. Military labor markets tend to thrive in areas where trade is expanding, particularly in regions where political fragmentation or consolidation is taking place. One reason that so many African and Japanese soldiers were available for hire during this period was the fragmentation of political power in Japan as well as West Africa in the sixteenth century. In Japan, civil wars left many soldiers without patrons and so many refugees and exiles had little choice but to sell their labor to new patrons. Many rōnin and refugees thus left Japan and served as soldiers, sailors, or pirates in other parts of Asia during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Africa, the decline and fragmentation of the empires of Mali and its successor states left many Mande soldiers without patrons. Some sold their military labor to Portuguese paymasters who employed them in Asia as well as Africa.

In the early 1600s alone an estimated 100,000 Japanese left Japan to engage in trade and about 5,000 Japanese emigrated to places such as Faifo, Turane, Ayudhya, Phnom Penh, and Luzon. Many of these appear to have served as sailors and soldiers for hire or mercenaries. Masterless samurai (rōnin) (or soldiers who had fought for foreigners in Southeast Asia) often served as the leaders of overseas Japanese communities and many Japanese mercenaries fought with, or against, African soldiers. Thus encounters between Japanese and Africans in the early modern era in Asia, particularly from about 1550 to 1650 CE, were often between African and Japanese sailors and soldiers working for a wide variety of patrons in the lands and on the seas between Japan and Africa.

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Germany’s ‘White Bread Division’, 1944

From Defeat in the West, by Milton Shulman (Secker & Warburg, 1947; Dutton, 1948; Arcadia, 2017), Kindle Loc. 4344-67:

After five years of nervous tension, bad food, and hard living conditions, the Wehrmacht found itself swamped with soldiers complaining of internal gastric trouble. Some of these were real, others were feigned. It was difficult to check.

As defeat became more and more imminent and life at the front more dangerous and more uncomfortable, the rise in the number of men reporting themselves as chronic stomach sufferers became alarming. With the staggering losses in Russia and France, it was no longer possible to discharge this huge flood of groaning manpower from military service. On the other hand their presence in a unit of healthy men was a constant source of dissatisfaction and unrest, for they required special food, constantly asked to be sent on leave, continually reported themselves to the doctor, and grumbled unceasingly about their plight. It was thus decided by the Supreme Command to concentrate all these unfortunates into special Stomach (Magen) battalions where their food could be supervised and their tasks made lighter. It was originally intended to use these troops for rear-area duties only, but as the need for additional men became increasingly critical these units were sent forward for front-line duty as well.

On Walcheren Island, following the Allied invasion, it was decided to replace the previous normal infantry division with a complete division formed from these Stomach battalions. By the beginning of August 1944, the transformation was complete. Occupying the bunkers of the polderland of Walcheren Island and pledged to carry on to the very end were stomachs with chronic ulcers, stomachs with acute ulcers, wounded stomachs, nervous stomachs, sensitive stomachs, dyspeptic stomachs, inflamed stomachs — in fact the whole gamut of gastric ailments. Here in the rich garden country of Holland, where white bread, fresh vegetables, eggs and milk abounded, these men of 70 Infantry Division, soon nicknamed the ‘White Bread Division,’ awaited the impending Allied attack with their attention nervously divided between the threat of enemy action and the reality of their own internal disorders.

The man chosen to lead this formation of convalescents through their travail was the mild-looking, elderly Lieutenant General Wilhelm Daser. His small, peaked nose, his horn-rimmed glasses and his pink, bald head effectively hid his military identity. Only a firm, loud voice accustomed to giving orders betrayed it. Like the other fortress commanders he was chosen for his final military role because he could easily be spared, not because he had any particular qualifications for the task. The tremendous wastage of senior officers incurred by the Wehrmacht in Russia and North Africa was the prime reason for Daser’s being called out of semi-retirement in February 1944, to take over a static coastal division in Holland. His last active field command had been in 1941 when he had been sent back to Germany because of heart trouble. The years between had been spent as a military administrator of civilians in occupied territory. Now, at sixty years of age, he had neither the enthusiasm, the zeal nor the ability to make of Walcheren a memorable epic of German arms — but neither had most generals of the Wehrmacht in the declining months of 1944.

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European Peace Dividends, 1713

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, by Colin Woodard (Mariner Books, 2008), Kindle Loc. 1212-1228:

WITH THE END of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, tens of thousands of sailors suddenly found themselves out of a job. The Royal Navy, bankrupted by the twelve-year-long world war, rapidly demobilized, mothballing ships and dumping nearly three-quarters of its manpower, over 36,000 men, in the first twenty-four months following the signing of the Peace of Utrecht. Privateering commissions ceased to have any value, their owners compelled to tie their warships up and turn the crews out onto the wharves of England and the Americas. With thousands of sailors begging for work in every port, merchant captains slashed wages by 50 percent; those lucky enough to find work had to survive on twenty-two to twenty-eight shillings (£1.1 to £1.4) a month.

Peace did not bring safety to those English sailors who found work in the West Indies. Spanish coast guard vessels, the guardas costas, continued to seize English vessels passing to and from Jamaica, declaring them smugglers if so much as a single Spanish coin were found aboard. They always found the “illicit” coins because they were the de facto currency of all of England’s Caribbean colonies. Thirty-eight Jamaican vessels were so seized in the first two years of peace, costing the vessel owners nearly £76,000. When the crews resisted, the guardas costas often killed a few in retribution; the rest spent months or years in Cuban prisons. “The seas,” the governor of Jamaica would later recall, had become “more dangerous than in time of war.”

As the months passed, the streets, taverns and boarding houses of Port Royal grew crowded with angry, destitute mariners. Merchants, stung by their losses, sent out fewer vessels, further reducing the number of jobs for sailors. Those sailors who had been captured—some more than once—were physically abused by the Spanish and financially pinched by their employers, who reduced their losses by not paying them for the time they were serving in prison. “Resentment and the want of employ,” one resident later recalled, “were certainly the motives to a course of life which I am of [the] opinion that most or many of them would not have taken up had they been redressed or could by any lawful mean have supported themselves.”

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European Naval Tactics, 1702

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, by Colin Woodard (Mariner Books, 2008), Kindle Loc. 739-785:

In the spring of 1702, England went to war, siding with the Dutch, Austrians, and Prussians against France and Spain. By doing so, they were setting the stage for the greatest outbreak of piracy the Atlantic would ever know….

In the early years of the conflict, the English and French navies clashed in two massive fleet engagements. These battles involved only the Royal Navy’s largest vessels, the ships of the line: enormous, lumbering, wooden fortresses bristling with three stories of heavy cannon. These ships, the first-, second-, and third-rates, were too slow and cumbersome to use in more subtle operations such as convoying merchantmen, attacking enemy shipping, or patrolling the unmarked reefs and shoals of the Caribbean. They were built for one purpose: to join a line of battle in a massive set-piece engagement….

Each of the navy’s seven first-rate ships had a crew of 800 men, who were crammed into a 200-foot-long hull with a hundred heavy cannon, and months of supplies and food stores, including live cows, sheep, pigs, goats, and poultry…. [Each] massive ship maneuvered into the line of battle, two hundred yards ahead of one ship, two hundred yards behind another. The enemy ships lined up in similar fashion and, after hours or even days of maneuvers, the two lines passed each other, discharging broadsides. The ships would sometimes pass within a few feet, blasting thirty-two-pound cannonballs into each other’s hulls. These balls punched straight through people, eviscerating or decapitating, and spraying the cramped gun decks with body parts and wooden splinters. Cannon trained on exposed decks were generally loaded with grapeshot or with a pair of cannonballs chained together, either of which could reduce a crowd of men into a splay of mangled flesh. From the rigging, sharpshooters picked off enemy officers or, if the ships came together, dropped primitive grenades on their opponent’s deck. Above and below, every surface was soon covered with blood and body parts, which oozed out of the scuppers and drains when the ship heeled in the wind. “I fancied myself in the infernal regions,” a veteran of such a battle recalled, “where every man appeared a devil.”

These early engagements took the lives of thousands of men but they were hardly conclusive. Seven English and four French ships of the line fought a six-day battle off Colombia in August 1702, for example, with neither side losing a single ship. Two years later, fifty-three English and Dutch ships of the line squared off with some fifty French vessels off Málaga, Spain, in the largest naval engagement of the war; the daylong bout of fleet-scale carnage ending in a draw.

By happenstance, the Royal Navy wiped out its French and Spanish rivals early in the war. In October 1702, an English battle fleet trapped twelve French ships of the line and most of the Spanish navy in a fjordlike inlet on Spain’s northern coast, destroying or capturing all of them. Five years later, an Anglo-Dutch force captured the French port of Toulon and so many men-of-war that the French were unable to engage in further fleet actions. Thereafter on many English ships of the line, crewmen had substantially reduced odds of dying in battle, though disease, accident, and abuse still carried off nearly half the men who enlisted.

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Death of Venice’s Stato da Mar, c. 1500

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 5454-5511:

Vasco da Gama returned from India in September 1499, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Republic dispatched an ambassador to the court of Lisbon to investigate; it was not until July 1501 that his report came in. The reality of it fell on the lagoon like a thunderclap. Terrible foreboding gripped the city. For the Venetians, who lived with a particularly intense awareness of physical geography, the implications were obvious. Priuli poured his gloomiest predictions into his diary. It was a marvel, incredible, the most momentous news of the time:

… which will take a greater intelligence than mine to comprehend. At the receipt of this news, the whole city … was dumbfounded, and the wisest thought it was the worst news ever heard. They understood that Venice had ascended to such fame and wealth only through trading by sea, by means of which a large quantity of spices were brought in, which foreigners came from everywhere to buy. From their presence and the trade [Venice] acquired great benefits. Now from this new route, the spices of India will be transported to Lisbon, where Hungarians, Germans, the Flemish, and the French will look to buy, being able to get them at a better price. Because the spices that come to Venice pass through Syria and the sultan’s lands, paying exorbitant taxes at every stage of the way, when they get to Venice the prices have increased so much that something originally worth a ducat costs a ducat seventy or even two. From these obstacles, via the sea route, it will come about that Portugal can give much lower prices.

Cutting out hundreds of small middlemen, snubbing the avaricious, unstable Mamluks, buying in bulk, shipping directly: To Venetian merchants, such advantages were self-evident.

There were countering voices; some pointed out the difficulties of the voyage:

… the king of Portugal could not continue to use the new route to Calicut, since of the thirteen caravels which he had dispatched only six had returned safely; that the losses outweighed the advantages; that few sailors would be prepared to risk their lives on such a long and dangerous voyage.

But Priuli was certain: “From this news, spices of all sorts will decrease enormously in Venice, because the usual buyers, understanding the news, will decline, being reluctant to buy.” He ended with an apology to future readers for having written at such length. “These new facts are of such importance to our city that I have been carried away with anxiety.”

In a visionary flash, Priuli foresaw, and much of Venice with him, the end of a whole system, a paradigm shift: not just Venice, but a whole network of long-distance commerce doomed to decline. All the old trade routes and their burgeoning cities that had flourished since antiquity were suddenly glimpsed as backwaters—Cairo, the Black Sea, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Smyrna, the ports of the Red Sea, and the great cities of the Levant, Constantinople itself—all these threatened to be cut out from the cycles of world trade by oceangoing galleons. The Mediterranean would be bypassed; the Adriatic would no longer be the route to anywhere; important outstations such as Cyprus and Crete would sink into decline.

The Portuguese rubbed this in. The king invited Venetian merchants to buy their spices in Lisbon; they would no longer need to treat with the fickle infidel. Some were tempted, but the Republic had too much invested in the Levant to withdraw easily; their merchants there would be soft targets for the sultan’s wrath if they bought elsewhere. Nor, from the eastern Mediterranean, was sending their own ships to India readily practical. The whole business model of the Venetian state appeared, at a stroke, obsolete.

The effects were felt almost immediately. In 1502, the Beirut galleys brought back only four bales of pepper; prices in Venice steepled; the Germans reduced their purchases; many decamped to Lisbon. In 1502, the Republic dispatched a secret embassy to Cairo to point out the dangers. It was essential to destroy the Portuguese maritime threat now. They offered financial support. They proposed digging a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. But the Mamluk dynasty, hated by its subjects, was also in decline. It proved powerless to see off the intruders. In 1500, the Mamluk chronicler Ibn Iyas recorded an extraordinary event. The balsam gardens outside Cairo, which had existed since remote antiquity, produced an oil with miraculous properties highly prized by the Venetians. Its trade symbolized the centuries-old commercial relationship between Islamic countries and the West. That year, the balsam trees withered away and vanished forever. Seventeen years later, the Ottomans strung up the last Mamluk sultan from a Cairo gate.

Tome Pires, a Portuguese adventurer, gleefully spelled out the implications for Venice. In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca on the Malay Peninsula, the market for the produce of the Spice Islands. “Whoever is lord of Malacca,” he wrote, “has his hand on the throat of Venice.” It would be a slow and uneven pressure, but the Portuguese and their successors would eventually squeeze the life out of the Venetian trade with the Orient. The fears that Priuli expressed would in time prove well-founded; and the Ottomans meanwhile would systematically strip away the Stato da Mar.

The classical allusions of de’ Barbari’s map already contain a backward-looking note; they hint at nostalgia, a remaking of the tough, energetic realities of the Stato da Mar into something ornamental. They perhaps reflected structural changes within Venetian society. The recurrent bouts of plague meant that the city’s population was never self-replenishing; it relied on immigrants, and many of those from mainland Italy came without knowledge of the seafaring life. It was already noticeable during the Chioggia crisis that the volunteer citizens had to be given rowing lessons. In 1201, at the time of the adventure of the Fourth Crusade, the majority of Venice’s male population were seafarers; by 1500, they were not. The emotional attachment to the sea, expressed in the Senza, would last until the death of the Republic, but by 1500, Venice was turning increasingly to the land; within four years, it would be engaged in a disastrous Italian war that would again bring enemies to the edge of the lagoon. There was a crisis in shipbuilding, a greater emphasis on industry. The patriotic solidarity that had been the hallmark of Venetian destiny had been seen to fray: A sizable part of the ruling elite had demonstrated that, though still keen to recoup the profits of maritime trade, they were not prepared to fight for the bases and sea-lanes on which it depended. Others, who had made fortunes in the rich fifteenth century, stopped sending their sons to sea as apprentice bowmen. Increasingly, a wealthy man might look to reinvest in estates on the terra firma, to own a country mansion with escutcheons over the door; these were respectable hallmarks of nobility to which all self-made men might aspire.

It was Priuli again, acute and regretful, who caught this impulse and pinpointed the declining glory it seemed to imply. “The Venetians,” he wrote in 1505, “are much more inclined to the Terra Firma, which has become more attractive and pleasing, than to the sea, the ancient root cause of all their glory, wealth, and honor.”

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