Category Archives: labor

Slavery in Mauritius and Seychelles

From “Slavery and Indenture in Mauritius and Seychelles” by Burton Benedict, in Asian and African Systems of Slavery, ed. by James L. Watson (U. Calif. Press, 1980), pp. 136-137:

Mauritius is a volcanic island of some 720 square miles located about 500 miles east of Madagascar and 20 degrees south of the equator. Seychelles is an archipelago of more than 90 islands with a total area of 107 square miles about 1000 miles east of Mombassa and 4 degrees north of the equator. Mauritius includes the dependency of Rodrigues and a few outlying islands. Seychelles comprises two sorts of islands: a compact granitic group with a continental base and a widely scattered coralline group consisting of atolls, reefs and sand cays. The granitic group has 80 per cent of the land area and 99 per cent of the population. The largest island, Mahe, is 56 square miles in area and has 86 per cent of the population. Neither Mauritius nor Seychelles had any indigenous inhabitants when they were first discovered by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. They were not effectively colonised until the French took possession in the eighteenth century. Britain seized the islands in 1810 and they became British colonies in 1814. Today Mauritius has a population of 900,000, of which about two thirds is of Indian descent comprising both Hindus and Muslims from five linguistic stocks. Another 28 per cent is known as Creole and is of mixed African and European ancestry. About 3 per cent is Chinese and a further 2 per cent is European, mostly of French ancestry. Virtually all of the 62,000 inhabitants of Seychelles are Creoles, though there are a few Indian and Chinese merchants and a small number of Europeans, again mostly of French descent. The economy of Mauritius is based almost entirely on the production of cane sugar while that of Seychelles rests precariously on copra and tourism. Both Mauritius and Seychelles have recently become independent nations within the Commonwealth: the former in 1968 and the latter in 1976.

From their inception Mauritius and Seychelles were slave societies. The first colonisers of Mauritius were the Dutch who landed in 1598. They made two attempts to settle the island bringing in slaves from Madagascar to cut down the forests of ebony. They also introduced sugar cane, cotton, tobacco, cattle and deer, but they never imported a labour force sufficient to establish plantations. In over a century of sporadic occupation it is doubtful if there were ever more than about 300 settlers. The Dutch finally abandoned Mauritius in 1710. Five years later the French claimed the island. In 1722 the French East India Company brought colonists from the neighbouring island of Bourbon (now Reunion) which the French had occupied since 1674. Settlers were given tracts of land and slaves, and the plantation economy became well established by 1735. The emphasis was on cash crops beginning with coffee and followed by sugar cane, cotton, indigo, cloves and other spices. Sugar cane best resisted the terrible cyclones which periodically strike Mauritius and became the principal crop by the early nineteenth century.

The islands of Seychelles were colonised from Mauritius in the mid-eighteenth century. They remained dependencies of Mauritius until 1903 when they were constituted a separate colony. A similar system of land grants and slaves was provided to early settlers when cotton and spices and some food crops were grown.

The economy of the islands rested on slave labour. By 1735 slaves constituted 77 per cent of the population, and the percentage remained between 75 and 85 until emancipation in 1835 (Barnwell and Toussaint 1949:225).

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The Middle-class RAF, 1940

From Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin, 2017), Kindle Loc. 2053-64:

Moreover, it was not the gentlemanly army, nor the powerful navy, but the Royal Air Force that played the most significant role in 1940. The air force was a distinctly middle-class organization, carrying with it a whiff of gasoline and engine lubricants.

Both Orwell and Churchill noticed and commented on the middle-class nature of the RAF. Orwell observed that it was “hardly at all . . . within the ruling-class orbit.”

Indeed, one historian has noted that there were jibes at the time that its members were “motor mechanics in uniforms,” not unlike the nameless men who chauffeured the rich. Evelyn Waugh, always alert to class differences, has a character in one of his novels set during World War II bemoan the fact that a senior Royal Air Force officer has been allowed to join an elite dining club. This gaffe occurred, the character explains, because it came during the Battle of Britain, “when the Air Force was for a moment almost respectable. . . . My dear fellow, it’s a nightmare for everyone.” Aspects of the class system did manage to persist in the RAF. Members of some “auxiliary” units formed by the wealthy and titled of London amused themselves, recalled one pilot, Hugh Dundas, by referring to the regular RAF as “the coloured troops.” Class differences also reached into the cockpit—RAF officers generally enjoyed the helpful privilege of flying the same aircraft every day, while sergeant pilots were assigned whatever machine was available.

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Waking the Bureaucracy, 1940

From Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1668-82:

Even as he was rallying the nation and trying to bolster the French, Churchill also was working full time on another major task: waking the soporific British bureaucracy. His work in this area, while if anything underappreciated, arguably helped the war effort as much as his oratory did. One of the biggest problems facing the British internally when he took office was the lethargy of the government during the first nine months of the war. “Chamberlain [had] presided efficiently over the Cabinet,” recalled Sir Ian Jacob. “Business was managed in an orderly fashion; but nothing much happened.” One surprising sign of this official indolence is that Britain should have been revving up its industries as it mobilized for a large war, yet unemployment increased from 1.2 million in September 1939 to 1.5 million in February 1940.

Churchill, upon becoming prime minister, reacted to the “sedate, sincere, but routine” attitude of the Chamberlain government by firing a daily barrage of personal memos that shook both military leaders and senior civilians. The memos often were tagged with a bright red label demanding “Action This Day,” a device Churchill first used at the height of the Dunkirk crisis, on May 29, 1940. His notes, wrote one aide, were “like the beam of a searchlight ceaselessly swinging round and penetrating into the remote recesses of the administration—so that everyone, however humble his rank or his function, felt that one day the beam might rest on him and light up what he was doing. In Whitehall the effect of this influence was immediate and dramatic. . . . A new sense of purpose and urgency was created as it came to be realized that a firm hand, guided by a strong will, was on the wheel.” As another wartime aide remembered it, “All round Whitehall people sat up and took notice.” They began working on nights and weekends—just as Churchill did.

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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, 2

The following is part 2 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.

Many Spaniards and Portuguese in Asia came to regard the Japanese – particularly members of the samurai class – as a “warlike race” from which soldiers could be recruited for new conquests. Spain’s occupation of Portugal and the uniting of the two kingdoms in 1582 “unleashed the imperialist and messianic imagination of the king’s subjects, among them some of the Portuguese clergy.” In 1584 a Portuguese Jesuit in Macao assured King Philip II of Spain that the Japanese were a warlike race and thus that only three thousand Japanese Christian soldiers would be enough to conquer. In 1586 officials in Manila signed a petition encouraging the invasion of China and suggested that 6,000 Japanese and an equal number of Filipinos should be recruited to join the invasion force. The proposed “Spanish” force of 12,000 soldiers would have included many black slaves and freemen as well since they often fought for the Spanish. By the time the petition reached Madrid in January 1588, however, Spain’s attention and resources were focused on sending the Great Armada against England and so the plan to conquer China with Japanese, Filipino and African mercenaries did not receive support.

Manila’s need for military and other labor led to a rapid increase in the numbers of Japanese and African resident in Manila. During the sixteenth century, Spaniards in Manila imported large numbers of African slaves from Arab and Chinese traders. “The country is flooded with black slaves,” one observer noted at the end of the sixteenth century. In 1603, three hundred Japanese, fifteen hundred Tagalogs, and an unknown number of African slaves or freemen joined Manila’s Spaniards in attacking Chinese residents of the city. There were massacres of Chinese in Manila by Spaniards and their Asian and African soldiers in 1639, and 1662 as well. By this time many of the Africans in Manila had become freemen. In 1638 “the number of free blacks serving in Manila as soldiers, laborers and sailors was estimated at around five hundred.” “The diversity of the peoples who are seen in Manila and its environs,” reported a friar in 1662, “is the greatest in the world, for these include men from all kingdoms and nations – Spain, France, England, Italy, Flanders, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Muscovy; people from all the Indies, both east and west; and Turks, Greeks, Persians, Tatars, Chinese, Japanese, Africans and other Asians.”

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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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