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Premium Content: Yasuke

The following, like the recent Salmesbury Witches Tale, is a script for a Patreon bonus episode. Both these episodes are free to all – though most Patreon scripts will be subscriber only at a cost of US $10 a year.
Patreon followers get both the script and a podcast episode for US $2 a month. Either way your contribution helps to keep original – non content-farmed content alive – as your contribution goes towards the books I need to research ’Tales’.

If you’re keen to help my project grow, but can’t spare the change I ask that you share my work with just one other person. Word of mouth helps creative endeavours spread better than pretty much any other way. Thanks – Simone

The Reverend Alessandro Valignano was a commanding presence in most any room he ever walked into – while I’m not one to buy into ‘great man’ theories of history, this guy was impressive. He obtained a doctorate in law aged 19, and after some unspecified trouble with the law for which he was jailed for a year, he pivoted to theology. By his mid 30s the Napolitano priest was sent out to supervise the conversion of non- Christian souls from Goa in India, to Japan. One reason he was allegedly so much larger than life, was he was literally larger than life. Valignano towered above anyone around him. Well, most people of his time anyway. So imagine this scene in 1581. Alessandro Valignano is in Kyoto, Japan – making his way through a busy street to their lodgings. The locals, not terribly used to seeing foreigners of any kind, crane their necks up in awe of the missionary. ….

While their eye might first be drawn to the Jesuit missionary, it’s the presence of his valet – well technically his bodyguard – who transfixes them. Bigger again. Powerfully built. His skin ‘as dark as charcoal’. The young man caught the imagination of onlookers, and scuttlebutt quickly spread throughout Kyoto of this living wonder. Soon locals clamoured to their lodgings to catch a glimpse of the man. Some even attempted to break down the front door. 

The impressively built, dark skinned man was a former African slave, who was believed to have been transported to India. Over there he secured his freedom, and found work as hired muscle for the Jesuits. Ethnically he was possibly from the Makua people of Mozambique, or the Habshi of Ethiopia. He may have belonged to the Dinka tribe of South Sudan – though if so he was enslaved young – He bore none of the facial tattoos the Dinka get at puberty. He was possibly named Yasufe, or Yisake – an Ethiopian variant of Isaac. We know him today as Yasuke. Word of the clamour soon reached the warlord – or Daimyo to use his proper title – Oda Nobunaga. Fascinated, he sent for the young man. Oda found him no less interesting in person. He enjoyed the man’s company. He was also quite the find – skilled with weapons and remarkably strong; people in Oda’s court commented he had the strength of ten men. The two men quickly became friends. By May 1581, Oda had taken Yasuke onboard his crew as a bodyguard. By 1582, Yasuke had become a Samurai. 

While this may sound like a rags to riches story – and to a degree it was – Yasuke’s new role came with high levels of risk to match the pay rise and room at court. 

From 1336 to 1573 Japan was ruled by the Ashikaga Shogunate. Their rule very much like a military dictatorship, the Shogun enforced absolute authority – with a Junta of 260 Generals, his Daimyo – providing the muscle. In the late 1460s a succession dispute broke out between two factions of the Ashikaga clan, which escalated into a civil war which ran for well over a century. Long suppressed grievances over land rights
eventually led to a massive realignment of society after 1600.

(Sidebar: much of the land in Japan had been handed out to the Shogun’s favourites back in the 800s – many of whom were Kyoto based Daimyo; who happily took rents, but were uncaring absentee landlords in return.)

Yasuke arrived in the midst of the Sengoku Period or ‘age of warring states’. The old Shogunate was gone. Decreasing numbers of Daimyo were at war with one another. At the same time, a new class – often headed by the former estate managers of deposed Daimyo – were on their way to becoming the new Daimyo. The country was in the midst of an all on all battle royale.

Oda himself may have been considered similarly new to the game. Coming from a relatively small land-owning family, he’d built an army of 30,000 men, and expanded his own holdings considerably. While still in his 30s he’d deposed the Shogun and several other Daimyo. He had also put down several Buddhist monasteries, who wielded great power themselves through religious influence and powerful armies of their own. Oda was the odds on favourite for the next Shogun. In an age where many sides were adopting muskets, then later field artillery in place of the traditional samurai sword, people started building western-influenced forts. Oda Nobunaga’s home at Adzuchi Castle was the biggest fort in the country at the time. In a time when tactics were modernising, he also just got it. 

We don’t know much specific about Yasuke’s time with the Daimyo. He took part in the battle of Tenmokuzan in 1582. Oda’s forces, in tandem Tokugawa Ieyasu’s army, faced off against Takeda Katsuyori’s army. When it was clear from the outset Takeda was outclassed, so he set fire to his own castle and fled into the mountains. Takeda had a mountain fortress he hoped to hide out in but an upstart officer refused to open the doors for him. With Oda and Tokugawa’s forces closing in, Takeda committed ritual seppuku – running himself through with his own sword. His army were slaughtered to the last man. Our African samurai played some unspecified role in this decisive battle. 

He was also present 21st June 1582 at the Honno-Ji incident. Once Takeda was removed, Oda planned a grand campaign to centralise all power under himself. The only clans holding out against him were the already weakened Mori, the Uesugi and Hojo clans. Barring acts of God or treachery, Oda would be the next Shogun. While Oda and Tokugawa took in their new gains following Tenmokuzan, he received a message from a general named Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Toyotomi had been sent out to finish the Mori, but the Mori were proving difficult. Toyotomi had besieged them at Takamatsu Castle by diverting a river, then surrounding the castle with floating siege engines from which they rained down arrows day and night – but the Mori hung in there. A reinforcement army six times the size of Toyotomi’s force was also on the move, with orders to crush them when they got there. Oda left for Honno-Ji temple, to plan his campaign. In the meantime he sent another general,  Akechi Mitsuhide, to rescue Toyotomi. 

Instead, Akechi sought the advice of several poets, asking them if he should double cross his master? Though his reasons for the double cross remain a mystery, the most likely reason was that he blamed the death of his mother on Oda. (She was a hostage of another Daimyo when Oda ordered an invasion. She was subsequently executed). Whatever the case he surprised Oda and his 30 bodyguards at Honno-Ji Temple, forcing him to commit seppuku. Akechi outnumbered him 13,000 to 30 so this was only ever going to end one way. Yasuke escaped, decapitating his old boss on the way out. Had Akechi gotten hold of Oda’s head, he could have used it to claim authority throughout Oda’s realm. 

Yasuke joined up with Oda’s eldest son Oda Nobutada at Nijo castle. They were soon besieged, and Akechi got the better of the younger Oda too. Nobutada also fell on his sword. While most of his fellow defenders were executed, Yasuke was spared. It’s believed Akechi saw him as little more than a trained animal. He was stripped of his weapons and armour, and sent back to the Jesuits. 

As the war dragged on, Toyotomi Hideyoshi made it through the siege of Takamatsu Castle. He sought revenge on Akechi Mitsuhide, easily defeating him. Akechi Mitsuhide fled, and met his end, not at the end of his own sword. Having blundered into a group of bandits – the highwaymen robbed and murdered him. Toyotomi Hideyoshi went on to become ‘the great unifier’, but Tokugawa Ieyasu became last man standing. On the murder of Oda, Tokugawa escaped with help from the legendary Hattori Hanzō and his Ninja warriors, Tokugawa returned home to Edo – modern day Tokyo. He allied himself with the great unifier, and fought alongside him. He became Shogun on Toyotomi’s death in 1598, and in 1600 established the Tokugawa Shogunate – ushering in the peaceful, largely isolationist Edo period, which lasted till 1868. 

But what of Yasuke? In short we know nothing of his life beyond this. There is speculation he may have been injured in the siege of Nijō castle, and died on being returned to the Jesuits, but this is mere speculation. I could just as reliably (though logically far less likely) claim he climbed aboard an ox, as the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu was said to have hundreds of years earlier – then simply rode off into the sunset, looking for his next big adventure. The truth is he just disappeared from the annals of history. If he lived on a while, settled down and got married, or went on to protect a new missionary we have absolutely no clue. By this western music playing under (the podcast episode), you know I’d prefer that he rode off into the sunset. 

Premium Content: The Salmesbury Witches

Hey all I’m taking the paywall off the next two Premium Tales. The podcast episode can be found on my Patreon.
Normally you can access the bonus scripts here for $1.00 a month, the podcast episodes for $2.00 (USD)


Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley and Ellen Bierley stood in the dock, shackled and bound. The setting, the Lancaster Assizes, August 18th 1612 – where the Demdikes and Chattoxes were tried for witchcraft. Accused of wielding magic with malicious intent, the ladies are accused of murdering then eating a baby. Their accuser, a fourteen year old relative of the Bierleys named Grace Sowerbutts. Eating a baby was one thing, but ‘The Salmesbury Witches’ had the temerity to magically bully young Grace – and that was more than she could take. 

For years Jennet, Aunt Ellen and their pal Jane made Grace’s life a living hell. They transformed into dogs to frighten her. Whenever feeling at ease, they psycho-kinetically seized her by her hair, levitated her above a hay bale – then unceremoniously dumped her atop the bundle. Some times they would fly her over a barn and threaten to leave her on the roof. One time the ladies hypnotised her into trying to drown herself. Grace was terrified, sooner or later, they would murder her.

Furthermore, there was that murder and cannibalism charge. Once, Grace claimed – the Salmesbury Witches took her to the house of a Thomas Walshman, his wife and their baby. The ladies snuck into the house and kidnapped the baby. Once free and clear, they sucked the baby’s blood. The young child was then returned. The witches departed. This was bad enough, but – the court heard the child passed on the following night. Days later Jennet and Ellen returned – removing the body from its grave. They then cooked and ate part of the body – the remainder being turned into a magical ointment used to shape shift. 

Thomas Walshman took the stand, confirming he did indeed have a young child, recently passed. 

Grace Sowerbutts, delivered her evidence – and was a shockingly effective witness. Even on an action-packed day full of outlandish tales of murder, a tale of brazen pedicide and cannibalism particularly chilled the gallery. As it turned out, the extremity of the crime actually saved the ladies. The people in the public gallery were so horrified, they demanded young Grace be recalled. They needed to hear every last detail of the heinous crime. 

And when young Grace was recalled – she completely fell apart on cross examination.

Why falsely accuse family of witchcraft and murder? One word, revenge. 

Lancaster County may have been thin on the ground of actual, bona fide witches, but there was no shortage of recusants in the area. England first turned Protestant in 1534 after King Henry VIII railroaded the Act of Supremacy into law. Increasingly frustrated with his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (the couple failed to make an heir together – something the King put down to God punishing him for marrying Catherine – who was originally betrothed to his deceased older brother Arthur) Henry tried to get a divorce, so he could marry Anne Boleyn – one of Catherine’s ladies in waiting. When the Pope refused to allow the divorce, the nation became Protestant overnight. Henry’s daughter Mary I reverted England back to Catholicism during her reign (1553- 58). Her persecution of Protestants earned her the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’. Elizabeth I reverted the kingdom back to Protestantism with the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity in 1559. 

The current King, James I, was Protestant. After a cabal of Catholic plotters attempted to blow him up in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, James rushed his own legislation through – The Popish Recusants Act of 1605. Catholics were barred from public office, were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch, and risked the loss of up to a third of their land if they didn’t attend a Church of England sacrament at least once a year. In 1612 orders were sent out to all the justices of the peace in Lancashire to make lists of recusants in the area. 

As such, many Catholics kept their religious affiliations secret. These recusants covertly attended underground churches, run by secretive priests. Jane Southworth’s uncle Christopher Thompson was one such priest. 

Christopher and Jane Southworth belonged to an aristocratic recusant family in the region – the family Patriarch Sir John Southworth of Salmesbury Hall. Sir John was openly Catholic, and refused to denounce his faith. This led to multiple arrests and fines. The family were almost completely openly, or covertly Catholic – this included Christopher – a Jesuit preacher who assumed the surname Thompson and went off the grid in to avoid the authorities. Sir John’s son, the recently deceased John Jr was married to Jane. The couple made quite a scene when they walked away from Catholicism, and began attending Anglican masses. Infuriated, Sir John disinherited John jr. 

As Grace was questioned in detail by a couple of justices of the peace, it became clear the charges, originally aimed at eight women – five of whom weren’t tried for lack of evidence – had come by way of Christopher. The defections of John jr and Jane led to further defections from Christopher Thompson’s church. To get revenge, and likely to discredit the apostates before he lost all his flock, Thompson groomed Grace in her outrageous lie.

Judge Sir Edward Bromley dismissed the case, finding Jane Southworth, Jennet and Ellen Bierley not guilty. His closing remarks “ God hath delivered you beyond expectation, I pray God you may use this mercy and favour well; and take heed you fall not hereafter: And so the court doth order that you shall be delivered“

The Enfundu

Hey all, as I’ve got a podcast episode for the perennial ’Willie The Wimp (and his Cadillac Coffin) dropping this week, I’d intended to write a new post to go out alongside it.
Truth is I’m a little burnt out. I’m also a little behind on schedule for the Patreon episode (recorded, both music and narration – just in need of a couple of hours editing)
The Podcast episode of this script will go up on the Patreon channel late today, possibly tomorrow.
Sorry, slightly less than exclusive content this week – you’ll still have to join up to get the accompanying podcast episode. – Simone

Our tale this week begins, like a lot of tales honestly could – with Britons abroad, behaving badly. I can’t get to our villain without mentioning the mechanisms which enabled his rise to power. 

In 1888 The Imperial British East Africa Company were the latest private British corporation established to exploit foreign land, labour and assets. Fronted by Sir William Mackinnon – a wealthy Scottish ship owner, the IBEACO were sent off with Queen Victoria’s blessing to seize whatever they could in the region. The ‘scramble for Africa’ – no, the ‘Rape of Africa’ seems far more apt – was underway, and the capitalists of Britain were keen to exploit this opportunity. 

The British empire proper, in this case were happy to sub-contract. They had recently entered into an agreement with Germany that the Germans could have the land now Tanzania, if Britain could get her hooks into what is now Uganda and Kenya. The crown was tied up in South Africa at the time, but didn’t want to let the opportunity pass. So it was the IBEACO were sent in to take control of 639,000 square kilometres of sovereign land – to govern, tax and exploit it independently. While there, they were tasked with building a railway line through the country. 

They arrived to find a sizeable portion of the land, the Kingdom of Buganda, engaged in a four- way civil war – split along religious lines. King Mwanga II was increasingly worried about the spread of Christianity throughout his nation. In 1885, in an effort to eject these ideas from his country, he had an Anglican bishop named James Hannington murdered, followed by a number of Christians at his court. This led to the war. The IBEACO backed a combined Christian and Muslim side – leading to victory for the coalition. Mwanga got to keep his crown, but was now under the thumb of the British – and forced to convert to Christianity.

Mwanga would, rightly, state “The English have come; they have built a fort; they eat my land; they have made me sign a treaty; they curtail my powers; and I get nothing from them in return.”

He would also try his luck again, in 1897- only to be defeated by Britain proper (they took the reins from the IBEACO in 1893). More could be said of Mwanga, not least of all that one of his objections to Christianity was he was a gay or bisexual man who objected to being told gay love was sinful. He died in exile in The Seychelles in 1903. 

This is something of a trend, when it came to British rule in Uganda. Take advantage of warring factions by backing the bigger, meaner guys. Grant those people all kinds of privileges, and let them do the grunt work wherever possible. The British preferred certain tribes, such as the Acholi, who were excellent warriors – over the likes of the Baganda – who they feared may lead another uprising if trained by them. Certain men, such as the physically imposing son of a Kawka tribesman, and well regarded Lugbara ‘witch doctor’ – were a shoe in for a role of enforcer.

Idi Amin was born anywhere between 1923 and 1928 – with 1925 the most quoted year of birth. He was born to a Kawka tribesman who abandoned the family when Idi was young. His mother, Assa Aate, was a traditional healer who had served tribal royalty. Idi completed four years of schooling, then took up whatever casual labour he could find, before a British officer saw the potential in the 6.4” tall, solidly built young man. He was recruited for the Kings African Rifles in 1946. He fought for the British empire against several secessionist groups in Kenya in the 1950s, including the Mau Mau rebellion – and was promoted to lieutenant- the highest rank ever given to an Ugandan serviceman to that point (and one of only two in the army). 

In 1961, he was transferred home, and tasked to deal with gangs of cattle rustlers. His brutal takedown of the rustlers singled Idi Amin out as a possible future leader, and laid out – in retrospect- just what a despotic thug he would be. 

As Idi Amin rose to prominence among his own people, the British were preparing the Ugandans for independent rule. Their governor at the time, Sir Andrew Cohen, lifted a raft of taxes, tariffs and restrictions; encouraged Ugandan farmers to form collectives to maximise bargaining power, and set up development funds – all with a view to leaving them in a good position to run their own affairs when Britain left. Plans were made to hold elections in 1961, then to hand the reins back to the people. 

The man who became Prime Minister, Milton Obote, was troublesome – and would use a 1969 assassination attempt to declare himself dictator outright – but this is not his story so we’ll skip his tale. What’s pertinent to our story is he was another divisive figure, and he favoured young Idi. In 1965 Obote and Idi Amin were implicated in a plot to smuggle ivory and gold into Uganda from the Democratic republic of Congo. Obote disestablished the largely symbolic but possibly dangerous post of President, and – to shore up support – promoted Amin to Army Commander.

Idi Amin began stacking the army with South Sudanese troops – another outsourcer- though clearly those men carried no tribal affiliations with the other power brokers. In 1970, Obote grew suspicious of Amin and demoted him, so Idi led a rebellion – and took over the country himself, January 25th 1971. 

Now, I could wax lyrical on our villain, detailing monstrosities and absurdities – his ‘state research bureau, the private army he used to enforce his rule. The countless tortures and executions – some estimates run to half a million victims of his reign. The massacre of Lango and Acholi soldiers in their barracks at Mbarara, in July 1971. The intelligentsia just ‘disappeared’, dissenters were silenced. 50,000 Asian citizens were given a day to leave everything behind or face death in August 1972. A business owning class, their removal tanked the Ugandan economy. As His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hajj Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea; and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular began to ramp up in the mid 1970s many of his own trusted men defected to the United Kingdom. 

There was the political re-orientation towards other authoritarian regimes, like Gaddafi’s Libya, and the USSR. There was the falling out with Israel and plans for war with the Israelis. He let a hijacked aircraft land in his nation. Yoni Netanyahu- brother of Israeli president (at the time of this episode) Benjamin Netanyahu led the rescue mission – and was killed in action. 

There was his underground prison torture chamber, surrounded by an electrified moat. It was packed so tightly that many of the deaths there were due to suffocation. Many more suicides from those who could take it no more, who decided the moat was a better fate. A reputed cannibal, who kept body parts in his freezers, he was apt to fly into rages and kill his own aides. Some times this went beyond farce – Frank Kalimazo, a former employee caught the premature announcement of his own murder on the radio, while attending his own daughter’s wedding. Not unlike Henry VIII, he had six wives – and when inconvenienced killed one of them. His fourth wife’s body was dismembered, then dropped off at a hospital. 

But enough of this monster, our hero is The Enfundu. 

In 1978 a buzz was going round the villages. The Enfundu came in from the jungle, into Jinja near Kampala – and demanded to speak with the Governor and police commissioner. He shared his deep political insights with the two and departed. Word spread about this meeting – something the two bureaucrats denied – and soon thousands of people claimed they too had been approached by the Enfundu. The Enfundu’s message? The short version, Idi Amin’s cruel reign of terror was nearly up. Opposition was rising, and people would soon take up arms and depose the despot. 

Victor Hugo once stated ‘Nothing of more powerful than an idea whose time has come’. Sometimes, as in the case of King Mwanga and Christianity it can be an awful idea – only leading to persecution for members of your own society. In other cases it can lead a people to a brighter tomorrow. 

Unsurprisingly, Idi Amin launched an expensive press campaign against The Enfundu – stating tales of Enfundu’s were patently ridiculous. He threatened to put anyone caught telling the Tale in front of a firing squad. He took the situation seriously enough, however that he sent out a death squad to find and kill the dissident. At one point he sent out a press release the Enfundu was caught, and awaiting sentencing in a Kampala jail. 

At this point, if The Enfundu were help captive it no longer mattered. No more than the murder of Bishop James Hannington. Ideas are harder to kill than Enfundus. Amin knew this, and became increasingly paranoid. He changed his security regularly. Large sections of his army revolted in November 1978, leading to a civil war, which spilled out into Tanzania. Amin ordered troops into Tanzania after the rebels – leading to a war with the Tanzanians. He was crushed, and had to flee the country. Like Mwanga tried decades earlier, Amin would make an unsuccessful attempt to re-take Uganda, in 1989. He spent most of the rest of his life in exile in Saudi Arabia. 

But who was the Enfundu, you may ask? In the native tongue of the people of Kampala it means tortoise. An eminently wise, talking tortoise was, according to thousands of people – wandering the nation fomenting revolution. This was not the first talking animal to criticise the government. Milton Obote would have a lizard who just hated him. The tortoise wouldn’t be the last – Yoweri Museveni – the current president, has a talking cat who sings his praises to all in sundry. Sadly, Uganda had a homophobic goat in the 1980s, who travelled the nation preaching that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality- we all know what King Mwanga II would have done to that goat in his time – and that asshole goat would have had it coming. 

In a world of QAnon’s, filled with all kinds of dangerous nonsense and misinformation – the tale of The Enfundu may not seem as surprising, or unlikely anymore. To my thinking the talking tortoise is no less unlikely than William Tell refusing to bow to Gessler’s hat, or John Frum appearing to the Ni Vanuatu to give them the courage to stop listening to their colonisers – to give up Western ways, and start marching the airstrips to summon cargo from heaven. Perhaps more outlandish, sure but, end of the day it’s the idea which matters. Whichever avatar that idea adopts, it may not be the best representation – but it’s always the one the people need.