Above The Memory of Heroes, 2020 By Nicola Roos Historian Thomas Lockley, a rising authority on the subject of Yasuke and his legacy of cross-cultural exchange, which went hand-in-hand with the Evangelisation of the feudal Far East, states “Japan is now claiming Yasuke to be one of its own, as there is a growing appreciation of Japan’s multicultural heritage” (Hollingworth, 2019). The root of this legacy of multiculturalism can be traced back to West Africa. According to Vamporis (2019), Yasuke, who arrived in Japan as a servant or slave of Alessandro Valigano and his company of Jesuits in early 1579, was likely descendent from Mozambique or Angola. Despite valid concerns raised against multiculturalism from a feminist perspective (Herr, 2004), which focuses on the privilege that it grants to minority cultural groups and the consequent perpetuation of strongly patriarchal cultures, the wave of cross-cultural pollination that followed in the wake of colonial expansion in sixteenth-century Africa arguably give rise to a greater recognition of women on both the military and political fronts. Ponzanesi (2007) suggests that the integral tensions between the two defining discourses of feminism – i.e. the universalisation of “common ground” and the “recognition of difference between women” – serves only to strengthen the paradoxical connections between feminist concerns and multiculturalism. According to this theory, the relation between feminism and multiculturalism births a “genealogy of its own”. Furthermore, the Meiji Restoration in 1868 hailed the introduction of a new era of modernisation and Westernization in Japan, which saw the Samurai class fall from political power and the legacy of female Samurai warriors, the onna-bugeisha, fade from the historical record. The Westernisation of the Far East inadvertently brought about a re-writing of Japanese combat history from a distinctly patriarchal, Western perspective. This downplayed the honorific individualism of the onna-bugeisha in favour of a mytho-historical, broadly stereotypical representation of the military and political conquests of male Samurai. Indeed, according to Turnbull (2012), “the exploits of female warriors [is] the greatest untold story in Samurai history”. Similarly, in the wake of a vast and ongoing exploration into the legacy of multiculturalism in Africa that was initiated by Yasuke, particularly as it is manifested on the socio-political margins, this work aims to investigate and illustrate the feminist undercurrents that fuelled this often deeply stereotypical image of Yasuke and all his heroic machismo. Herr (2004) suggests that in order to significantly exercise “agency”, we are obliged to “tap into our own culture”. In accordance with the theory that the ancestral homeland of Yasuke might have been Angola, this work turns the lens onto the re-discovering of a sense of female autonomy that the legacy of Yasuke sparked in Angola over the course of the following fifty years after his time in the service of Oda Nobunaga in Japan had ended. Trotter (2013) explains the obscurity surrounding the fate of Yasuke after Nobunaga’s overthrow in a military coup and death by ritual suicide: it is uncertain what became of Yasuke after he re-joined Valignano and his Jesuits. It has been suggested that he earned his independence from the missionaries and journeyed back to Africa. This could be likely, considering the significant Jesuit activity that was taking root particularly in Angola and deeper into West Africa at this point in history (Ngetich, 2016). Taking the liberty of assuming that this somewhat romanticised heroic return home came to pass, this work re-imagines Africa’s position between what Martinho (1979) describes as “the alienated present and the redeemed future” in the form of the seventeenth-century Angolan soldier-queen, Nzinga Mbandi. At the close of the poem O içar da bandeira (The Hoisting of the Flag), Agostinho Neto writes that “everyone tried to raise high / above the memory of heroes / Ngola Kiluanji / Queen Ginga / everyone tried to raise high / the flag of independence.” The colonial-facist era from which O içar da bandeira originates also saw the development of a nationalist aesthetic in Angola. Emancipation dogma emerged in line with what Mata & Hartnack (2007) describe as “a rhetoric seeking to share imagined social and historical memories and to collectivise anguishes and aspirations”. The roots of this particular discourse can be traced back to Angola under Mbandi family rule in the late sixteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries. According to Burness (1979), the “Ngola Kiluanji” that Neto (1945) refers to, was a fêted sixteenth-century military and political icon who led numerous successful revolutionary campaigns that resisted Portuguese colonial expansion in Angola. After the death of Ngola Kiluanji, his son and heir Ngola Mbandi inherited the throne, but his reign was short-lived. Burness (1979) speaks of Mbandi’s “mysterious death” that led to his sister, Nzinga Mbandi, known colloquially as Rainha/Queen Ginga (born 1583), being crowned “Queen of Kimbundu”. Although the circumstances surrounding her ascension to power are dubious, there is no doubt that Queen Ginga became a pioneer for the liberation of her homeland and sustained the fight against colonial occupation until her death at the age of 81 in 1663. The erasures of histories that followed in the wake of Catholic European expansion in Africa and the characteristic, inherent conflicts of colonial as well as postcolonial Angola gave rise to the need to construct “culturalized places”, detached from geography and nature. Mata & Hartnack (1979) further argue that within such places, “values and attributes that were (re)invented socio-culturally and (re)elaborated intellectually, [….] sang of the motherland.” Thus it is within such an imagined community, such a culturalized place independent of geographical bounds, that this work exists – a space in which Yasuke’s legacy of emancipation and nationalist heroism becomes a cornerstone in the empire-building and feminist conquests of Nzinga Mbandi in the African motherland. Queen Ginga continues to exist above the memory of heroes, such the stereotypically masculine explorations of Yasuke which are exemplified by my No Man’s Land series (2015-2020). She becomes the Samurai, a subjective consciousness that perpetuates “historical-cultural and socio-economic undertakings” (Mata & Hartnack, 1979) at the root of restructuring our postcolonial views of our collective African ancestries. 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