Before the Columbus

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Far before Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, a Ming-era Chinese naval commander had led a fleet of full-fledged armada, stretching from Southeast Asia, India, Middle-East, and further into the long-stretching coasts of Africa, and unexpectedly, created a whole new Afro-Chinese tribe in an isolated island in Kenya. This was the story of Zheng He.

Released in June 1999, this long-form article was written by one of the world’s best journalists: the New York Times’ award-winning Nicholas D. Kristof.  Read the full story here.

 

Excerpt:

 

Pate is off in its own world, without electricity or roads or vehicles. Mostly jungle, it has been shielded from the 20th century largely because it is accessible from the Kenyan mainland only by taking a boat through a narrow tidal channel that is passable only at high tide. Initially I was disappointed by what I found there. In the first villages I visited, I saw people who were light-skinned and had hair that was not tightly curled, but they could have been part Arab or European rather than part Chinese. The remote villages of Chundwa and Faza were more promising, for there I found people whose eyes, hair and complexion hinted at Asian ancestry, though their background was ambiguous.

And then on a still and sweltering afternoon I strolled through the coconut palms into the village of Siyu, where I met a fisherman in his 40’s named Abdullah Mohammed Badui. I stopped and stared at the man in astonishment, for he had light skin and narrow eyes. Fortunately, he was as rude as I was, and we stared at each other in mutual surprise before venturing a word. Eventually I asked him about his background and appearance.

”I am in the Famao clan,” he said. ”There are 50 or 100 of us Famao left here. Legend has it that we are descended from Chinese and others.

”A Chinese ship was coming along and it hit rocks and wrecked,” Badui continued. ”The sailors swam ashore to the village that we now call Shanga, and they married the local women, and that is why we Famao look so different.”

Katanga’s forgotten children

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In the 1970s, Japanese companies, in a quest to secure natural resources in Democratic Republic of the Congo, then-named Zaire, invested heavily in the province of Katanga (as seen from the map above). With all the investment flowing in, so was the influx of over 1,000 Japanese workers.

Virtually, all of these employees left their spouses and children behind back in their home country, often for years. Nevertheless, this was also, at a heavy cost, what triggered them to do something beyond their families’ knowledge: many of them ended up impregnating local women, and unexpectedly fathered the so-called ‘Katanga Afro-Japanese’ children. To ‘clean up’ their sins, often, in collaboration with several Japanese physicians brought in as well, they, unbeknownst of the women’s families, poisoned bulk of the babies to death. Every ‘unusual’ baby brought in by their mothers to these Japanese-run clinics would most likely end up passing out. Realizing such abnormality, some of the families decided to keep the babies themselves.

And now they label themselves as ‘Survivors’, having escaped the infanticides. They are seeking truth from both Congolese and Japanese governments, and to this day, their fate remains deeply unknown.

This video, released in March 2010, provides more insight about those Katanga ‘survivors’. Watch it on France 24.