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MISSIONARIES FROM MACAU TO THE WORLD – Saint Lazarus Island (56)

July 30, 2021

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Once he arrived in Matsumae, Diogo de Carvalho immediately retired to “the house of an ancient Christian of ours.” He does not mention his name although he assures us that “the joy with which everyone in his family received me” was great.

On August 5, “the day of Our Lady of the Snows,” the Portuguese priest celebrated several Eucharists, as he says, “the first Masses that were held in Yezo.” And, in this regard, he comments: “it seems that Our Lady will deign to take that kingdom under Her protection.” It was 1620, and two years later father Cravalho was returning to that island, having reported this and the previous journey in the manuscript “Land of Yezo” sent to his superiors.

Like Angelis, Diogo de Carvalho mentions the boat trips, “over 60 days,” which ensured the local market with sea otter skins but also “live hawks and eagle feathers that the Japanese used to decorate their arrows”, referring also the very good quality silks brought by the yezojin from the north “after 70 days of sea crossing.”

The Ainu worshiped the sun and the moon, although there was no spiritual concern in this attitude, only a need for survival: empirically they knew that without those stars, life on earth would be impossible. The well-expressed idolatry in the cult of the Japanese kami (spirits) did not seduce them.

They were wild and brave people, given to combat, but if necessary, they would cease all hostilities and were ready to live in peace with their neighbors. Upon meeting each other on the battlefield, the rival hosts used to exchange greetings and apologize for each other in advance for the skirmish about to break out.

They were used to drinking a lot without, however, getting drunk, thus denoting a great capacity for resistance to alcohol.

In battle they ignored wounds and only later treated them with water and salt.

Physically they were short in stature (however, taller than the Japanese) and their hair fell to their hips; half of their head was shaved, and on the other hair grew freely. They were great knights, and simple people, “but not stupid; on the contrary: they are extremely intelligent.”

They wore tunics “like the Moors”, sat on their knees and ate with chopsticks, “like the Japanese.” With regard to the possibility of conversion, Carvalho was hopeful, because in that society there were no monks, people could not read or write and were not “stingy and greedy like the Chinese.” Proof of this, the abundance in the region of gold mines which no one bothered to dig.