Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Stereotypical Ukrainian

In 1945 George Orwell reported that the British Army had recently captured two "German" soldiers whose actual nationality was indeterminable. They were obviously of Asiatic descent, but spoke no language known to their interrogators and could not provide their names or any other information. Finally, a British officer who had spent time in India determined that the captives were, in fact, from Tibet. They had been conscripted by a Chinese warlord in the 1930s, captured by the Soviets during a border skirmish and conscripted into the Red Army, and then captured a third time by the Wehrmacht and sent to France as laborers. Orwell proposed that Britain draft these very untypical German soldiers into the army it was sending to Malaya, then allow them to wander back to Tibet, thus completing their involuntary circumnavigation of the globe.

This story always struck me as the best personal, small-scale example of the disruption inflicted upon every corner of the world by the Second World War. However, another story reported last week by the Associated Press is nearly as good. On April 18th of this year Ishinosuke Uwano, a former Japanese soldier whose relatives had declared him legally dead, surfaced at the Japanese embassy in Kiev. Uwano had been drafted into the Imperial Army in 1943 and sent to Sakhalin Island, north of Hokkaido. In August 1945 the USSR declared war on Japan, and the Red Army swiftly overran the Japanese garrisons on southern Sakhalin Island. Uwano became one of 600,000 Japanese prisoners-of-war whom the USSR did not repatriate after the end of the war; instead, he was kept on Soviet-occupied Sakhalin Island for at least another 13 years, most likely as a laborer. At some point thereafter, the former POW became a Soviet citizen, and in 1965 moved to Ukraine, where he learned the language, married, had three children, and became for all practical purposes a Ukrainian.

Last week Uwano, now 83 years old, applied at the Japanese embassy in Ukraine for permission to return to Japan, saying "I would like to visit my parents' graves and to see cherry blossoms." The BBC reported that he flew to Tokyo with his son Anatolii on April 19th and began a 10-day visit to his old home town, where he met his surviving siblings, nieces, and nephews. He apparently does not wish to stay in Japan, viewing himself as a citizen of independent Ukraine; indeed, he has largely forgotten the Japanese language, which he hasn't spoken for 60 years.

The Times of London reminds us that "lost" Japanese World War Two soldiers have turned up in strange places before -- some, trapped at war's end on isolated Pacific islands or in the remoter parts of the Philippines, never learned that the war had ended and lived for years as hermits or guerillas. In some ways, however, the war disturbed Uwano's life far more than theirs. They never had to face the new realities of the postwar world: that Imperial Japan was dead, the hated Communists were triumphant throughout Eurasia, and no-one in the "Free World" cared what the Russians did to a few million German and Japanese prisoners. Ishinosuke Uwano was lucky: the great majority of the POWs conscripted by the Soviets in 1945 wound up in poorly-marked graves in Siberia. Uwano, at least, lived to see the fall of the Soviet Empire, the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, and his own homecoming.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Jefferson and the Beringian Migration

In commemoration of Thomas Jefferson's 266th birthday, and as a follow-up to my post of March 15th, let me note that the Sage of Monticello was one of the earliest English-speaking Americans to speculate that American Indians originated in Siberia and migrated to North America via the Bering Strait. "From whence came those aboriginal inhabitants of America?" Jefferson asked in Query XI of Notes on the State of Virginia, his only book. "The late discoveries of Captain Cook, coasting from Kamschatka to California, have proved that, if the two continents of Asia and America be separated at all, it is only by a narrow strait...The resemblance between the Indians of America and the Eastern inhabitants of Asia, would induce us to conjecture, that the former are the descendants of the latter, or the latter of the former." (Merrill Peterson, ed., The Portable Thomas Jefferson [New York: Penguin, 1977], 142.)

Jefferson was not, however, the first European to hypothesize a Siberian origin for Native Americans. The concepts of a Bering land bridge and a Siberian migration to the Americas had been germinating for two centuries before Jefferson published them in his book. In Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias (1589), the Jesuit Jose de Acosta argued that since European animals were present in the Americas, they must have crossed over using a land bridge (which human beings could also have used). In the early 1600s the Spanish engineer Enrico Martin concluded that if such a land bridge existed, it must be in far northeastern Asia and the emigrants who used it must be Siberian. Around 1650, Bernabe Cobo asserted that the physical similarities between the various Indian peoples in North America pointed to a common origin, while in 1674 Daniel Gookin of Massachusetts noted that the most believable theory about the origins of Native Americans was that they were descended from the "Scythian" peoples of northeastern Asia and crossed into America via a land bridge. (Thanks to Charles Martijn, Daniel Mandell and John Faragher for the above information.)

Thomas Jefferson was a man of many talents: writer, inventor, lawyer, diplomat, scientist, naturalist, university founder, and, of course, president of the United States. Originality, however, wasn't necessarily his strongest suit.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Voyagers to the East, Part V


For the previous entry in this series, click here.

Formal European exploration of North America entered a dormant period in the 1510s, apart from Juan Ponce de Leon's reconnaissance of Florida. No Indians crossed the Atlantic during this decade.

In 1521, Spanish official Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon sent an expedition to the Florida coast to determine whether the mainland Indians would make suitable slaves for the West Indies sugar plantations. The expeditionaries captured 70 Indian men and women and carried them back to Santo Domingo. By the time they arrived, however, Ayllon had gotten cold feet about enslaving Indians: King Charles I had begun enforcing the 1512 Laws of Burgos, which prohibited Indian slave-catching. Ayllon thus ordered the captives set free.

Many of the freed Indian slaves died of starvation, but one, a Christian convert named Francisco de Chicora, accompanied Ayllon to Spain in 1522-23 to represent his homeland (the so-called province of "Chicora"). While Francisco had learned Spanish, Ayllon apparently used him as a prop while he spread stories about Chicora and petitioned the Crown for a patent of colonization, which the King granted in 1523. Ayllon subsequently led 500 Spanish colonists and African slaves to the coast of present-day South Carolina, where in 1526 he established the short-lived colony of San Miguel de Gualdape (and died shortly thereafter). Francisco's fate is uncertain, but he may have accompanied Ayllon to San Miguel as a translator. (David Quinn, North America from Earliest Discovery to First Settlements, 143-146.)

Meanwhile, King Francis I of France and the Queen Mother, Louise of Savoy, commissioned a company of Norman and Italian merchants to explore the Atlantic coast of North America and search for an all-water passage to the Pacific. The company appointed the Florentine navigator Giovanni de Verrazzano to undertake the mission, and after a few false starts Verrazzano set out in his caravel La Dauphine. From March to June 1524 Verrazzano charted the North American coast from Cape Fear to Cape Breton Island, stopping periodically to take on water and provisions and to describe the Indian peoples he encountered. The more southerly tribes seemed relatively trusting and were willing to trade maize and venison for inexpensive trinkets, while those living to the north were more suspicious and would only accept useful merchandise (particularly metal blades) in trade. The northeasterners had apparently been trading with fishermen for several decades and had discovered a need for caution in dealing with Europeans. During one of his landings on the coast, in present-day Virginia, Verrazzano took an Indian (Algonquin) boy captive, presumably to present to the King and possibly to train as an interpreter. Whether or not Verrrazzano's captive actually survived the voyage is a matter for speculation, though the return voyage was quick and took place in late spring, so the probability of survival was higher for this Indian traveler than it would have been for Columbus's Indian slaves. (Quinn, op. cit., 153-158; Neal Salisbury, Manitou and Providence, 52-53.)

For the next entry in this series, click here.