Yaa Asantewaa ( BBC news) was a Ghanaian warrior queen, who rose up to lead an army against the invading British.
The experience of seeing a woman serving as political and military head of an empire was foreign to British colonial troops in 19th-century Africa. Yaa Asantewaa’s call upon the women of the Asante Empire is based on the political obligations of Akan women and their respective roles in legislative and judicial processes. The hierarchy of male stools among the Akan people was complemented by female counterparts.
Within the village, elders who were heads of the matrilineal age (mpanyimfo), constituted the village council known as the ôdekuro. The women, known as the mpanyinfo, and referred to as aberewa or ôbaa panyin, were responsible for looking after women’s affairs.
She is the first story in a new eight-part series, African Women who Changed the World, which aims to shed light on great African women whose stories deserve to be heard. BlackPast.org
Yaa Asantewaa was an influential Ashanti queen at the beginning of the twentieth century who remains a powerful symbol today. Her birthdate is contested; she is generally believed to be born between the 1840s to 1860s in the Ashanti Confederacy in present-day Ghana.
She was a skilled farmer before ascending to the title Queen Mother in the 1880s.
It is believed that she was chosen for this title due to the matrilineal aspect of the Ashanti culture and that her elder brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpase, who was a powerful ruler at the time, appointed her to the role.
she was born into a family of traditional rulers, the young Prempeh had already been captured to Seychelles island and the Ashanti people were left with an empty throne.
As the Queen Mother, Asantewaa held many responsibilities, including being the Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool is an emblem of the Ashanti kingdom, cultural system, and power.
Since the Queen Mother is elected to be the mother of the reigning king, she presents candidates for when the occupant of the Stool (the chiefdom) becomes vacant, in turn protecting the establishment of authority.
Additionally, since the Queen Mother is the main adviser for the King, and thus is the second highest position within the empire, she fulfills the role of guarding the Golden Stool. In 1896, the Ashanti people began to rebel against the British presence in their lands and the British attempt to construct the “Gold Coast” colony.
To retaliate, the British captured and exiled Asantehene Prempeh I, King of the Ashanti, and Asantewaa’s grandson Kofi Tene, who was also a powerful leader. The British removed the king and other Ashanti leaders to the Seychelles Islands in an effort to acquire the Golden Stool.
Because the Ashanti respected other warriors, they greeted Sir Hodgson as an honored guest in Kumasi complete with all the revelry expected. King Prempeh I, who warred with the British in 1893, was in exile thus putting Sir Hodgson in the position to demand the stool and lands under the order of the Queen of England.
British governor Sir Frederick Hodgson ignorant of the fact that the golden stool was at the heart of the existence of the Ashanti people demanded to sit on it and own it as well.
British representative Sr. Frederick Mitchell Hodgson sat on the Golden Stool. Since the Stool was not a throne, when Hodgson’s act became known, Yaa Asantewaa led the rebellion which resulted in the death of 1,000 British and allied African soldiers and 2,000 Ashanti.
Both totals were higher that the deaths from all previous wars between the Ashanti and the British combined.
The only known account of Sir Hodgson’s speech that sparked the war is as follows:
Your King Prempeh I is in exile and will not return to Ashanti. His power and authority will be taken over by the Representative of the Queen of Britain. The terms of the 1874 Peace Treaty of Formena, which required you to pay the costs of the 1874 war, have not been forgotten. You have to pay with interest the sum of £160,000 a year. Then there is the matter of the Golden Stool of Ashanti. The Queen is entitled to the stool; she must receive it.Where is the Golden Stool? I am the representative of the Paramount Power. Why have you relegated me to this ordinary chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool for me to sit upon? However, you may be quite sure that though the Government has not received the Golden Stool at his hands it will rule over you with the same impartiality and fairness as if you had produced it. http://face2face Africa
While remaining leaders within the community debated on how to best respond to the British threat, Asantewaa held her ground and rallied the troops. Her leadership and passion led to her role as Commander in Chief of the Ashanti army. In turn, the Anglo-Ashanti wars’ fifth and final war against the British became known as the Yaa Asantewaa War of Independence (or the War of the Golden Stool), which began on March 28, 1900.
Yaa Asantewaa who didn’t expect that from the Ashanti men said ” if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward , then we will. I shall call upon my fellow women, we will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.” no woman had ever done that at that time, it was unheard of.
They were successful but lost many life’s, a year later Yaa Asantewaa was exiled to Seychelles island.
On January 1, 1902, the British fully seized the land that the Asante army had been defending from them for almost a century, and the Asante empire was made a protectorate of the British crown.
The Ashanti’s today play key roles in Ghana not demeaning the other tribes though. they are strong figures considering they being known worldwide. Ghana has moved from chieftaincy systems to practicing democracy since independence, the kings of the various provinces and regions are highly respected by the Ghanaian people.
Ashanti’s are still deeply rooted in their culture, festivals are celebrated each year to bring the people together. They are known to be very overprotective of the golden stool because one of the Ashanti heroes, Okomfo Anokye conjured it from the skies and they also have the belief that he will come back again with the keys of death.
She died in 1921. She was a successful farmer and mother. She was an intellectual, a politician, a human rights activist, Queen, and a leader. Yaa Asantewaa became famous for leading the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism to defend the Golden stool.
she didn’t live to see Prempeh brought back to Ghana but her legacy will forever live on as the woman who never bowed to the British.
Till today the Ashanti’s are known for their bravery. As the popular Twi adage goes ”wu kum apimaaa, apim beba” meaning if you kill thousands of us, thousands will rise against you.
Prempeh I made sure that the remains of Yaa Asantewaa and the other exiled Asante’s were returned for a proper royal burial.
Yaa Asantewaa’s dream for an Asante free of British rule was realized on March 6, 1957, when the Asante protectorate gained independence as part of Ghana. Ghana was the first African nation in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve this feat.
Yaa Asantewaa remains a powerful reminder due to her impactful actions in both empowering her people and in tactics against the British army. In August 2000, to commemorate her influence, a museum was opened in her honor in the Ejisu-Juaben District of Ghana. Similarly, there is an achievement award titled the “Nana Yaa Asantewaa Awards” (NYA) which honors women who uphold the values and leadership of Asantewaa.