Yaa Asantewaa was born 17 October 1840 – 17 October 1921 was the queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire – now part of modern-day Ghana, appointed by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Opese, the Edwesuhene/ruler of Edwesu.
In 1900 she led the Ashanti war known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa war, against British colonialism.
Born in c. 1840 in Besease by Kwaku Ampoma and Ata Po in southern Ghana, Yaa Asantewaa was the older of two children. Her brother, Afrane Panin, became the chief of Edweso, a nearby community.
After a childhood without incident, she cultivated crops on the land around Boankra. She entered a polygamous marriage with a man from Kumasi, with whom she had a daughter.
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.
During her brother’s reign, Yaa Asantewaa saw the Ashanti Confederacy go through a series of events that threatened its future, including civil war from 1883 to 1888. When her brother died in 1894, Yaa Asantewaa used her right as Queen Mother to nominate her own grandson as Ejisuhene.
When the British exiled him to Seychelles in 1896, along with the King of Asante Prempeh I and other members of the Asante government, Yaa Asantewaa became regent of the Ejisu–Juaben district.
After the deportation of Prempeh I, the British governor-general of the Gold Coast, Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation.This request led to a secret meeting of the remaining members of the Asante government at Kumasi, to discuss how to secure the return of their king.
There was a disagreement among those present on how to go about this. Yaa Asantewaa, who was present at this meeting, stood and addressed the members of the council with these now-famous words:
“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King. If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, leaders would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to a leader of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you this morning.
Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
Yaa Asantewaa was chosen by a number of regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. This is the first and only example for a woman to be given that role in Asante’s history. The Ashanti-British “War of the Golden Stool” was led by Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa with an army of 5,000.
Beginning of March 1900, the rebellion laid siege to the fort at Kumasi where the British had sought refuge. The fort still stands today as the Kumasi Fort and Military Museum. After several months, the Gold Coast governor eventually sent a force of 1,400 to quell the rebellion.
During the fighting, Queen Yaa Asantewaa and fifteen of her closest advisers were captured, and they, too, were sent into exile to Seychelles. The rebellion represented the final war in the Anglo-Asante series of wars that lasted throughout the 19th century.
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.
Yaa Asantewaa died in exile in Seychelles on 17 October 1921. Three years after her death, on 17 December 1924, Prempeh I and the other remaining members of the exiled Asante court were allowed to return to Asante.
Prempeh I made sure that the remains of Yaa Asantewaa and the other exiled Asantes 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.
Asantewaa understood the ramifications of British occupation. She is seen by Ghanaians today as a queen mother who exercised her political and social clout to help defend her kingdom. The role she played in influencing the Ashanti men to battle the British appear to be a function of her matriarchal status.<imgsrc=”https: cdn.ghanaweb.com=”” imagelib=”” pics=”” 607=”” 60759096.jpg”=””></imgsrc=”https:>
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 matrilineage (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.
For every ôdekuro, an ôbaa panyin acted as the responsible party for the affairs of the women of the village and served as a member of the village council.
The head of a division, the ôhene, and the head of the autonomous political community, the Amanhene, had their female counterparts known as the ôhemaa: a female ruler who sat on their councils.The ôhemaa and ôhene were all of the same mogya, blood or localized matrilineage.
The occupant of the female stool in Kumasi state, the Asantehemaa, the united Asante, since her male counterpart was ex-officio of the Asanthene, was a member of the Kôtôkô Council, the Executive Committee or Cabinet of the Asanteman Nhyiamu, General Assembly of Asante rulers.
Female stool occupants participated not only in the judicial and legislative processes, but also in the making and unmaking of war, and the distribution of land.
She is immortalized in song as follows: Koo koo hin koo Yaa Asantewaa ee! Obaa basia Ogyina apremo ano ee! Waye be egyae Na Wabo mmode (“Yaa Asantewaa The woman who fights before cannons You have accomplished great things You have done well”).
To highlight the importance of encouraging more female leaders in Ghanaian society, the Yaa Asantewaa Girls’ Secondary School was established in Kumasi in 1960 with funds from the Ghana Education Trust.
In the year 2000 a week-long centenary celebration was held in Ghana to acknowledge Yaa Asantewaa’s accomplishments. As part of these celebrations, a museum was dedicated to her at Kwaso in the Ejisu–Juaben District on 3 August 2000.
Unfortunately, a fire on 23 July 2004 destroyed several historical items, including her sandals and battle dress (batakarikese). The current Queen-mother of Ejisu is Yaa Asantewaa II. A second Yaa Asantewaa festival was held 1–5 August 2006 in Ejisu.
The Yaa Asantewaa Centre in Maida Vale, west London, is an African–Caribbean arts and community centre. It took its name in 1986. A television documentary by Ivor Agyeman-Duah entitled Yaa Asantewaa – The Exile of King Prempeh and the Heroism of An African Queen, premiered in Ghana in 2001.
A stage show written by Margaret Busby, Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen, directed by Geraldine Connor and featuring master drummer Kofi Ghanaba, with a pan-African cast, toured the UK and Ghana in 2001–02.A radio drama by the same author was also serialized 13–17 October 2003, on BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour.
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