BIOGRAPHY OF YAA ASANTEWAA
Yaa Asantewaa was queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti/Asante Empire(presently in modern-day Ghana). Inducted queen mother by her brother, Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese, the ruler of Edwesu, she nominated her grandon as Ruler of Ejisu following her brother’s demise.
The King of the Ashanti Prempeh 1 and grandson of Yaa Asantewaa were exiled to Seychelles in 1896 by the British. British governor, Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson demanded that the Golden Stool, the royal and divine throne of the Ashanti people be handed over to the British.
A conference of the chiefs of the Asante kingdom was held. Disgusted with attitude of some chiefs who were scared to fight the British, Yaa Asantewaa, Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool, asserted that if the men do not come forward, then women will fight. This charged up the men initiating the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa War that marked last war in a series of Anglo-Ashanti Wars. The British won the war and Yaa Asantewaa was exiled in the Seychelles where she died after two decades.
She was born in c.1840 in Besease, Ashanti Empire as the elder of two children of Ataa Po and Ampomah of Ampabame. Her parents were farmers. Her brother, Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese became the Edwesuhene that is ruler of Edwesu. She grew up as other children of her community and cultivated crops around Bonankra, presently a town in south-central Ghana.
Events Leading to the Ashanti Uprising
Yaa Asantewaa had witnessed several events including civil war from 1883 to 1888 during her brother’s rule that posed threat to the future of the Ashanti Confederacy. She was inducted queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire by her brother and following his death in 1894, she used such right and nominated her own grandson as Ejisuhene.
In 1896, the King of Asante Prempeh I, other members of the Asante government as also Yaa Asantewaa’s grandson were exiled by the British to the Seychelles following which she became regent of the Ejisu–Juaben district.
She got into a polygamous marriage with a Kumasi man and had a daughter from the marriage called Nana Ama Serwaah of Boankra.
The War of the Golden Stool
The War of the Golden Stool, also famous as the Yaa Asantewaa War, the Ashanti Uprising and the Third Ashanti Expedition that began in March 1900
Marked the last war in a series of Anglo-Ashanti Wars fought between the Empire of Ashanti and British Imperial government of the Gold Coast.
Although a rescue team of 700 came in June 1900, they were unable to evacuate several sick men in the fort. However Hodgson and his wife with the rest including hundred Hausas managed to dodge the 12,000 Ashanti warriors to reach the coast.
After arriving at the coast Hodgson found a second rescue force of 1000 men who gathered from different British units and police forces. The rescue force under the command of Major James Willcocks fought several groups allied with the Ashanti on its way and suffered several casualties, particularly at Kokofu. The force arrived at Bekwai in early July 1900 and made it to Kumasi for the final assault on July 14. Willcocks ultimately relieved the Kumasi fort on the evening of July 15, when the inhabitants were a couple of days away from surrendering themselves.
The war concluded with a British victory in September 1900 while Yaa Asantewaa was captured along with 15 of her closest advisers and were exiled to the Seychelles for 25 years. On January 1, 1902, the Ashanti territory subsumed into Crown Colony with the condition that sanctity of the Golden Stool would remain intact and not be violated by the British or any other non-Akan foreigners. As the Ashanti thrived in retaining the divine stool, they claimed victory. Although they were annexed to the British Empire, they maintained their de facto independence and gave little or no deference to the colonial power.
Casualties of the war included around 2000 from the Ashanti side and 1007 from the side of the British and its allies. The British searched for the Golden Stool till 1920. It was hidden deep in the forests during the war and was accidentally unearthed by road workers in 1920. The labors took the golden ornaments from the stool thus making it powerless in the eyes of the Ashanti. A court of Ashanti gave death penalty to the laborers for such desecration, however they were ultimately sent to exile following intervention of the British officials.
Death of Yaa Asantewaa & Legacy
On October 17, 1921, Yaa Asantewaa died in the Seychelles during her exile and three years later on December 27, 1924, King Prempeh I and the other Ashanti court members were permitted to return from exile. The king travelled in a special train to Kumasi.
He ensured that Yaa Asantewaa’s remains as also those of other Asante people exiled were brought back to the Ashanti Empire for a befitting royal burial.
The courageous and leadership role played by Yaa Asantewaa in confronting British colonial rule has evolved her as a much revered and inspirational figure in the history of both Ashanti and Ghana.
- The Yaa Asantewaa Girl’s Senior High School (Yagshs), located in Kumasi is named after her. The school established by the first President of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1951 started with funds from the Ghana Education Trust in 1960.
Meanwhile on March 6, 1957, the Ashanti protectorate garnered freedom as part of Ghana thus realising the dream of Yaa Asantewaa for an Ashanti free of colonial ruling. In 1986, an African-Caribbean arts and community centre located in Maida Vale, west London, was named after her as the Yaa Asantewaa Centre. A centenary celebration was held in Ghana for a week in 2000 acknowledging her achievements. On August 3, a museum was dedicated to her at Kwaso in the Ejisu–Juaben District as part of the celebration. In 2001 a TV documentary ‘Yaa Asantewaa – The Exile of King Prempeh and the Heroism of An African Queen’ by Ivor Agyeman–Duah was released in Ghana.
Margaret Busby written and Geraldine Connor directed stage show ‘Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen’ that featured an all African cast including master drummer Kofi Ghanaba was staged across the UK and Ghana during 2001-02. A Margaret Busby written radio drama on Yaa Asantewaa was also broadcast on BBC Radio Four’s radio magazine program Woman’s Hour from October 13 to 17 in 2003. In an unfortunate incident of fire that took place on July 23, 2004, her sandals and battle dress (batakarikese) along with many other ancient items were destroyed. Another festival on her was held from August 1 to 5 in 2006 in Ejisu.