Yaa Asantewaa was born in 1840 in Besease by Kwaku Ampoma and Ata Po in southern Ghana, the older of two children. Her brother, Afrane Panin, became the chief of Edweso, a nearby community.
After her childhood, she cultivated crops on the land around Boankra. She entered a polygamous marriage with a man from Kumasi, with whom she had a daughter.
Prior to her death in 1921, she was a successful farmer and mother. She was an intellectual, a politician, human right activist, queen and a leader. Yaa Asantewaa became famous for leading the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism to defend the Golden Stool.
YAA ASANTEWAA BEFORE THE ASHANTI WAR
During her brother’s reign, Yaa Asantewaa witnessed the Ashanti Confederacy go through a series of events that threatened its future, including a five year civil war from 1883 to 1888. Upon her brother’s passing in 1894, Yaa Asantewaa used her right as Queen Mother to nominate her own grandson as Ejisuhene.
After the British exiled him to the Seychelles in 1896, along with the King of Asante Prempeh I and other members of the Asante government, Yaa Asantewaa became the regent of the Ejisu–Juaben district.
Following 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:
How can a proud and brave people like the Asante sit back and look while whitemen took away their king and chiefs, and humiliated them with a demand for the Golden Stool.
The Golden Stool only means money to the whitemen; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the governor. I
f you, the chiefs of Asante, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments (Montu mo danta mma me na monnye me tam).
Showing her determination to go to war, she seized a gun and fired a shot in front of the men.
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 history.
The Ashanti-British War of the Golden Stool – also known as the “Yaa Asantewaa War” – was led by Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa with an army of 5,000.
THE YAA ASANTEWAA WAR OF 1900
In March 1900, the rebellion led by Yaa Asantewaa, 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. Queen Yaa Asantewaa and fifteen of her closest advisers were captured during the battle, and they, too, were sent into exile to the Seychelles.
The rebellion represented the final war in the Anglo-Asante series of wars that lasted throughout the 19th century. On 1 January 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, thereby bringing the Asante Empire to an end.
Yaa Asantewaa died in exile in the 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 6 March 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 till date, a much-loved and very well revered figure in Asante history and the history of Ghana as a whole for her role in confronting the colonialism of the British.
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi
Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.