By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Yaa Asantewaa was born in 1840 in Besease (a town in central Ghana), she was the daughter of a man named Kwaku Ampoma and a woman named Ata Po. Her brother was a man named Afrane Panin, he would become a chief of the people in a local community called Edweso. As she entered womanhood, she grew crops on her land and would enter into a polygamous marriage, (which was not uncommon for regal or wealthy men) with a man from the Asante captiol city of Kumasi.
During the rule of her brother, Yaa Asantewaa witnessed the Asante Kingdom (formerly the Asante Empire), go through a major decline. Which was the result of it’s five year civil war (1883-1888), and the Asante’s long on-and-off bloody conflict with the British Empire. After the death of her brother in 1894, Asantewaa utilized her power and influence as Queen Mother to nominate her grandson as Ejisuhene (King/chief of Ejisu, a city near the Asante capitol city of Kumasi). In 1896, Yaa Asantewaa became regent of the Ejisu-Juaben district, after the British exiled her grandson, the Asante King, Prempeh l and several other nobles and government officials to the Seychelles Islands. Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, who was the British governor-general of the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana), demanded the Golden Stool . which was and is believed by traditionalist to hold the soul of the Asante kingdom. The demeaning demand by the British led to a secret meeting with the highest remaining Asante officials. In the meeting there was a disagreement on rather or not to give the Golden Stool (the physical representation of the soul of the Asante Kingdom) to centuries-old enemy the British, for their exiled Asante officials and nobels. During the meeting Yaa Asantewaa stood up and gave a speech to the members of the Asante council:
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. If 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).
To add seriousness and dramatic affect to her words, Asantewaa picked up a rifle and fired it in front of the other council members. Yaa Asantewaa would be chosen by one of the regional kings of the Asante kingdom to be a leader/commander of an Asante battalion. She would lead an armed-force of 5,000 men in war against the British empire
In March of 1900, the Asante laid siege to a British fort at Kumasi, where the British sought refuge. After several months more months of back-and-forth conflict, the British governor of the Gold Coast would send an elite, well-trained and equipped force of 1400 soldiers to put down the African rebellion. Yaa Asantewaa and about fifteen of her most trusted advisors and confidants would be captured by the British and exiled to Seychelles. Yaa Asantewaa’s military defeat would mark the end of the series of wars between the Asante and the British, which took place from 1823 to 1900. In January of 1902, the British would annexe the territory of the Asante empire, and made it a protectorate of the British crown. On October 17, 1921, Nana Yaa Asantewaa died in exile on the Seychelles Islands. Three years later, on December 17, 1924, King Prempeh l and other members of the Asante royal court were allowed to return to Asante (at the time a British colony). Prempeh l, would make sure that the remains of his grandmother, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa received a proper royal burial. A little over 30 years after her death, her dream of an Asante independent of British colonial rule would be achieved when the Asante kingdom (now-part of the Republic of Ghana), won its independence on March 6, 1957. Ghana would be the first sub-saharan African nation to accomplish this feat.
Nana Yaa asantewaa is a revered figure in the history of Asante and Ghana, for her role as a strong and empowering woman, who confronted European domination and oppression. She is remembered in this Asante song:
Koo koo hin kooYaa Asantewaa ee!Obaa basiaOgyina apremo ano ee!Waye be egyaeNa Wabo mmode(“Yaa AsantewaaThe woman who fights before cannonsYou have accomplished great thingsYou have done well”)
A week-long centenary celebration was held in her honor in Ghana in 2000, to acknowledge her accomplishments as Queen Mother and her role as a freeddom fighter against British imperialism.
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