Yaa Asantewaa (c. 1840 – October 17, 1921) (pronounced YAY ah-SAN-te-wah) was appointed Queen Mother of Ejisu (Asante Confederacy)—now part of modern-day Ghana—by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese, the Ejisuhene (ruler of Ejisu). In 1900 she led the Ashanti rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool against British colonialism.
Prelude to rebellion
During her brother’s reign, Yaa Asantewa saw the Asante 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 Asantewa used her right as Queen Mother to nominate her own grandson as Ejisuhene. When the British exiled him in the Seychelles in 1896, along with the King of Asante Prempeh I and other members of the Asante government, Yaa Asantewa 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 disrespectful 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 Asantewa, who was present at this meeting, stood and addressed the members of the council with these famous words:
“ Now I see 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, chiefs would not sit down to see their king to be taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, 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.”
With this, she took on leadership of the Ashanti Uprising of 1900, gaining the support of some of the other Asante nobility. Yaa Asantewaa is still a very much-loved person in Ghana.
The rebellion and its aftermath
Beginning in 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 course of this, Queen Yaa Asantewaa and 15 of her closest advisers were captured, 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 January 1, 1902, the British were finally able to accomplish what the Asante army had denied them for almost a century, and the Asante empire was made a protectorate of the British crown. Yaa Asantewaa died in exile on October 17, 1921. Three years after her death, on December 27, 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, the first African nation to achieve this feat.
Place in history
Yaa Asantewaa remains a much-loved figure in Asante history and the history of Ghana as a whole for the courage she showed in confronting injustice during the colonialism of the British. To highlight the importance of encouraging more female leaders in Ghanaian society, the Yaa Asantewaa Girls’ Secondary School was established at Kumasi in 1960 with funds from the Ghana Educational Trust.
In 2000, week-long centenary celebrations were 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 August 3, 2000. Unfortunately, a fire there on July 23, 2004, destroyed several historical items including her sandals and battle dress seen in the photograph above. The current Queen-mother of Ejisu is Yaa Asantewaa II. A second Yaa Asantewaa festival was held August 1–5, 2006, in Ejisu.