STORYTIME: The Legend of the Ashanti Queen Mother, Yaa Asantewaa

It’s the late 1800s in the Ashanti Kingdom —modern-day Ghana—, and a few years ago, there was a wide-scale arrest of the kingdom’s leadership by the British government. This arrest included the king of the Ashanti Kingdom, the Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I, his immediate relatives, and kings and chiefs of neighboring kingdoms. 

Now, British Governor, Frederick Hodgson in a meeting with Ashanti chiefs at the Kumasi fort demands that the sacred Golden stool, a symbol of unity in the Kingdom be brought to him as the representative of the Queen of England on the Gold Coast, to the dismay of the chiefs. 


A few hours later, in a secret meeting of the chiefs, some of them suggest that the  British Governor’s demands be met, in fear of any repercussions. This led to a speech that paved the path to the War of The Golden Stool. This speech was by the Queen Mother, Yaa Asantewaa, custodian of the Golden Stool.

 

Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa was born in the 1840s as a member of an Asona Royal clan. She was said to be known for her dexterity as a farmer and local administrator. She was appointed Queen Mother — the second highest position in the land — by her brother King of Edweso.

Her role as queen mother came with a lot of duties but the most important, one might say, was being the custodian of the sacred Golden Stool. She also served as the king’s primary advisor and was in charge of recommending candidates to the kingmakers when needed.

After a series of events in the Ashanti Kingdom — back-and-forth clashes between the British and the Ashanti, the arrest of the Ashanti royalty, and the insulting demand by Frederick Hodgson— Yaa Asantewaa raised an army of five thousand soldiers, comprised of men and women, to fight the British and rescue the arrested Royalty.

She became the commander-in-chief of the Ashanti army, in the Anglo-Ashanti war that rebelled against the British to protect the Kingdom’s Sacred Stool and unite the Kingdom again. 

Notwithstanding her capture and imprisonment by the British, along with fellow soldiers, she kept the Golden Stool from the British by hiding it in a hidden forest until it was discovered by some workers. 

She died in captivity on the island of Seychelles, three years before the release of imprisoned Ashanti in 1924. In 1930, her remains were returned to Edweso, her hometown where they were interred as a heroine.
Nana Yaa Asantewaa has become a highly-esteemed symbol of modern feminism, especially among African women.

Yaa Asantewaa’s Speech

“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye and Opoku Ware I, 8 chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken without firing a shot.

No white man could have dared to speak to the Chief of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you chiefs 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. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls on the battlefield.”

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