War of the Golden Stool
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|War of the Golden Stool|
|United Kingdom||Ashanti Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Frederick Mitchell Hodgson
Major James Willcocks
|Casualties and losses|
|1,007 casualties||2,000 casualties|
The War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa War, the Third Ashanti Expedition, the Ashanti Uprising, or variations thereof, was the final war in a series of conflicts between the British Imperial government of the Gold Coast (later Ghana) and the Empire of Ashanti, a powerful, semi-autonomous African state that fractiously co-existed with the British and its vassal coastal tribes.
When the Ashanti began rebelling against British rule, the British attempted to put down the unrest. Furthermore, the British governor, Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, demanded that the Asante turn over to the British the Golden Stool, i.e. the throne and a symbol of Asante sovereignty.
The war ended with the Ashanti maintaining its de facto independence. Even though the Ashanti were annexed into the British Empire, they ruled themselves with little reference to the colonial power. However, when the British colony of the Gold Coast became the first independent, sub-Saharan African country in 1957, Ashanti was subsumed into the newly created Ghana. This war was the last conflict in Africa in which one of the sides was commanded by a woman.
The Golden Stool
Thus Hodgson advanced toward Kumasi with a small force of British soldiers and local levies, arriving on the 25 March 1900. Hodgson, as representative of a powerful nation himself, was accorded traditional honours upon entering the city and after ascending a platform, he made a speech to the assembled Ashanti leaders. The speech, or the closest surviving account that comes through an African translator, reportedly read:
|“||Your King Prempeh I is in exile and will not return to Ashanti. His power and authority will be taken over by the Representative of the Queen of Britain. The terms of the 1874 Peace Treaty of Formena, which required you to pay the costs of the 1874 war, have not been forgotten. You have to pay with interest the sum of £160,000 a year. Then there is the matter of the Golden Stool of Ashanti. The Queen is entitled to the stool; she must receive it.||”|
|“||Where is the Golden Stool? I am the representative of the Paramount Power. Why have you relegated me to this ordinary chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool for me to sit upon? However, you may be quite sure that though the Government has not received the Golden Stool at his hands it will rule over you with the same impartiality and fairness as if you had produced it.||”|
Not understanding the significance of the stool, Hodgson clearly had no inkling of the storm his words would produce; the suggestion that he, a foreigner, should sit on the Golden Stool, the very embodiment of The Ashanti state, and very symbol of the Ashanti peoples, living, dead, and yet to be born, was far too disrespectful for the crowd. Almost immediately, the queen mother of the Ejisu dominion within the Ashanti kingdom, Yaa Asantewaa, was collecting men to form a force with which to attack the British and retrieve their exiled king. The enraged populace produced a large number of volunteers and as Hodgson's deputy, Captain Cecil Armitage, searched for the stool in nearby brush his force was surrounded and ambushed, only a sudden rainstorm allowing the survivors to retreat to the British offices in Kumasi. The offices were then fortified into a small stockade that housed 18 Europeans, dozens of mixed race colonial administrators and 500 Nigerian Hausas with six small field guns and four Maxim guns. The Ashanti, aware that they were unprepared for storming the fort settled into a long siege, only making one assault on the position on 29 April that was unsuccessful. The Ashanti then continued to snipe at the defenders, cut the telegraph wires, blockaded food supplies, and attack relief columns.
As supplies ran low and disease took its toll on the defenders, another rescue party of 700 arrived in June. Recognising that it was necessary to escape from the trap and to preserve the remaining food for the wounded and sick, some of the healthier men were evacuated along with Hodgson, his wife and over a hundred of the Hausas. 12,000 Ashanti abrade (Warriors) were summoned to attack the escapees, who gained a lead on the long road back to the Crown Colony and avoided the main body of the Abrade. Days later the few survivors of the Abrade attack, took a ship for Accra, receiving all available medical attention.
The rescue column
As Hodgson arrived at the coast, a rescue force of 1,000 men assembled from various British units and police forces stationed across West Africa and under the command of Major James Willcocks had set out from Accra. On the march Willcocks's men had been repulsed from several well-defended forts belonging to groups allied with the Ashanti, most notably the stockade at Kokofu where they had suffered heavy casualties. During the march Willcocks was faced with constant trials of skirmishing with an enemy in his own element and maintaining his supply route in the face of effective guerilla opposition. In early July, his force arrived at Beckwai and prepared for the final assault on Kumasi, which began on the morning of 14 July 1900. Using a force led by Yoroba warriors from Nigeria serving in the Frontier Force, Willcocks drove in four heavily guarded stockades, finally relieving the fort on the evening of the fifteenth, when the inhabitants were just two days from surrender.
In September, after spending the summer recuperating and tending to the sick and wounded in captured Kumasi, Willcocks sent out flying columns to the neighbouring regions that had supported the uprising. His troops defeated an Ashanti force in a skirmish at Obassa on the 30 September and also succeeded in destroying the fort and town at Kokofu where he had been previously repulsed, using Nigerian levies to hunt Ashanti fugitives into the forests once the defenders fled after a stiff engagement. Following the storming of the town, Captain Charles John Melliss was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the attack, the only such award of the campaign although a number of other officers received the Distinguished Service Order.
Queen mother of Ejisu in what is now Ghana. At that time, the Gold Coast, as it was then known, was a British protectorate. The British supported their campaigns against the Ashanti using taxes they levied upon the local population. Additionally, they also took over the state-owned gold mines thus removing considerable revenue from the Ashanti State government. As missionaries established schools and began interfering in local affairs, the Ashanti began to deeply resent the British.
In a speech, Yaa Asantewaa rallied resistance to the colonialists:
Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to a chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you, the men of Ashanti, 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.
Return of the King Prempeh I to Ashanti
"Thousands of people, white and black, flocked down to the beach to welcome him. They were sorely disappointed when the news flashed through that Nana Prempeh was not to be seen by anyone, and that he was to land at 5:30 pm and proceed straight away to Kumasi by a special train. Twenty minutes after the arrival of the train, a beautiful car brought Nana Prempeh into the midst of the assembly. It was difficult for us to realise even yet that he had arrived. A charming aristocratic-looking person in a black long suit with a fashionable black hat held up his hand to the cheers of the crowd. That noble figure was Nana Prempeh." Extract from the Gold Coast Leader newspaper, 27 Dec 1924.
Even though Kumasi was supposedly annexed into the British empire, the Ashanti still largely governed themselves. The Ashanti goal of protecting the Golden Stool from the British was successful. However the following year, numerous chiefs, including the Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa, were arrested and exiled to the Seychelles, not being allowed to return for twenty five years — by which time many, including Yaa Asantewaa, had died. Kumasi City still retains a war memorial and several large colonial residences, although it, with the rest of the former Gold Coast, eventually became part of Ghana.
The war cost the British and their allies 1,007 fatal casualties in total. The Ashanti casualties are estimated to be around 2,000. The British never did capture the Golden Stool; it was hidden deep in the forests for the duration of the war, although efforts by the British to find it continued until 1920. Shortly after this, it was accidentally uncovered by some labourers, who took the golden ornaments that adorned the stool — rendering it powerless in the eyes of the Ashanti people. The labourers were sentenced to death by an Ashanti court, but the British intervened, and the accused were exiled instead.
- Hernon, Ian Britain's Forgotten Wars (ISBN 0-7509-3162-0, 2002)
- Lewin, J Asante before the British: The Prempean Years 1875-1900