War of the Golden Stool

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War of the Golden Stool or Yaa Asantewaa War
Part of the Anglo-Ashanti Wars

Typical fight in the forest, Anglo-Ashanti War of 1900 (Battles of the nineteenth century, 1901)
DateMarch – September 1900
(present-day Ghana)

Status quo ante bellum

  • De facto independent Ashanti state under British protectorate
  • Ashanti retained control of the Golden Stool
 British Empire  Ashanti Empire
Commanders and leaders
Frederick Mitchell Hodgson
James Willcocks
Yaa Asantewaa
Prempeh I
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 a campaign in 1900 during the series of conflicts between the United Kingdom and the Ashanti Empire (later Ashanti Region), an autonomous state in West Africa that fractiously co-existed with the British and its vassal coastal tribes.

After several prior wars with British troops, Ashanti was once again occupied by British troops in January 1896.[1] In 1900 the Ashanti staged an uprising. The British suppressed the violence and captured the city of Kumasi. Ashanti's traditional king, the Asantehene, and his counselors were deported.[1] The outcome was the annexation of Ashanti by the British so that it became part of His Majesty's dominions and a British Crown Colony with its administration undertaken by a Chief Commissioner under the authority of the Governor of the Gold Coast.[2] Ashanti was classed as a colony by conquest.[3][4][5][2] The Ashanti lost their sovereignty but not the essential integrity of their socio-political system. In 1935, limited self-determination for the Ashanti was officially regularized in the formal establishment of the Ashanti Confederacy.[6] The Crown Colony of Ashanti continued to be administered in a scheme with the greater Gold Coast but remained, nonetheless, a separate Crown Colony until it became united as part the new dominion named Ghana under the Ghana Independence Act 1957.[7]

The Golden Stool[edit]

An Akan stool believed to be for a Queen mother, 1940–1965, in the collection of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The Golden Stool had long symbolized governing power for the Ashanti people.

On 19 March 1901 British statesman David Lloyd George stated in a Parliamentary session that: "Frederick Hodgson's quest of the Golden Stool was something like the quest of the Holy Grail". The Member of Parliament of Caernarfon as well as other members of the House were extremely concerned about the huge expense that the House was being made to pay for the war. Joseph Chamberlain, then Secretary for the Colonial Office, was questioned extensively as to whether or not Frederick Hodgson had actually been given prior permission to demand the Golden Stool from the Asante people, because he seemed to think that "if he could only get possession of the Golden Stool he would be able to govern the country for all time".[8]

Hodgson advanced toward Kumasi with a small force of British soldiers and local levies, arriving on 25 March 1900. Hodgson, as representative of a powerful nation, was accorded traditional honors upon entering the city with children singing "God Save the Queen" to Lady Hodgson.[9] After ascending a platform, he made a speech to the assembled Ashanti leaders. The speech, or the closest surviving account that comes through an Ashanti translator, reportedly read:[10][better source needed]

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 Fomena, which required you to pay for the cost 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.

The speech was received in silence by the assembly, but the chiefs that were present began war preparations upon their return to their homes. In his book The Golden Stool: Some Aspects of the Conflict of Cultures in Modern Africa the anthropologist Reverend Edwin W. Smith wrote of this: "A singularly foolish speech! An excellent example of the blunders that are made through ignorance of the African mind!" Gaurav Desai quotes this passage and goes on to clarify that the Stool was not seen as a mere physical object and symbol of power but as a metaphysical and spiritual representation of the soul of the Ashanti people as a whole – this misunderstanding being the catalyst for the conflict, coming at a time of already strained relations.[11]

Ashanti War in 1900 (Battles of the nineteenth century, 1901)

In her war speech Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa I (the Queen Mother of the Ejisu dominion within the Ashanti kingdom) rallied resistance against the British:

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 foreigner [Obroni] 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! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.[12] She collected men to form a force with which to attack the British and retrieve the exiled king.[13]

The enraged populace produced a large number of volunteers. As Hodgson's deputy Captain Cecil Armitage searched for the stool in a nearby brush, his force was surrounded and ambushed, but a sudden rainstorm allowed the survivors to retreat to the British offices in Kumasi. The offices were then fortified into a small stockade 50 yards (46 m) square with 12 feet (3.7 m) loopholed high stone walls and firing turrets at each corner[9] that housed 18 Europeans, dozens of mixed-race colonial administrators and 500 Nigerian Hausas with six small field guns and four Maxim guns. The British detained several high ranking leaders in the fort.[9] The Ashanti, aware that they were unprepared for storming the fort settled into a long siege, only made one unsuccessful assault on the position on 29 April. The Ashanti continued to snipe at the defenders, cut the telegraph wires, blockade food supplies, and attack relief columns. Blocking all roads leading to the town with 21 log barricades six feet high with loopholes to fire through, hundreds of yards long and so solid they would be impervious to artillery fire.[9]

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 along with Hodgson, his wife and over a hundred of the Hausas made a break on 23 June, meeting up with the rescue force they were evacuated.[9] 12,000 Ashanti abrade (warriors) were summoned to attack the escapees, who gained a lead on the long road back to the Crown Colony, thus avoiding the main body of the Abrade. Days later the few survivors of the abrade assault took a ship for Accra, receiving all available medical attention.[citation needed]

On 7 July 1900 The Star newspaper in Guernsey featured an article about Yaa Asenatewaa and her growing support amongst the Ashanti: "The Colonial Office has received disquieting news that the Queen Ashantuah [sic] ruler of Ofesa, has taken Supreme Command of the insurgent forces. She has under her Command General Asmarah, the Cacique of Esili, and an army of 20,000 warriors, including a battalion of Amazons and 1000 hand picked Soldiers who form a kind of Sacred Band (Estafette (journal) [fr] Paris)".[14][better source needed]

The rescue column[edit]

General Sir James Willcocks, KCMG, DSO, and staff, at the entrance to the fort at Kumasi

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 while maintaining his supply route in the face of an opposing force utilizing unconventional warfare. In early July, his force arrived at Bekwai and prepared for the final assault on Kumasi, which began on the morning of 14 July 1900. Using a force led by Yoruba warriors from Nigeria serving in the Frontier Force, Willcocks drove in four heavily guarded stockades, finally relieving the fort on the evening of the 15 July, when the inhabitants were just two days from surrender.[citation needed]

Group of NCO's with Maxim guns at Kumasi

On the 17 July the majority of the force (excluding a garrison of 160 men under the supervision of five British officers and NCOs under the command of Captain Eden) set off on the return journey to Bekwai carrying their sick and wounded. Once the column had travelled approximately two miles from Kumasi the sound of guns from the city fort could be heard. Willcocks writes that "we afterwards learnt that Eden had placed the garrison under cover, and thus drawn out the enemy to explore the precincts. When a good number had come out into the open, 7-pounders and Maxims were turned on them with excellent effect". Willcocks says later in The Great Drama Of Kumasi by Major Wynyard Montagu Hall that "In my opinion the garrison left behind at Kumasi was altogether unequal to the task of holding fort, and nothing less than fear of Ashantis to attack could have saved them notwithstanding strong fort. I have never seen anything so gruesome as the vicinity fort. I expected, with my one thousand seven hundred unarmed native followers and the sick and wounded, some difficulty in coming out; but enemy's being completely dispersed on July 15th seems to have frightened them, as they did not fire a shot for twenty-five miles' march which took three days owing to two days' excessive rain."[15]

The column made their arrival in Bekwai on 19 July. On the day of their arrival Lieutenant Colonel Morland also arrived with reinforcements from Nigeria, and further reinforcements consisting of a detachment of Sikhs, half a battalion of the Central African Regiment and then the 2nd Battalion of the Central African Regiment followed. On the 22 July Morland attacked Kokofu with a force of 800 men, taking the Ashanti by surprise and resulting in a rout with weapons and supplies being abandoned.[16]

In September, after spending the summer recuperating and tending to the sick and wounded in captured Kumasi,[clarification needed] Willcocks sent out flying columns to the neighbouring regions that had supported the uprising.[17] 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,[citation needed] using Nigerian levies[clarification needed] to hunt Ashanti soldiers. Ashanti defenders would usually exit the engagement quickly after a stiff initial assault.[citation needed] Following the storming of the town, Captain Charles John Melliss was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the attack.[18]


Ashanti was annexed into the British Empire; however, the Ashanti still largely governed themselves. They gave little or no deference to colonial authorities.[19] The Ashanti were successful in their pre-war goal to protect the Golden Stool. But, the following year,[when?] the British arrested numerous chiefs, including the Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa, and exiled them to the Seychelles for 25 years. In that 25-year period many of them died, including Yaa Asantewaa herself in 1921. Kumasi City retains a memorial to this war and several large colonial residences. Ashanti and the former Gold Coast eventually became part of Ghana.

The war cost the British and their allies approximately 1,000 fatalities in total; however, according to a statement made by MP David Lloyd George in Parliament in 1901, "the Colonial Office should have had some justification for the foolish policy of the [British] Government in regard to the Golden Stool, that had led to the hundreds and thousands of the corpses of savages festering round the fort of Coomassie"! David Lloyd George further admonished Joseph Chamberlain for his dismissive attitude towards the Ashanti casualties in the war, noting that the Golden Stool was never captured by the British: "Surely human life was worth some respectful treatment", he said.[20] The Golden Stool was hidden deep in the forests for the duration of the war,[21] with the British continuing to seek it until 1921.[20] Shortly after this, it was accidentally uncovered by a team of labourers who took the golden ornaments that adorned the stool and left the rest, which was of wood. An Ashanti court sentenced the labourers to death for their desecration, but British officials intervened and arranged for their exile instead.[22]

British troops were awarded the Ashanti Medal for service during the war.

Return of the King Prempeh I to Ashanti[edit]

In 1924, the King was allowed to return.

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.[attribution needed][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 'The Location of Administrative Capitals in Ashanti, Ghana, 1896-1911' by R. B. Bening in The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1979) pg. 210
  2. ^ a b 'The Map of Africa by Treaty' by Sir E. Hertslet pg. 77
  3. ^ Historical Dictionary of the British Empire' by James E Olson (Editor), ISBN 978-0313293665, 1996 Pg 104
  4. ^ Ashanti Order in Council 1901 made on 26 September 1901.
  5. ^ HL Deb 16 January 1902 vol 101 c57
  6. ^ 'The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics' by E. Adamson Hoebel, pg. 212
  7. ^ Historical Dictionary of the British Empire' by James E Olson (Editor), ISBN 978-0313293665, 1996
  8. ^ "The Ashanti Expedition - Tuesday 19 March 1901". Hansard (House of Commons). Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  9. ^ a b c d e Robert B. Edgerton (15 June 2010). The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War For Africa's Gold Coast. ISBN 9781451603736.
  10. ^ Fred M. Agyemang (1993). Accused in the Gold Coast. Waterville Publishing House. p. 84. ISBN 9789964502362. (The quoted text apparently does not appear in the 1972 first edition from Ghana Publishing House.)
  11. ^ Desai, Gaurav (2001-06-20). Subject to Colonialism: African Self-Fashioning and the Colonial Library. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-2641-0.
  12. ^ "Yaa Asantewaa Speech Takes Place On This Day in 1900". Face2Face Africa. 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  13. ^ "Asante". BBC World Service.
  14. ^ "Results for 'the colonial office' | Between 7th Jul 1900 and 7th Jul 1900 | Guernsey, Guernsey". British Newspaper Archive. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  15. ^ Montagu, Hall Wynyard (1939). The Great Drama Of Kumasi. Osmania University, Digital Library of India. Putnam Limited Press.
  16. ^ Willcocks, James (1925). The Romance of Soldiering and Sport. Cassell.
  17. ^ Armitage, Cecil Hamilton; Montanaro, Arthur Forbes (1901). The Ashanti Campaign of 1900. Sands & Co.
  18. ^ "No. 27266". The London Gazette. 15 January 1901. p. 307.
  19. ^ Ukpabi, S. C. (Samson C.) (1970). The British colonial office approach to the Ashanti war of 1900. OCLC 772603406.
  20. ^ a b Myles Osborne and Susan Kingsley Kent (2015). Africans and Britons in the age of empires, 1660–1980. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group (London). ISBN 9780415737524. OCLC 892700097.
  21. ^ Schädler, Karl-Ferdinand. (1997). Earth and ore : 2500 years of African art in terra-cotta and metal. Panterra. ISBN 3-932353-14-5. OCLC 39860255.
  22. ^ Carmichael, John (1993). African Eldorado: Gold Coast to Ghana. Duckworth. ISBN 978-0-7156-2387-9.
  23. ^ Extract from the Gold Coast Leader newspaper, 27 December 1924.