Yaa Asantewaa

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Yaa Asantewaa in batakarikese (ceremonial war dress) in an undated photograph

Yaa Asantewaa (c. 1840 – 17 October 1921) (pronounced /ˈjɑː ɑːsɑːn.t.wə/) was queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire – now part of modern-day Ghana, appointed by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese, the Ejisuhene, or ruler, of Ejisu. In 1900 she led the Ashanti rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa war, against British colonialism.[1]

Early years[edit]

Born in 1840 in Besease in central Ghana, Yaa Asantewaa was the older of two children. Her brother, Afrane Panin, became the chief of Edweso, a nearby community. After a childhood without incident, she cultivated crops on the land around Boankra. She entered a polygamous marriage with a man from Kumsai, with whom she had a daughter.[2]

Prelude to rebellion[edit]

During her brother's reign, Yaa Asantewaa saw the Ashanti 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 Asantewaa used her right as Queen Mother to nominate her own grandson as Ejisuhene. When the British exiled him to the Seychelles in 1896, along with the King of Asante Prempeh I and other members of the Asante government, Yaa Asantewaa 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.[2] This 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 Asantewaa, who was present at this meeting, stood and addressed the members of the council with these now-famous words:[3]

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 Opuki Ware, 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.[4]

The next morning, 28 March 1900, Yaa Asantewaa gathered her women together, followed by her shamefaced men. With an army of some five thousand, she led the Asante Uprising, known as the War of the Golden Stool. Supported by some of the other Asante nobility, she fought valiantly against the British.[4][5]

The rebellion and its aftermath[edit]

The room believed to be Yaa Asantewaa's cell

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 fighting, Queen Yaa Asantewaa and fifteen of her closest advisers were captured, and they, too, were sent into exile to the Seychelles.[6] The rebellion represented the final war in the Anglo-Asante series of wars that lasted throughout the 19th century. On 1 January 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.[7]

Yaa Asantewaa died in exile in the Seychelles on 17 October 1921. Three years after her death, on 27 December 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.[8] Yaa Asantewaa's dream for an Asante free of British rule was realized on 6 March 1957, when the Asante protectorate gained independence as part of Ghana, the first African nation in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve this feat.[9]

Social roles of Asante women[edit]

The experience of seeing a woman serving as political and military head of an empire was foreign to British colonial troops in 19th-century Africa. Yaa Asantewaa's call upon the women of the Asante Empire is based on the political obligations of Akan women and their respective roles in legislative and judicial processes. The hierarchy of male stools among the Akan people was complemented by female counterparts. Within the village, elders who were heads of the matrilineages (mpanyimfo), constituted the village council known as the ôdekuro. The women known as the mpanyinfo, referred to as aberewa or ôbaa panyin, were responsible for looking after women's affairs. For every ôdekuro, an ôbaa panyin acted as the responsible party for the affairs of the women of the village and served as a member of the village council.[10]

The head of a division, the ôhene, and the head of the autonomous political community, the ômanhene, had their female counterparts known as the ôhemaa: a female ruler who sat on their councils. The ôhemaa and ôhene were all of the same mogya, blood or localized matrilineage. The occupant of the female stool in Kumasi state, the Asantehemaa, and therefore, the united Asante, since her male counterpart was ex-officio of the Asanthene, was a member of the Kôtôkô Council, the Executive Committee or Cabinet of the Asanteman Nhyiamu, General Assembly of Asante rulers. Female stool occupants participated not only in the judicial and legislative processes but also in the making and unmaking of war, and the distribution of land.[11]

Place in history and cultural legacy[edit]

Yaa Asantewaa remains a much-loved figure in Asante history and the history of Ghana as a whole for her role in confronting the colonialism of the British. She is immortalized in song as follows:

Koo koo hin koo
Yaa Asantewaa ee!
Obaa basia
Ogyina apremo ano ee!
Waye be egyae
Na Wabo mmode
("Yaa Asantewaa
The woman who fights before cannons
You have accomplished great things
You have done well")[12]

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 Education Trust.[13]

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 3 August 2000. Unfortunately, a fire on 23 July 2004 destroyed several historical items, including her sandals and battle dress (batakarikese) seen in the photograph above.[14] The current Queen-mother of Ejisu is Yaa Asantewaa II. A second Yaa Asantewaa festival was held 1–5 August 2006 in Ejisu.[15]

The Yaa Asantewaa Centre in Maida Vale, west London, is an African–Caribbean arts and community centre.[16] It took its name in 1986.[17]

A television documentary by Ivor Agyeman–Duah entitled Yaa Asantewaa – The Exile of King Prempeh and the Heroism of An African Queen was premiered in Ghana in 2001.[18]

A stage show written by Margaret Busby, Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen, directed by Geraldine Connor and featuring master drummer Kofi Ghanaba,[19][20] with a pan-African cast, toured the UK and Ghana in 2001–02.[21][22] A radio drama by the same author was also serialized 13–17 October 2003.[23] on BBC Radio Four's Woman's Hour.[24][25]

Further reading[edit]

  • Ivor Agyeman-Duah, Yaa Asantewaa: The Heroism of an African Queen, Accra, Ghana: Centre for Intellectual Renewal, 1999.
  • Nana Arhin Brempong (Kwame Arhin), "The Role of Nana Yaa Asantewaa in the 1900 Asante War of Resistance", Ghana Studies 3, 2000, pp. 97–110.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (eds), Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, p. 276.
  2. ^ a b Korsah, Chantal (22 July 2016). "Yaa Asantewaa". Dangerous Women. Retrieved 20 February 2017. 
  3. ^ "Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa of West Africa's Ashanti Empire". Black History Heroes. Retrieved 20 February 2017. 
  4. ^ a b Oforka, Venatius Chukwudum (2015). The Bleeding Continent: How Africa Became Impoverished and Why It Remains Poor. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 97–. ISBN 978-1-5144-2972-3. 
  5. ^ Commey, Pusch Komiete (2012). 100 Greatest African Kings And Queens ( Volume One ). BookBaby. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-1-62488-777-2. 
  6. ^ Berry, L. V., Ghana: a Country Study.
  7. ^ Boahen, A. Adu (2003). Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1. James Currey Publishers. ISBN 978-0-85255-443-2. 
  8. ^ Boahen, A. Adu (2003). The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself and Other Writings. British Academy. pp. 25–. ISBN 978-0-19-726261-0. 
  9. ^ Bourret, F. M. (1960). Ghana, the Road to Independence, 1919-1957. Stanford University Press. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-0-8047-0400-7. 
  10. ^ Arhin, Kwame (2001). Transformations in Traditional Rule in Ghana: 1951-1996. Sedco. ISBN 978-9964-72-173-2. 
  11. ^ Arhin, Kwame, "The Political and Military Roles of Akan Women", in Christine Oppong (ed.), Female and Male in West Africa, London: Allen and Unwin, 1983.
  12. ^ "Yaa Asantewaa", in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, 2008, quoting Arhin, p. 97.
  13. ^ "Yaa Asantewaa Senior High School". Eveyo. Retrieved 20 February 2017. 
  14. ^ "Fire guts Yaa Asantewaa Museum", GhanaWeb, 25 July 2004.
  15. ^ Public Agenda (16 January 2006)
  16. ^ Carnival Village website.
  17. ^ Dixon, Carol, "Spotlight: April - May 2002 Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre", Casbah Project.
  18. ^ Dadson, Pajohn, "Ghana: Yaa Asantewaa Has Landed", AllAfrica, 18 May 2001.
  19. ^ Wilmer, Val, "Kofi Ghanaba obituary", The Guardian, 7 February 2009.
  20. ^ Osei Boateng, "Yaa Asantewaa on stage: The Exploits of Yaa Asantewaa, the Warrior Queen of the Asantes in Ghana...", New African, 1 April 2001. The Free Library.
  21. ^ Busby, Margaret, "Obituary of Geraldine Connor", Guardian, 31 October 2011.
  22. ^ Duodu, Cameron, "Yaa Asantewaa—Warrior Queen", New African, 1 June 2001. The Free Library.
  23. ^ "Yaa Asantewaa", RadioListings.
  24. ^ BBC Radio 4 Promotion Note, Title: YAA ASANTEWAA by Margaret Busby.
  25. ^ "Briefing: Yaa Asantewaa", The Herald, 13 October 2003.

External links[edit]