Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashante Empire, Ghana

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

An Illustration of Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa

The story of Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa is a story that most Ghanians know very well. However, for non-Ghanians who are learning about the Queen Mother for first time its quite fascinating to learn about her for the first time. Her story is a story of bravery, fearlessness and driven by a cause bigger than herself and we now came to know as independence from colonialism. In 1896, Asantehene (King) Prempeh I of the Asanteman federation was captured and exiled to the island of Seychelles by the British who had come to call the area the British "Gold Coast." Asantewaa's brother was said to be among the men exiled with Prempeh I, exiled because of his opposition to British rule in West Africa.

West African Asante Miniature Representation of the Kings Golden Stool

In 1900, British colonial governor Frederick Hodgson called a meeting in the city of Kumasi of the Ashantehene local rulers. At the meeting, Hodgson was reported to have stated that King Prempeh I would continue to suffer in exile from his native land and that the Ashanti people were to surrender to the British their historical, ancestral Golden Stool - a dynastic symbol of the Ashanti empire. In fact, power was transferred to each Asantahene by a ceremonial crowning that involved the sacred Golden Stool. The colonial governor demanded that it be surrendered to allow Hodgson to sit on the Sika 'dwa (the seat of power or Golden Throne) as a symbol of British power.

During this period, Yaa Asantewaa was the Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool. Hodgson's 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. Upon hearing some of the Ashantehenes entertain surrender to the British demands, it is reported that the Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa rose and made this famous statement:

"Now I have seen 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, leaders would not sit down to see their King taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to a leader of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you 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."

Upon coming to an agreement, Yaa Asantewaa was then chosen by a number of regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. This is the first and only example for a woman to be given that role in Asante history. The Ashanti-British "War of the Golden Stool" was led by Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa with an army of 5,000.

Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa

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 forces 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. The rebellion represented the final war in the Anglo-Asante series of wars that lasted throughout the 19th century. On January 1st. 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.

Today, Ashanti is an administrative region in central Ghana where most of the inhabitants are Ashanti people who speak Twi, an Akan language group, similar to Fante. In 1935 the Golden Stool was used in the ceremony to crown Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II (ruled 1935-1970). Independence from the British colonialist was secured March 6th. 1957 when Ghana became the first nation in Africa to gain Independence led by the great Kwame Nkrumah the first president of Ghana and a hero of the Pan African Movement. On August 3rd. 2000, a museum was dedicated to Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa at Kwaso in the Ejisu-Juaben District of Ghana.

She was the military leader of what is known as the "Yaa Asantewa War" which was the last war between the Asante and the British, and during which she became referred to by the British as the "Joan D’Arc of Africa." Although she did not enter combat herself, the troops fought in her name and she gave orders and provided the troops with gun powder.

Yaa Asantewaa died in exile in the Seychelles island on October 17th. 1921. Three years after her death, on December 27th. 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 when Ghana gained Independence.

Are you learning about Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa for the first time or have you learned about her prior to reading this post? Feel free to comment and let us know if you enjoyed reading this post.

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