Women in History: Yaa Asantewaa (1840-1921)

Yaa Asantewaa was the queen mother and regent of Ejisu in the Asante Empire (Ghana) during the 1800s, and she is known for inspiring the Asante people and leading an uprising against British colonizers.

Asantewaa was assigned the title “queen mother” by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese, the ruler of Ejisu. When her brother died in 1894, she appointed her grandson as ruler of Ejisu. However, Asantewaa’s grandson did not last long as the ruleru as he, the King of Asante (Prempeh I) and other members of the Asante government were banished to Seychelle by the British in 1896. At the time, the British were trying to colonize the area and had been taxing the people, taking over their state-owned gold mines (which provided the majority of Asante’s income) and had been establishing missionary schools in Asante. Their banishment of Asante’s rulers was a means to disenfranchise the Asante people and to discourage any rebellion.

After most of Asante’s officials had been banished, in a move to further establish their dominance, the British demanded the Golden Stool, the Asante nation’s throne and sign of independence. This prompted the remaining members of the Asante government to hold a meeting.

The remaining Asante government members wanted their king to be returned, but they could not agree on how to accomplish this, and when Asantewaa (who was the then regent of Ejisu-Juaben District) saw these men faltering she rallied them together with these now famous words:

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 Opolu 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.

And while Asantewaa spoke to her people, the British Captain C. H. Armitage searched for the Golden Stool.

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The Golden Stool on a throne.

Armitage searched and searched for the Golden Stool, but he could not find it. One day, during one of his searches, Armitage came across a village full of children but no adults. When the children told him that their parents were out hunting, Armitage had the children beaten. It is assumed that he did this not only because was he a dick but because he also believed that the children were lying and that their parents were hiding from him. Sure enough, Armitage was right because once the parents saw that their children were being beaten they came out of hiding, and they were beaten by the British as well.  This was a horrible move on the part of the British. The Asante people were already enraged that they were being taxed, that their mines had been stolen and that their rulers had been banished so when this beating occurred, the Asante people took matters into their own hands and rebelled against their British oppressors. This rebellion would become known as the Asante Uprising (or Yaa Asantewaa War for Independence) and Asantewaa would lead this uprising.

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The Asante Uprising began in 1900. They (the Asante people) laid siege to a British fort in Kumsai for three months, and the British had to bring in 1,400 soldiers to break the siege. The British won the battle against the Asante, and as punishment for their rebellion, the British ransacked Asante villages, killed a significant portion of the Asante population and confiscated Asante lands which made the remaining Asante population effectively dependent upon the British for survival.

As to Asantewaa, she and her 15 closest advisors were captured and exiled to Seychelles. Asantewaa died while in exile, and three years after her death, Prempeh I and the other exiled members of the Asante court returned to Asante. Asantewaa’s remains were taken back to Asante by Prempeh I for a proper royal burial, and Asante did not gain independence from Britain until 1957 when Asante joined Ghana.

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