Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti kingdom - War of the Golden Stool

Yaa Asantewaa (17 October 1840 – 17 October 1921) was the queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire – now part of modern-day Ghana – appointed by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Opese, the Edwesuhene, or ruler, of Edwesu. In 1900 she led the Ashanti war known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa War, against the British Empire.

AFRICAN HISTORY MAZU

deangichuki

3/30/2022 2 min read

woman standing beside white wall

Yaa Asantewaa (17 October 1840 – 17 October 1921) was the queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire – now part of modern-day Ghana – appointed by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Opese, the Edwesuhene, or ruler, of Edwesu. In 1900 she led the Ashanti war known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa War, against the British Empire.

As the Queen Mother, Asantewaa held many responsibilities, including being the Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool is an emblem of the Ashanti kingdom, cultural system, and power. Since the Queen Mother is elected to be the mother of the reigning king, she presents candidates for when the occupant of the Stool (the chiefdom) becomes vacant, in turn protecting the establishment of authority. Additionally, since the Queen Mother is the main adviser for the King, and thus is the second-highest position within the empire, she fulfils the role of guarding the Golden Stool.

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 exile of Prempeh I, the British governor-general of the Gold Coast, Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool. 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, held her ground and rallied the troops. Her leadership and passion led to her role as Commander in Chief of the Ashanti army. This is the first and only example for a woman to be given that role in Asante history. In turn, the Anglo-Ashanti wars’ fifth and final war against the British became known as the Yaa Asantewaa War of Independence (or the War of the Golden Stool), which began on March 28, 1900 with an army of 5,000.

To inspire the leaders of her community, Asantewaa proclaimed that if the men of the kingdom would not defend the people, then the women would rise to the challenge. This both invigorated the men and challenged traditional gender roles. She led the rebellion and became an image of strength and resistance. Unfortunately, she was captured during the rebellion and exiled to Seychelles, where she died in 1921.

Yaa Asantewaa remains a powerful reminder due to her impactful actions in both empowering her people and in tactics against the British army. In August 2000, to commemorate her influence, a museum was opened in her honor in the Ejisu-Juaben District of Ghana. Similarly, there is an achievement award titled the “Nana Yaa Asantewaa Awards” (NYA) which honors women who uphold the values and leadership of Asantewaa.