Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother

Name of Birth:                Yaa Asantewaa

Place of Birth:                 Ejisu-Juaben Municipal District, Ghana

Date of Birth:                  date unknown, 1840

Place of Death:                Seychelles, East Africa’s coast

Date of Death:                 October 17, 1921

Described as “African Joan D’Arc”, Yaa Asantewaa was Queen Mother of the region of Edweso, part of the ancient kingdom of Ashanti and part of modern Ghana. She was the sister of Kwasi Afrane Panin, who became chief of Edweso when Yaa was really young. Near them was the Golden Coast, a place where the british campaigned against the Ashanti Empire by taxing, converting and taking control of parts of the tribe’s territory, including many goldmines.  

Prior to European colonization, the Ashanti people developed an influential West African empire. Asantewaa was the Gatekeeper of the "Golden Stool" (Sika 'dwa) during this powerful Ashanti Confederacy (Asanteman), an independent federation of Asanti tribal families that ruled from 1701 to 1896.

When the Ashanti started to resist the British domination, they decided to take possession of the Golden Stool, a kind of sacred throne for the Ashanti and symbol of their independence. In order to get it, the British captain C.H. Armitage was sent to intimidate the population. The Captain went from village to village beating children and adults, in the hopes of getting the throne. In 1896, Asantehene (King) Prempeh I of the Asanteman federation was captured and exiled to the Seychelles islands 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, deported because of his opposition to British rule in West Africa.

In 1900, British colonial governor Frederick Hodgson called a meeting in the city of Kumasi of the Ashantehene local rulers. At the meeting, Hodgson stated that King Prempeh I would continue to suffer an 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 as a symbol of British power.

Yaa was the only women present and the one in possession of the stool. Seeing that her comrades pretended to surrender to the British’s demands, she rose and said a passionate speech for the Ashantehenes, saying that she refused to surrender to them, and that if they would, she would call upon her fellow women and fight until the last one of them fell.

This speech unleashed the Yaa Asantewaa Independence war, that started on that same day. As leader of the revolution, she gathered a personal army of about 5.000 soldiers. During three months, she was able to siege the British fortress in Kumasi. After suffering in the first combat, reinforcements from Nigeria were brought to Ghana to deal with the troublesome Yaa. Finally, in March 3rd of 1901 the Queen Mother was arrested and sent to exile in the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, where she stayed until her death, at the age of 90.

Although arrested, her bravery stirred a kingdom-wide movement for the return of Prempeh I and for independence.

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 in 1957. On August 3, 2000, a museum was dedicated to Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa at Kwaso in the Ejisu-Juaben District of Ghana.

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."

-- Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewa