By Jack Beesley
Yaa Asantewaa (c.1840 – 17 October 1921) was a Ghanaian warrior queen, whose courageous fight against British Colonialism during the War of the Golden Stool immortalised her as a beloved figure in Ghanaian history.
Born c. 1840 in the Ashanti Confederacy (present-day Ghana), Yaa Asantewaa was the oldest of two children, the second being Afrane Panin, who would become the Edwesohene (Chief of Edweso).
Yaa Asantewaa’s childhood passed uninterrupted. She is said to have been a major farmer, who cultivated countless crops in her farms in Boankra.
During her brother’s reign, Yaa Asantewaa witnessed the Ashanti Confederacy go through a series of wars against the British that endangered its stability. The destabilisation caused by these wars plunged the Ashanti Confederacy into a civil war that lasted from 1883-1888.
Amidst this turmoil, Yaa Asantewaa ascended the throne as Queen Mother of Ejisu. As throne inheritance is matrilineal in Ashanti culture, she would have succeeded either her mother or grandmother.
As Queen Mother, Yaa Asantewaa held many duties including being the Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool, a powerful symbol of the Ashanti kingdom.
When her brother died in 1894, Yaa Asantewaa used her right as Queen Mother to nominate her grandson as Ejisuhene. When the British exiled him to the Seychelles in 1896, along with other members of the Asante government, Asantewaa became regent of the Ejisu–Juaben district.
The British demanded complete surrender of the Ashanti Confederacy, epitomised by the demand for the Golden Stool by British Governor Frederick Hodgson.
In response, Yaa Asantewaa rallied the chiefs to war with a powerful speech, during which she seized a gun and fired a shot into the air. Subsequently, she was appointed leader and commander-in-chief of the Ashanti forces, a role formerly only held by men.
Yaa Asantewaa was victorious; the British never succeeded to raid the Ashanti of the Golden Stool. However, Asantewaa was eventually captured and forced to surrender.
Exiled to the Seychelles, Yaa Asantewaa died in 1921.
Albert Adu Boahen, Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1 (Oxford: James Currey, 2003)
Albert Adu Boahen, African Perspectives on Colonialism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).