Women Warriors: Why Yaa Asantewaa needs to be remembered in Women’s History Month
Women History Month would not be complete without mentioning this Ghanaian heroine. When Queen Mother of Ejusi, Yaa Asantwaa fought against British colonisers she did it in boldness and not fear, with pride and not an inferiority complex. In 1900, a time without ‘womens movements’ and social media, Yaa Asantewaa was determined to fight for her people, for the Asante kingdom (of modern day Ghana) to keep what was rightfully theirs and stop the British from stealing the Golden Stool. Described as embodying the soul of the Asante people, the golden stool is very sacred.
History documents that the War of the Golden Stool aka the Yaa Asantewaa War took place on 28th March 1900. It was the last war between modern day Ghana and her British colonial oppressors. The British were asserting their control and were determined to capture the Asante kingdom along with all it’s riches. The Asante people had fiercely fought the British in previous wars to maintain their sovereignty (as they should have) but the British were persistent in their oppression.
Photo: source unknown via Google
The Treaty of Formena (1874) paralysed the Asante Kingdom economically. Historical accounts state the British took advantage of and insinuated internal fights among the Asante people. Multiple successions of the Asantehene (King of Asante) weakened the throne, but in 1888 Kwaku Dua III ascended and later became known as ‘Prempeh I’. By 1891 Prempeh I was able to unite the Asante kingdom, something which the British feared as they were wanted to expand their control before the French and Germans encroached on their plans.
Through various means the British weakened the Asante Kingdom, in 1896 they demanded the Asantehene, Prempe I to pay them in large amounts of Gold as stipulated in the Treaty of Formena. Prempe I could not pay and was exiled by the British from his own kingdom with his family and other important royal members, to Sierra Leone and later to the Seychelles.
The British were not done, they wanted to strip the Asante kingdom of any dignity and demanded the Golden Stool. Before being exiled the chiefs hid the golden, but in 1899 British governor Fredrick Hodgson went to Kumasi to get it but failed. After this latest attempt, in a kingdom that was unravelling from various assaults by the British intent on stealing all the wealth of the Asante kingdom, the remaining despondent chiefs met to decide what to do. It was during that sombre meeting where the famous words of Yaa Asantewaa were spoken and why she has to be remembered in history as one of the greatest heroines of all time
“Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king…in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king to be taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
Yaa Asentewaa became the leader and mobilising her troops, fought in what was the last war against British colonialism; the war ended in 1901.
Did Yaa Asentewaa’s army win the war?
No. But she stood and fought, in a time when there were no women liberation movements etc. Yaa Asentewaa didn’t just let things happen to her she boldly fought for the freedom of her people in their own land. After defeat she too was also exiled to the Seychelles, where she died in 1921.
Ghana remained under British rule until March 1957 when she became (as commonly documented) the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from European rule
Because of her bravery, the Yaa Asantewaa legacy lives on, documented in history books and critically acclaimed fictional novels. This Women’s History Month let’s remember women who fought for something greater than themselves and even in ‘defeat’ were still Queens.
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