QUEEN MOTHER, YAA ASANTEWAA 1840 – 1921
Yaa Asantewaa is said to have been born in 1840 and died in 1921. She was a successful farmer and mother. She was an intellectual, a politician, human right activist, Queen and a leader. Yaa Asantewaa became famous for leading the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism to defend the Golden stool. She promoted women emancipation as well as gender equality. She was the sister of the Ruler of Ejisu (Ejisuhene) Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpase, an ethnic group in present day Ghana.
Asantewaa was appointed queen mother by her brother, Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese. Akwasi died after the Asante civil war between 1883 to 1888. After his death, Yaa Asantewaa, being very influential as queen mother, used her influence to nominate her grandson as Ruler of Ejisu. In 1896, her Grandson as well as the King of the Asante (Prempeh I) were exiled to Seychelles by the British. This was Britain’s way of dealing with African kings in the past as was the case with the Benin Kingdom with the capture and exile of Oba Ovonramwen (King of Benin) in 1897. Sending a king to exile in such times was often followed by looting of their land. This has led to the discovery of lots of Africa’s valued arts and crafts in Britain. Till date, Africa has still not been able to regain its stolen treasures.
As expected, to further entrench their authority, the British Governor-General of Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool. The Golden stool was the symbol of the Asante kingdom. This prompted a conference of the elders. Yaa Asantewaa was highly disgusted at the behavior of her male counterparts and insisted that if the men would not fight, she would gather the women to fight for the land.
Yaa Asantewaa led the famous war known as the War of the Golden Stool in 1900 against the British. She was captured and sent on exile to the Seychelles. Yaa Asantewa died in exile on the 17th of October 1921. Yaa Asantewa’s War was the last major war led by an African woman. To date, she is honored in Africa as one of the greatest African women. Her body was later returned to Ghana were she was given a befitting burial. She is honored with a school named after her, ‘Yaa Asantewaa Girl’s Secondary School’. In a worldwide competition organized by the BBC Focus on Africa Program at the end of 1999 to select the African Personality of the Millennium, Yaa Asantewaa placed 20th out of one hundred nominees.
Wilhelmina J. Donkoh once wrote; “The world has been blessed with numerous women of great courage. These include Queen Idia of Benin, Queen Amina of Zaria, Queen Ndeta Yalla of Senegal, Nongqawuse of the Republic of South Africa, Queen of the Ndongo of Angola, Kimpa Vita of Kongo, Rosa Luxemburg of Polen, Martha Schad of Augsburg, Queen Elisabeth of Great Britain and a host of other brave women leaders. Nana Yaa Asantewaa was the most prominent of the lot, in the African context. Her accomplishments may not have been as great as Queen Amina of Zaria or Queen Elizabeth I in terms of span of leadership, but her courage to stand up to fight the British occupation in West Africa in spite of an initially unmotivated front put up by the Ghanaian men puts her at the top of Africa’s greatest female leaders.”
Many Africans often name their daughters after Nana Yaa Asantewaa. The former President of Ghana, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings for example named his second daughter after her. Also Anthony A. Williams, the previous Mayor of Washington D.C in the United States named his daughter in honor of Yaa Asantewaa.