In this month’s Kickass Women in History, we take a trip to the Ashanti Empire, where reigned Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother during the War of the Golden Stool. Born around 1840, she was instrumental in the fight against British Colonialism.
The Asante Confederacy (also referred to as the Ashanti Empire) was located in what is now Ghana. It lasted from approximately 1670 to 1902 (when it officially became a British protectorate). Today it is recognized as proto-state within the Republic of Ghana.
An object called “The Golden Stool” symbolically and ceremonially unifies the Asante clans. This sacred object was part of the inauguration of each new king. The rulers of Ghana do not actually sit on it. Rather, they are lifted over the stool without touching it as part of their coronation, and during ceremonies they sit beside the stool, not on it. The stool itself rests on a blanket or other surface, but never directly touches the ground.
Yaa Asantewaa became the Queen Mother in 1894, when her brother died and her grandson became the ruler of Ejisu, one of the regions of the Asante Confederacy. At that time, the Confederacy had fought several battles against the British, who were currently in power.
In 1896, the British exiled Yaa Asantewaa’s grandson and other rulers, including King Prempah I, leaving Yaa Asantewaa as Regent. The British Governor of the district, Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool, planning to have it sent to England. The Asante hid it.
Hodgson called a meeting of Ashanti rulers and said the following:
What must I do to the man, whoever he is, who has failed to give to the Queen, who is the paramount power in the country, the stool to which she is entitled? Where is the Golden Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power in this country; why have you relegated me to this chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool and give it to me to sit upon?”
When the remaining chiefs struggled with how to respond to this affront as well as the exile of their king, Yaa Asantewaa said the following:
Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were 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 the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.
The Dangerous Women Project also quotes her as saying:
How can a proud and brave people like the Ashanti sit back and look while white men take away their king and chiefs, and humiliate them with demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the white man; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the Governor. If you, the chiefs of Ashanti, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.
It was decided that they would rebel, and that Yaa Asantewaa would lead the war – the first and only woman to in Asante history to do so. She was sixty years old when she became “The Warrior Queen.” She often appeared, armed, on the battlefield, and encouraged women to recruit their husbands.
Yaa Asantewaa’s forces lay siege to Kumasi Fort. Eventually they were defeated, and Yaa Asantewaa joined other exiled leaders in the Seychelles, a group of islands off the coast of East Africa. She died in 1921.
In 1957, Ghana became the first African Nation to gain independence. Yaa Asantewaa remains a national heroine and inspiration to both men and women.
As for The Golden Stool, according to History Uncaged:
The British never did get their hands on the Golden Stool (despite their continued efforts to find it). Instead, it was uncovered by road workers in the early 1920’s. The workers stripped the gold off the chair and sold different bits of pieces of the throne. The Ashanti’s caught the workers and sentenced them to death, but the British stepped in and arranged for them to be exiled instead. In 1924 King Prempeh I returned to Kumasi to rapturous applause.
A note: In researching this article I came across quite a bit of confusing and inconsistent terminology. I adopted the terminology found on GhanaNation and have used that throughout, thus my use of ‘Asante’ as opposed to “Ashanti.”