IWD2023: The Fearless Yaa Asantewaa I: A Warrior Queen Who Fought for Independence

By Duchess Magazine

In the history of Africa, there are numerous stories of women who played vital roles in shaping the destiny of their nations. Among these heroines is Yaa Asantewaa I, the Queen Mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire, now part of modern-day Ghana. Yaa Asantewaa was not only a successful farmer and mother but also an intellectual, politician, human rights activist, queen, and war leader. In 1900, she led the Ashanti War, also known as the War of the Golden Stool, against the British Empire. As part of our celebration of International Women’s Day this month, we celebrate the life and achievements of the fearless warrior queen, Yaa Asantewaa I.

Born in 1840 in Besease, Ghana, Yaa Asantewaa was the daughter of Kwaku Ampoma and Ata Po. Her brother, Afrane Panin, became the chief of Edweso, a nearby community. After a childhood without incident, she cultivated crops on the land around Boankra. She entered a polygamous marriage with a man from Kumasi, with whom she had a daughter.

During her brother’s reign, Yaa Asantewaa saw the Ashanti Confederacy go through a series of events that threatened its future, including a civil war from 1883 to 1888. When her brother died in 1894, Yaa Asantewaa used her right as Queen Mother to nominate her own grandson as Ejisuhene. When the British exiled him to the Seychelles in 1896, along with the King of Asante Prempeh I and other members of the Asante government, Yaa Asantewaa became regent of the Ejisu–Juaben district.

After the exile of Prempeh I, the British governor-general of the Gold Coast, Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation. This request led to a secret meeting of the remaining members of the Asante government at Kumasi to discuss how to secure the return of their king. There was a disagreement among those present on how to go about this. Yaa Asantewaa, who was present at this meeting, stood and addressed the members of the council with these words:

“How can a proud and brave people like the Asante sit back and look while white men took away their king and chiefs, and humiliated them with a demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the white men; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the governor. If you, the chiefs of Asante, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments (Montu mo danta mma me na monnye me tam).”

To dramatize her determination to go to war, she seized a gun and fired a shot in front of the men. Yaa Asantewaa was chosen by a number of regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. This was the first and only example of a woman being given that role in Asante history.

The Ashanti-British War of the Golden Stool, also known as the “Yaa Asantewaa War,” was led by Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa with an army of 5,000. Beginning in March 1900, the rebellion laid siege to the fort at Kumasi, where the British had sought refuge. The fort still stands today as the Kumasi Fort and Military Museum.

Yaa Asantewaa’s leadership and bravery continue to inspire women across Africa and the world. She proved that women are capable of leading, fighting, and protecting their communities, despite patriarchal traditions that restrict their involvement in politics and warfare.

In Ghana, Yaa Asantewaa is revered as a national hero and a symbol of resistance against colonialism. Her life and legacy have been celebrated in literature, music, and art, and her story is taught in Ghanaian schools.

Beyond Ghana, Yaa Asantewaa’s impact on African women is immeasurable. Her leadership during the Ashanti-British War of the Golden Stool set a precedent for women’s involvement in political and military affairs. Today, African women are continuing to break barriers and challenge the status quo in politics, business, science, and other fields.

However, there is still a long way to go. African women continue to face discrimination and barriers to equal opportunities, and they are often underrepresented in leadership positions. Yaa Asantewaa’s legacy reminds us that women are powerful agents of change who can drive progress and lead their communities to a brighter future.

Yaa Asantewaa was a remarkable woman who defied gender norms and played a critical role in Ghana’s fight for independence from British colonialism. Her bravery, leadership, and determination continue to inspire women across the African continent and beyond.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is essential to recognize the contributions of women like Yaa Asantewaa, who paved the way for future generations of women leaders. We must also commit ourselves to breaking down the barriers that prevent women from reaching their full potential and creating a world where gender equality is a reality.

Yaa Asantewaa’s legacy reminds us that women are capable of great things, and their contributions should be recognized and celebrated. As we honor her memory, let us continue to strive for a world where all women have equal opportunities to succeed and make a positive impact on their communities.

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Joseph Omoniyi

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