Yaa Asantewaa was named Queen Mother of the Ejisuhene (Ashanti Confederacy) by her exiled brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese. Prior to European colonization, the Ashanti people developed a powerful West African empire. Yaa asantewaa was the Gatekeeper of the “Golden Stool” (Sika ‘dwa) during this influential Ashanti Confederacy (Asanteman), an independent federation of Asante tribal families that ruled from 1701 to 1896.
The story of Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa is a story of the modern history of Ghana. In 1896, Asantehene (King) Prempeh I of the Asanteman federation was captured by the British who had come to call the area the British “Gold Coast.” He was exiled to the Seychelles islands. Asantewaa’s brother was said to be among the men exiled with Prempeh I, deported because of his opposition to British rule in West Africa.
Old Ashanti Empire
In 1900, British colonial governor Frederick Hodgson called a meeting in the city of Kumasi of the Ashantehene local rulers. At the meeting, Hodgson stated that King Prempeh I would suffer continuously in exile from his native land and also, the Ashanti people were to surrender to the British their historical, ancestral Golden Stool – an imperial symbol of the Ashanti empire. Power was transferred to each Asantehene by a ceremonial crowning that involved the sacred Golden Stool. The colonial governor demanded that it be surrendered to allow Hodgson to sit on the Sika ‘dwa as a symbol of British power.
The golden stool
At this time, Yaa Asantewaa being the Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool was not ready to give up the sacred stool. After these meetings, the Ashantehenes of the federation gathered to discuss the British development. Upon hearing some of the Ashantehenes are willing to surrender to the British demands, it is reported that the Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa rose and said the following:
“Now I have seen 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, leaders would not sit down to see their King taken away without firing a shot.
No white man could have dared to speak to a leader of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you this morning.
Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be!
I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti 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.”
— Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa
The Ashanti-British “War of the Golden Stool” was led by Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa with an army of 5,000. Although Yaa Asantewaa was captured by the British and deported, her bravery stirred a kingdom-wide movement for the return of Prempeh I and for independence.
Today, Ashanti is an administrative region in Ghana where most of the inhabitants are Ashanti people who speak Twi, an Akan language group, similar to Fante. In 1935 the Golden Stool was used in the ceremony to crown Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II (ruled 1935-1970). Independence from the British colonialist was secured in 1957. On August 3, 2000, a museum was dedicated to Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa at Kwaso in the Ejisu-Juaben District of Ghana.