The world has been graced with many phenomenal women, but few can match up to the magnificence of Yaa Asantewaa. Born in 1840, during a time when Britain was seeking to establish its presence in Africa, Yaa would grow up to be a knight in shining armor for the Ashanti Empire as she confronted the mighty cannons of the British colonialists.
Asantewaa was the queen mother of Ejisuhene which was part of the Asante or Ashanti Empire. This role was assigned to her by her brother, Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese, who was the ruler of the Ejisushene. When Akwasi died during the 1883 -1888 civil war, Yaa Asantewaa, exploited her position and authority as queen mother to appoint her grandson as monarch of Ejisushene. Unfortunately, in 1896, her Grandson was exiled on Seychelles Island by the British. The exile of their leader left the Ejisu people in turmoil. The empire was left with a significant leadership vacuum which all the men were reluctant to take up for the fear of the wrath of the British Colonial Government.
Confident of the sovereignty of his government, and with a desire to further cement his authority over the Ashanti Empire, the British Governor-General of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) Frederick Hodgson, sought to take the Golden stool which symbolized power from the weakened monarchy. His demands prompted a meeting of the elders. During the meeting, Yaa Asantewaa expressed her utter disgust at the cowardly conduct of her male counterparts who were afraid to go to war to defend the kingdom. In an emotionally charged speech, she resolved that if the men were afraid to defend their kingdom, she would rally the women to fight for their land. She stood by her word.
In 1900 at a time when African women were expected to assume a subservient position in society, Yaa Asantewaa rose up against tradition, congregated an army of over 5000 people to defend what was left of their kingdom against the British. This battle is famously known as the War of the Golden Stool. It was the last major rebellion led by a woman. Though she was captured and later exiled, her bravery had a ripple effect which stirred a kingdom-wide movement for independence.
Asantewaa died in exile on the 17 October 1921, leaving a great legacy for all African women and girls to emulate. Her acts of bravery remind us each day of the often untapped abilities of women. They also inspire us to be braver, rise up and challenge the unhinged status quo.
Yaa Asantewaa is honored in Ghana as one of the most courageous African women to have ever graced the land. She was named one of African personalities of the Millennium by the BBC Focus on Africa programme, and a girls’ school was built in her memory.