Africa is certainly not impoverished in matters of female heroes, queens and warlords, and the strict uniformity of the patrilineal is not universal in Africa. Matrilineal systems abound, and there have certainly been a number of mighty and fearless African women in the history of the continent.
Yaa Asantewaa was born in 1840 in what would today be known as southern Ghana. Then it was part of the Ashanti Empire, one of the great empires of precolonial Africa. This region, however, was what the British called the âGold Coast’, for obvious reasons. In the post-slavery era, the European powers, and in particular the British, were beginning to jostle with one another for influence in Africa, and for territory. Where local societies were fractured and disunited, foreign rule was easy, but were large and cohesive monarchies and kingdoms existed, war was usually inevitable.
In this case, it was the âWar of the Golden Stool’, the ultimate British effort to bring the independent Ashanti to heel. In 1896, at the age of fifty-Six, Yaa Asantewaa was queen mother. King Asantehene Prempeh I of the Ashanti was captured, and exiled to the Seychelles, and there practically held as a hostage. It was demanded of the Ashanti leadership that the âGolden Stool’, the symbol of dynastic power, be handed over.
At the time, Yaa Asantewaa was the keeper of the stool, which was a position of considerable influence. Upon discovering that a majority of councilmen and leaders were tempted to make peace with the British, she recalled the great days of the empire, when men would not allow themselves to be oppressed. She instead led an army against the British, the âWar of the Golden Stool‘. Despite there being no real hope of victory, the war was bloody and hard-fought. Yaa Asantewaa, however, was captured and exiled along with her family to Seychelles.
Today, Ashanti is a district of central Ghana, which became independent from Britain in 1957. Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa remains a figure of enormous cultural and political significance, and on August 3, 2000, a museum was dedicated to her at Kwaso, in the Ejisu-Juaben District of modern Ghana.