An Oblivious Governor Delivers One of History Worst Received Speeches
In March of 1900, the governor of Britain’s Gold Coast, Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, accompanied by his wife, travelled with a military escort to Kumasi, chief city of the Ashanti. There, he summoned the chiefs, and oblivious to their sensibilities, delivered a speech that greatly offended them: “Your king Prempeh has been exiled and will never return to you. His power and authority will be taken over by the British Queen and her representative. The terms of the 1874 peace treaty between the Ashanti and Britain, which required you to pay for the cost of that war, have not been forgotten. The Ashanti are required to pay Â£160,000 a year, plus interest. Then there is the matter of the Golden Stool of Ashanti.
What must I do to the man, whoever he is, who has failed to give the Queen the stool to which she is entitled? The British Queen is entitled to the stool, and she must receive it. Where is the Golden Stool? I am the Queen’s representative, so why have you made me sit on this ordinary chair? You knew I was coming to Kumasi, so why did you not take the opportunity to bring the Golden Stool for me to sit upon? However, you may rest assured that although you have not delivered the Golden Stool into the hands of the British Government, it will rule over you with the same impartiality and fairness as if you had produced it.“
Hodgson’s speech was the functional equivalent of an alien marching into the Vatican, addressing a throng of cardinals and priests and the other faithful, and requesting that they bring him the Papal throne so he could defecate upon it. Had Hodgson been less ignorant about his audience and of what made them tick, he would have realized that it was inconceivable that the Ashanti would willingly produce the Golden Stool – symbol of the Ashanti state and its peoples, past, present, and future – for a foreigner to sit upon and defile.
Asantewaa shamed the Ashanti for their passivity and perceived cowardice, and fired them up into resistance with a stirring speech, the gist of which went: “I see that some of you are afraid to step forward and fight for our king. If we were still in the brave days, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, our chiefs would not simply sit down and see their king being taken away without firing a shot. In those days, no white man could have dared to speak to an Ashanti chief the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning.
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 pay nothing 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. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! If the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we, the women, will. We will fight the white men until the last one of us falls in the battlefields“.