Call her Africa’s first female General and you wouldn’t be far from the Truth. Nana Yaa Asantewaa native and Queen mother of Ejisu, a state within the Great Ashanti Kingdom in the Gold Coast (present day Ghana). Her bravery and military tactics helped protect Ashanti Kingdom Against imminent British invasion.
The Ashanti kingdom was a very powerful kingdom which was instituted by Okomfo Anokye, a fetish priest and a native of Agona who conjured the “Sika Dwa Kofi” (Golden stool) from the skies which fell on the laps of Nana Osei Tutu, first king of the Ashanti people. The Golden stool symbolizes authority and unity of the Ashanti kingdom. Oral tradition makes us understand that, the soul and spirit of the ashanti people are enshrined in the stool.
Prior to the arrival of the British in the kingdom in the 19th century, the indigenes were predominantly gold miners and farmers. The British settled and established a barter trading system with them where they exchanged foreign goods like cloths, ceramics, drinks and others for gold. Due to the abundant reserves of gold by the British in the area, the British persuaded the ashantis in 1891 to sign a treaty with them to become a British Protectorate which the chiefs refused. The British fought a series of war against the Ashantis, the first Anglo-Ashanti war was in 1823 and subsequent wars in 1863-64, 1873-74. By 1896 the British had conquered the Ashantis, and sent the then king, Nana Prempeh I into exile in the Seychelles. The British then looted gold reserves and other valuable resources in the kings palace and set it ablaze.
Although, the British had captured the Ashanti king they felt without claiming the golden stool which represent authority and spiritual existence of the kingdom they wouldn’t have absolute control over the people. Sir Frederick Hodgson, the then governor of the Gold Coast on 28th March 1900 openly demanded the Golden stool from the chiefs at a grand durbar held to welcome the then Governor to Kumasi, after a two consecutive failed attempt to steal it. In a book written by Mrs. Mary Hodgson, the wife of Governor Hodgson titled “The Siege of Kumasi” described how Nana Yaa Asantewaa abused the Governor after demanding for the stool. She said “Except the Queen of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa who at the time she was to shake hands with the governor stopped before the governor, and stretching out her hand , examined the governor’s order and decoration and sarcastically admired his uniform. Yaa Asantewaa insisted on coming up the dais to shake hands with me, only to soil my gloves with the spittle of chewed cola nut which she had stored in her palm”. This among other reasons like encroachment of the Ashanti land by the British,looting of the Asantehene’s palace and forcefully sending King Prempeh I into exile brought about the Yaa Asantewaa war in 1900-1901 which the indigenes described as “War of independence” where as the British termed it as the “Asante Rebellion” . Nana Yaa Asantewaa swore an oath to protect the stool with her life and encouraged the other chiefs to join and wage a war against British oppression.
She led an Army of Asante worriors and constituted a war council. Among strategies adopted by the council were the formation of military units, building camps at vantage points leading to Kumasi to check the advancement of the enemies. She also delegated powers to other chiefs as commanders of the various units. Nana Kofi Fofie was Director General in charge of wars, Captain Kwame Afrifa was appointed commander of the Asante contingent, Kwaku Berchie a linguist of Kumasi commanded troops manning the Kintampo-Nkoranza unit and a host of other chiefs heading other units . Yaa Asantewaa and her men engaged the British in a very fierce battle. They managed to capture the British and forced them to flee from Kumasi to the coast. Governor Hodgson then called on the Queen of England, Queen Victoria for re-enforcement of their troop. Troops from Seirre Leone Britain, Hausa and other crown colonies came to augment the British army to re-launch an attack on Kumasi . They defeated and conquered the Ashantis, arrested Yaa Asantewaa and sent her into exile in Seychelles where she later died due to inhumane treatment meted out to her, however their search for the Golden Stool proved futile since they didn’t found it.
In 1924, King Prempeh was released from exile to return home. Although Nana Yaa Asantewaa was captured, her bravery to lead the gallant worriors of Ashantis to resist against British oppression is something that can never be erased from the history of Asante and its Kingdom even at the time when she was using a Dutch Musket gun as against a more sophisticated arms like 75 cm pounder gun by the British.
The Kingdom still remains resolute and powerful in present day with it King and ruler Nana Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.