Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Yaa Asantewaa

(c.1850-c.1920)

Yaa Asantewaa was the queen mother of the Edweso tribe of the Asante (Ashanti) in what is modern Ghana. At the time, the Gold Coast (west-central Africa) was under the British protectorate. The British supported their campaigns against the Asante with taxes levied upon the local population. In addition, they took over the state-owned gold mines thus removing considerable income from the Asante government. Missionary schools were also established and the missionaries began interfering in local affairs.

When the Asante began rebelling against the British rule, the British attempted to put down the unrests. Furthermore, the British governor, Lord Hodgson, demanded that the Asante turn over to them the Golden Stool, i.e. the throne and a symbol of Asante independence. Capt. C. H. Armitage was sent out to force the people to tell him where the Golden Stool was hidden and to bring it back. After going from village to village with no success, Armitage found at the village of Bare only the children who said their parents had gone hunting. In response, Armitage ordered the children to be beaten. When their parents came out of hiding to defend the children, he had them bound and beaten, too.

This brutality was the instigation for the Yaa Asantewaa War for Independence which began on March 28, 1900. Yaa Asantewaa mobilized the Asante troops and for three months laid siege to the British mission at the fort of Kumasi. The British had to bring in several thousand troops and artillery to break the siege. Also, in retaliation, the British troops plundered the villages, killed much of the population, confiscated their lands and left the remaining population dependent upon the British for survival. They also captured Queen Yaa Asantewaa whom they exiled along with her close companions to the Seychelle Islands off Africa's east coast, while most of the captured chiefs became prisoners-of-war. Yaa Asantewaa remained in exile until her death twenty years later.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

Bibliography:
1. Women Who Ruled: A Biographical Encyclopedia by Guida M. Jackson, Barnes & Noble Books, 1998
2. Women Warriors: A History by David E. Jones, Brassey's, 1997

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