Yaa Asantewaa (c.1840-1921) was appointed Queen Mother of the Asante people – now part of modern day Ghana – by her brother the then ruler of Ejisu, of the Asante Confederacy. When her brother died in 1894, Yaa Asantewaa nominated her own grandson as ruler. The British exiled him to the Seychelles Islands in two years later. Yaa Asantewaa became regent.
The Queen Mother, according to Ghanaian tradition, is a strong and respected woman, whose wisdom, courage and virtue gain for her the respect and loyalty of her people. The Queen Mother is considered the guardian of truth and justice in all matters.
Yaa Asantewaa was known for her independent spirit and honesty. In Ghana, when a child is born, there is a “naming day” when the baby is accepted into the family and placed under the protection of its ancestors. The baby’s name is called out and the baby’s tongue is touched with water while these words are spoken: “When you see water, call it water.” The lesson is simple: Let the truth be your guide and tell the truth under all circumstances; water must always remain water.
Yaa Asantewaa never forgot this lesson. The truth she spoke and the decisions she made in pursuit of justice for her people would change the course of Ghanaian history.
The British colonial powers were determined to break the spirit of the Asante by seizing The Golden Stool – the revered symbol of all Asante royal authority, which houses the spiritual essence of the Asante nation. According to ancient Ghanaian traditions, it descended from heaven as a present from the gods to make the Ghanaian people powerful, wealthy and courageous.
The members of the Asante government called a secret meeting to discuss how to safeguard The Golden Stool and secure the return of their king. Yaa Asantewaa, who was the only woman present at the meeting, was astonished that the other members of the Asante government were hesitant about resisting the British, she stood and addressed the members of the council with these famous words:
“Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye and Opoko Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa fired up their courage with this fierce challenge. This attempt to seize The Golden Stool caused the outbreak of The Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa’s War of Independence, or, as it is more commonly known, The War of the Golden Stool. This struggle became known as the first African war for independence from a colonial power and the beginning of Africa’s self-rule. Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa personally led the rebellion, which lasted for six months until the British brought in superior forces and artillery. For her role in the uprising Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa was exiled to the Seychelles Islands, where she died in 1921.
Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa’s dream of independence was realized on March 6, 1957, when the Asante became part of Ghana, the first African colonial nation to achieve complete independence from the British Empire.
Listen to Yaa Asantewaa’s Storybook Excerpt!
This authentic fabric design for the Queen Mother was inspired by The Museum of Natural History Textile Archives – Design and Colors are specific to Ashanti Royalty