A Woman to Know: Yaa Asantewaa

If you, the men of Asanta, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. — Yaa Asentawaa

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Yaa Asentawaa is remembered in West Africa as a symbol of African resistance. She fended off British colonialists throughout the late 1890s and shocked Europeans with her very existence. Yaa Asentawaa's high position of respect mystified the encroaching Victorians -- a woman? in power? leading men into battle? But among the Asante people, Yaa Asentawaa's position as "Queen Mother" was highly valued. Women historically took seats, or "stools," on the tribal councils to work alongside men, even mobilizing their fellow women in times of conflict.

When Yaa Asentawaa ruled as Queen Mother of the Asante in 1900, the British exiled her grandson, then the king. Yaa Asentawaa and her people revolted, leading a rebellion that temporarily slowed the British invasion. She later died in British captivity, living just long enough to see the invaders claim her beloved Ghana as a British protectorate. Today, historians remember the decade-long war as "The War of the Golden Stool," or, as it is known in Ghana, "Yaa Asentawaa's War." West Africans sing her name in a popular folk verse:

Yaa Asentawaa
The woman who fights before cannons
You have accomplished great things
You have done very well.

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