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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 3 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2000 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 111 YAA ASANTEWAA IN THE YAA ASANTEWAA WAR OF 1900: MILITARY LEADER OR SYMBOLIC HEAD? ALBERT ADU BOAHEN Introduction In Asante oral traditions, the last Anglo-Asante War of the nineteenth century or the first of the twentieth century from April 1900 to January 1901 is known as the Yaa Asantewaa Sa (War), while to the English it is known as the Asante Rebellion of 1900. Unfortunately, while we have some information from Asante oral traditions and some documentary sources about this war and about Yaa Asantewaa, nowhere has her actual involvement been discussed. Was Nana Yaa Asantewaa a real or mythical personality? What actual role did she play in the war? How long did this war last? When, where and how was she arrested and what happened to her after her arrest? Why did she get so involved in this war? What is the justification for naming this war after her? And finally, what is the real significance of this war? These are the questions that this article will attempt to answer. Historical and Biographical Background From Asante oral traditions, especially those of Edweso and Kumasi, Nana Yaa Asantewaa is not a legendary or mythical figure but an actual person who was born at Besease near Edweso, located about 12 miles from Kumasi on the present Kumasi-Accra trunk road. Her mother was Nana Ataa Po or Nana Teepo of the Asona matrilineal royal clan of the Edweso state. Her father was Nana Kwaku Ampoma from Ampabame near Besease. Together they had only two children, Yaa Asantewaa and her brother who became the Edwesohene under the stool name of Afrane Panin (Afrane I). Oral traditions are silent on the date of Nana Yaa Asantewaa’s birth and maintain only that she grew to a ripe old age and was certainly old at the time of the war. Opanin Kwadwo Mosi, who was about 80 years in 1970, informed Thomas Lewin in an interview conducted on 8 June 1970 that he met Yaa Asantewaa when he was conveying foodstuffs from Onwe 112 Ghana Studies • volume 3 • 2000 to the battle front at Gyaakye. Opanin Kwadwo Mosi described Yaa Asantewaa as “a heavy woman, about 5′10″ and not fifty years old by then.”1 But all the British officers, especially Armitage, Montanaro and Bliss, who saw her during the war described her as “the old Queen Mother of Ejisu,” and she therefore must have been older than 50 years. Some documentary sources also give us some indications. According to a census conducted on the Seychelles Islands in 1912, Yaa Asantewaa’s age was estimated at about 80 years at the time. According to Edgerton, Yaa Asantewaa was 60 years at the time of the Battle of Edweso on 31 August 1900 and “her size [was] five-foot ten and about two hundred pounds.”2 The Daily Mirror of London of June 1950 also reported that Yaa Asantewaa, whom it described as “The Joan of Arc of Africa,” died on the Seychelles Islands “a heroine of her people; aged 101.”3 From all this, and judging by her aged looks (probably putting her in her eighties or nineties) in a group photograph taken on the Seychelles Islands in the late 1900s and seen by this writer during his visit to the Seychelles in 1973, it may be safely conjectured that Nana Yaa Asantewaa was born around 1830 during the reign of Asantehene Osei Yaw Akoto (r. 1822–1833). Yaa Asantewaa was married to Nana Owusu Kwabena from Kantinkyiren near Trede, who was a grandson of the Golden Stool and a relation of Baffour Akoto. Yaa Asantewaa and her husband had only one child, a daughter named Ama Serwah Brakatu. Yaa Asantewaa’s daughter married Nana Kwadwo Frimpon from Banso, which is now part of Manhyia near Besease on the main Kumasi-Accra road. They had eight sons and three daughters. Among the sons were Yaw Afoakwa, Yaw Barima and Kofi Tene, who became Edwesohene with the stool name of Afrane Kumaa in 1894 and was arrested with Asantehene...


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