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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 137 YAA ASANTEWAA’S WAR OF INDEPENDENCE: HONORING AND RATIFYING AN HISTORIC PLEDGE PASHINGTON OBENG Introduction Yaa Asantewaa’s 1900 resistance to the British rule brought into focus a constellation of issues about Asante identity, military and political activity, and thepossibilityforawomantoreconfigureAsantepoliticalculture.Thispaper, therefore, draws attention to Yaa Asantewaa’s agency in mobilizing gender and spiritual power to wage a war of resistance. The paper provides a context for understanding ways in which Yaa Asantewaa’s deployment of Asante religion, culture and her adept sacred knowledge became a contested locus for articulating a counterhegemonic stance against British imperialism. The Yaa Asantewaa War was fought in 1900 during the exile of the Asante king and some of his political leaders. As she inspired others to challenge British domination and national humiliation, Yaa Asantewaa, the queenmother of Edweso, accepted the religious, royal, national and personal imperatives to confront the British. She drew on the above imperatives to reverse what she perceived as British social, political and religious attack against the Asante. During the 1900 war against the British, Yaa Asantewaa was initiating and directing an Asante resistance movement with the support of an able army, chiefs and people of the Asante. Importantly, coupled with that political resistance was her determination to honor a past religio-political pact between Prempe I, on the one hand, and the Edweso paramount chief Kwasi Afrane I and Afrane’s cousin, Ofinsohene Apea Sea, on the other. The following discussion focuses on the religious, socio-political, military and personal resources Yaa Asantewaa mobilized to fight the British in 1900. Although several works on Asante have discussed Yaa Asantewaa, little attention has been given to her during the 1900 war in her role as the 138 Ghana Studies • volume 3 • 2000 protector of the Golden Stool and the Asante monarchy, and her determination to uphold and ratify the pact between the Asante King Prempe I and the Edweso chief Kwasi Afrane I.1 Yaa Asantewaa’s contribution was embedded in a royal and cultural history in which the Edweso stool was implicated in the preservation of the Asante monarchy.2 The pact required that the Edweso state would help in vanquishing Prempe I’s political and military opponents, quelling civil strife and establishing and maintaining social, economic, religious and political stability in late nineteenth-century Asante. Writing about the Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900 in this issue of Ghana Studies, Arhin Brempong and Adu Boahen have focused on some critical aspects of the Edwesohemaa (Queenmother of Edweso).3 Arhin argues that Asante female rulers and their male counterparts belonged to the same matrilineal and royal clan, hence they both took part in legislative and judicial proceedings regarding the waging and unmaking of war as well as the distribution of land. Also, since political and military responsibilities went hand in hand, divisional and territorial leaders were also military leaders. Thus when Yaa Asantewaa came to occupy the stool of Edweso, she also had military responsibilities. However, Arhin admits that Yaa Asantewaa’s role in the Asante resistance was more than her simply doing what was required of a queenmother of an Asante state. Rather, Yaa Asantewaa became a commander-in-chief (sahene) which was an achieved position, not an ascribed one. Boahen explores Yaa Asantewaa’s military role and points out that she inspired, advised and gave orders to her field commanders.4 Yaa Asantewaa went further to supply gunpowder to the commanders and their troops. Yaa Asantewaa, according to Boahen, worked in concert with her clanswoman Nana Amma Afranewaa, the female ruler of Ofinso.5 Both women belonged to the Asona matrilineal clan, the royal lineage of both the Edweso and Ofinso states. Thus the two women (Afranewaa to a lesser extent) were involved in the war to protect and preserve the Golden Stool, to foster the 1. T. Lewin, Asante Before the British: The Prempean Years, 1875–1900 (Lawrence, 1978), 113; W. Tordoff, Ashanti Under the Prempehs: 1888–1935 (London, 1965), 105. 2. A. A. Aidoo, “Political Crisis and Social Change in the Asante Kingdom...


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