Yaa Asantewaa was born in 1840 in Besease, to Kwaku Ampoma and Ata Po. She was the queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire – now part of modern-day Ghana. She was an intellectual, a politician, human rights activist, a queen, and a leader. Her brother, Afrane Panin, became the chief of Edweso, a nearby community.
It was during her brother's reign, that she saw the Ashanti Confederacy go through a series of events that threatened its future, including the civil war from 1883 to 1888.
After her brother’s death and her grandson’s Ejisuhune’s British exile in Seychelles, she became the regent of the Ejisu–Juaben district.
During the same period, the British governor-general of the Gold Coast, Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation. A request led to a secret meeting of the remaining members of the Asante government at Kumasi, to discuss how to secure the return of their king. There was a disagreement among those present on how to go about this. Yaa Asantewaa, who was present at this meeting, stood and addressed the members of the council with these words:
How can proud and brave people like the Asante sit back and look while white men took away their king and chiefs, and humiliated them with a demand for the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool only means money to the white men; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predawn to the governor. If you, the chiefs of Asante, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.
The experience of seeing a woman serving as political and military head of an empire was foreign to most European colonialists in 19th-century Africa, hence Asantewaa had to prove her wit during the meeting. She seized a gun and fired a shot in front of the men as proof of her determination to fight the British. This passion and fierceness to go to war exalted her among other women in the kingdom and she was chosen by a number of regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. Let it be known that she was the first woman to be given that role in Asante history.
The Ashanti-British War of the Golden Stool – also known as the "Yaa Asantewaa War” – was led by Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa with an army of 5,000.
The result of this rebellion was that it quelled the Anglo-Asante series of wars that lasted throughout the 19th century.
In modern day Ghana exits the Yaa Asantewaa Girls' Secondary School which was established at Kumasi in 1960 to highlight the importance of encouraging more female leaders in Ghanaian society.
Read about all the African Queens we spotlighted in this series: Queen Amina, Queen Nandi and Queen Asantewa and Queen Ririkumutima