After the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, European nations made moves to control the whole of Afrika. They saw her resources as the building blocks of the European economy and growth. During the Berlin Conference, 1884 – 1885, European countries negotiated how they were going to divide Afrika into equitable portions among themselves. England was able to manipulate possession of Ghana, along with other territories. Families, clans and cultures were divided, no matter the consequences, as witnessed in Rwanda. In many cases, resistance naturally developed to fight off this unwarranted control.
One figure emerges as a source of inspiration and strength against British colonialism, Nana Yaa Asantewaa I, Queen Mother of Ejisu. A secret meeting was called in Kumasi, Ghana among the chiefs to discuss how to fight the British, and recapture control on their land. During the meeting, some of the chiefs were expressing a lack of enthusiasm for the idea. They were concerned about the British superior weaponry, while others wanted to see if they could negotiate the return of their Asantehene, Prempeh, paramount king of the Ashanti nation, who was captured. They felt there should be no war. Instead, they wanted to convincingly request the British governor for his release. Sensing this reluctance, Yaa Asantewaa gave one of her most forceful speeches.
Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to chief of the Ashanti in the way the governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Ashanti 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.
The speech inspired the chiefs to take an oath and declare war on the British, led by Yaa Asantewaa. During their attack, they could not penetrate the British fort. They decided to cut off their supplies. Within weeks, the British were without food, water and basic provisions. Some were dying of small pox and malaria. They could not bury the dead, so they threw them over the wall. The smell was horrendous. It managed to seep back into the fort. Over 3500 soldiers, women and children were imprisoned in their own environment. Somehow, after several attempts, they were able to sneak out a message to other British authorities, seeking help.
They responded. Some 1400 British troops came to their rescue. After a fierce battle, the British prevailed. Yaa Asantewaa heard that her daughter was captured. She surrendered to try to save her. One of the demands of the British commander, Captain Wilcox, was that he be given the Golden Stool, which symbolized the soul of the Ashanti nation. Yaa Asantewaa spit in his face.
Instead, he was given a fake stool, which he took to England. When discovered it was an imitation, he returned and demanded the real one. The Ashanti were determined that the stool would never land in British hands, and it never did. The Golden Stool of Ashanti is displayed in public once every five years.
Nana Yaa Asantewaa I died in the Seychelles on 17 October 1921, just two years before King Prempeh and the remaining prisoners returned to Ghana, in 1923. Ghana obtained its independence on 6 March 1957.
– Dr. Kwakus class, Afrikan World Civilizations (Part II), is conducted on Friday evenings, 7-9 p.m. at Kaos Studios in Leimert Park. For details go to: www.drkwaku.com.