Yaa Asantewaa was the first African Female General who led an army to fight the British for encroaching on the rights of the people of Asante. She was a product of an oracle, having been born into the lineage of a deity object which turned out to be a benignant god attached to the stool of her royal family.
For seven consecutive times, a woman of the royal family of Edweso State of Asante in the Gold Coast, a country within sub-Saharan Africa, gave birth to twins and lost each set within one year of their birth. Such a misfortune did baffle the elders of the family, who decided to consult an oracle. The oracle traced the source of the misfortune to what was revealed as a benignant, supernatural object which wanted to manifest itself as a god to be attached to the royal stool. The oracle thus, recommended special sacrificial rites to be performed. Consequently, the woman named Nana Permaa gave birth to two daughters in separate years. One of them gave birth to a mysterious body without a human form. Mindful of revelation by the oracle, the formless human body was preserved in a container and placed at the family shrine and worshipped as a deity. It was after the manifestation of the god that Yaa Asantewaa was born. She was an offshoot of the deity- named Ateko.
In Africa, minor deities exist everywhere. They range from great tribal gods to the little private deities and fall into about four groups, namely:
- Those generally worshipped by one tribe. These traditional deities are few in number.
- Those worshipped by the inhabitants of certain towns, localities or traditional areas.
- Those worshipped by the smaller section of the community, such as by special lineage or village companies. Each lineage or family has its own deity of this class.
- Those which are worshipped each day by one individual or higher household.
It is not easy to determine the precise nature of these deities. Nonetheless, a few facts about them are ascertained. They are said to be spirits which have never become human beings. Not all such gods are benevolent to man. Some are, while others are mischievous. Sacrifices are made to them either to pay benignity of good ones or to avoid the malignity of the ill-disposed ones. They have their own laws which their worshipers are obliged to obey. Such gods are conserved as personified beings and endowed with supernatural powers to bless and to kill. As a rule, however, they are not supposed to kill, except in cases where their sanctioned laws and prohibitions have been violated, or when by means of ritual oaths against an offender, they have been invoked to do so. They are thought to use their powers to produce effects out of the ordinary. Besides being able to foretell the future, to prevent an evil and to provide an antidote against sickness and ill -luck, they are supposed to be the spokesmen of the ancestors, making their wishes known to the living. They show the way by which the ancestors may be pacified or satisfied by the living. Individuals consult their favourite gods to ask them what would Happy to them in future.
Some as well go to them for protection again calamities, for example, bad crops, poverty and sterility. Others go to them to ascertain the underlying causes of disasters in which they might have been involved. There are also those who consult minor deities to know the outcome of certain entertainment they intend to undertake or to invoke their vengeance and wrath upon such people as have offended them in any way. On a higher national level, gods assume proportionate responsibilities and play an important part in the welfare of the nation. In the time of war, they forecast the outcry of the encounter with the enemy. Should they forecast a defeat, it becomes incumbent upon them to prescribe antidote for victory.
On the basis of the roller played by the gods in a time of war, it was no wonder that with the support of the deity attached to the royal stool of the Edweso State, the ancestors of Yaa Asantewaa were acclaimed as famous warriors for the victories they won in all the wars they either waged or took part. Never ever did her ancestors go to war without the direct participation of their “ god “, called ATEKO forecasting victory for them. In all the civil wars in which the Edweso State was involved, the deified objects were carried by a virgin ahead of the soldiers. For instance, at the mention of the name of the “ god “, any missile fired at them would miss its target. It was on account of the prowess of the Edweso warriors that, Edweso became an important fetish town in the whole Asante Kingdom. The extraordinary gallantry and bravery exhibited by successive chiefs of the Edweso State throughout Asante wars made the State special to the Golden Stool ( Sikadwa Kofi ). In one of Asante wars, the paramount chief of Edweso offered himawan football sacrifice to the gods to ensure victory in the impending war. Befriend the war began, the great fetish priest, Okomfo Anokye, predicted that Asante could win the war if only a paramount chief would offer himself as a lamb to be butchered physically while seated on a white stool. The paramount chief of Edweso at the time responded to the clarion call by volunteering to be sacrificed for such a ritual to ensure victory for the Asante Kingdom.
Nana Yaa Asantewaa’s unique role in the Asante war of independence in 1900, therefore, was sequential to the tradition set by her ancestors. She didn’t have any option but to fight in defence of the Golden Stool, which is the embodiment of the unity of the Asante Nation or Kingdom. The Nana Yaa Asantewaa Stool recognise as a warrior. It chalked a number of feats in almost all the civil wars it undertook. For instance, it fought and defeat the people of her neighbouring towns and expanded her territory. In a civil war which erupted over the installation of a new overload of Asante, the people of Edweso under the command of the chief and with the spiritual support of the fetish ( Ateko ) conquered most of the powerful states which were opposed to the enstoolment of their favourite during the fight for occupancy of the Golden Stool. The mention of the name of the deity alone spelt doom for the enemy in any war. The people of Edweso fought fiercely to claim the ownership of the only natural lake of the Asante Kingdom, Lake Bosomtwe , for the occupant of the Golden Stool. Throughout all wars in which Edweso State took part, the deity provided the spiritual antidote for any calamity which befell the fighters.
In 1832, Nana Yaa Asantewaa was born to a prosperous couple by the names of Kwabena Ampoma and Madam Atta Poh, all of Gold Coast nationality. By matrilineal inheritance, she was a member of a royal household of the Edweso State in the Gold Coast, West Africa. As a member of the royal family and her likelihood of becoming the queen, she was expected to behave in a well-defined manner which was to be in accord with her age, status in life and condition of health. Yaa Asantewaa’s parents had a special responsibility to ensure that she grew up to be a respectable and self-respecting woman in society. Besides her parents ‘ watchful eyes, she was followed closely by the adults in the society in all her acts and omissions to ensure that she could be entrusted in the future with any responsibility when elected as queen. Her election to such a position in the society depended very much on what opinion the people had formed about her during her childhood. With this in view, she was made to study the culture, customs, traditional norms and history of the state as well as the history of other states. She grew up well versed in the culture and tradition of her state. The queen- to- be, however, acquitted herself creditably during the period when sex held a strong appeal for the teenager. She underwent all the initiation ceremonies from puberty to marriage. As a result of her excellent morals, she became the target of prominent men within and outside her community who asked for her hand in marriage. She, however, got married to someone outside the Edweso State. As early as the seventeenth century, premarital was a taboo; teenagers, who indulged in such sexual adventure prior to initiation, were severely published, sometimes with death, particularly, if she had not reached the physiological age of puberty. Every girl, who biologically matures, had to go through the performance of the rites to be socially declared as an adult. All was demanded on custom because it was implicitly thought that by her behaviour she might have assumed a position which she was not entitled to. Sex was for the adult and if any girl wanted to explore the possibilities of sex, then she had first to inform the community that she was an adult. Custom demanded in those days that the first experience of menstruation by any female teenager was first mentioned to the queen mother of the community or state who was to bear witness of her adulthood.
Yaa Asantewaa was an ardent worshipper and a faithful servant of the family shrine. She got up at dawn and walked a distance of a mile and with a special black pot, fetched water for the shrine. Besides preparing powder out of clay for festive occasions, she was a member of the group that sang praises to the shrine when the priest of the shrine become possessed on each fortieth-day- festival. And still, Yaa Asantewaa was not the fetish priestess nor was never possessed by the gods on any of the festive occasions. That particular assignment was the preserve of only female teenagers of the royal household, who were groomed in anticipation for enstoolment as queen. She, therefore, performed the duty according to tradition. Yaa Asantewaa was a formidable-looking woman; a thin brown, learnedly woman with fierce blazing eyes. By all standards, Yaa Asantewaa was physically strong and beautiful with a dark complexion. In her teens, she spent a lot of time to keep her clothing and surroundings clean. She grew up with characteristics. The most famous saying of Yaa Asantewaa was that a” man is not a pillow for a woman to lean against “ . With this her slogan, she encouraged women to eschew laziness. Subsistent farming was her major preoccupation: She left home for the farm at dawn and returned at dusk. So industrious was Yaa Asantewaa that she was well-to-do at the time she went into marriage. She was self- sufficient and maintained the idea that the maintenance of the home should be a shared responsibility of the couple. She was also lucky to have been married to a man who was as industrious as she was. Her husband was Opanin Kwabena Owusu, had many plantations of all kinds of cash crops. She had great respect for her husband and encouraged him to marry more wives so that they could have more plantations.
Yaa Asantewaa had only one daughter with her husband. But she did not discriminate against the children of her rivals. She helped her husband to care for all the children alike. Her daughter, Serwaa – Brakatu, gave birth to eleven children, the descendants who constitute the main royalty of the Edweso Stool with one of them, a great-grandchild, occupying the women’s stool of Edweso as queen in this 21st century, under the name, Yaa Asantewaa II( the second).
According to Asante custom, the king or chief and the queen-mother are recognised as joint rulers with the King as the paramount. The queen is supposed to be head of all the women in the community. She has the responsibility to nominate a successor whenever the male stool becomes vacant, either by death or by abdication or by deposition. Since the king is elected from among the members of the royal family, the queen has a duty to advise him on matters relating to culture and custom. The symbol of office of the king or queen is the stool, each of the two occupies one, thus, there is the female stool and that of the king. After nineteen years ‘ reign as queen, she annexed the male stool to become the first female to combine the dual role as queen and king of the state in the history of the traditional area. Nana Yaa Asantewaa was by acclamation enstooled as king in place of a grandson, who was arbitrarily deported out of his own state by the British Colonial Authorities for no tangible reason. She reigned with distinction and this won for her the unflinching support of her subjects. She became the formidable monarch with men, women, old and young, bowing to her commands.
Nana Yaa Asantewaa was unanimously elected and enstooled as a queen at the age of 37. She was not a mythical figure but an actual biological person who was born into the Asona royal clan of Edweso State, about 18 kilometres from Kumase, the capital of Asante. Nana Yaa Asantewaa possessed a distinct, enviable character. She did not consider herself inferior to any other human being. She believed that God created all human beings in his image and likeness and that none, irrespective of colour or race, was superior to the other. Thus, her extraordinary courage and bravery to confront no less power than Great Britain. Even though she eschewed tribal tendencies for their potential threat to national unity, she felt that, sometimes, it had very good elements which, if well studied and employed, could be channelled towards national solidarity and reconstruction. She has human dignity and so did not like to be despised by any other person. Queen Yaa Asantewaa was very sensitive allusions and correction in public. She was very much concerned with her dignity as a person as well as her rights and duties and her keen sense of her own prominence. As far as she was concerned, Asante was not only a unique tribe but also had a unique tradition and culture. Nana Yaa Asantewaa believed in moral excellence. With this trait ingrained in her, she considered juvenile delinquency as grave and treasonable offence which warranted severe punishment such as perpetual banishment from the community to serve as a deterrent to others. She pointed out that maintenance of girl’s virginity till she enters into marriage is a great asset to a successful marital home. For, she believed that the right to marry was only a corollary to a girl’s introduction to sexual life through the performance of the puberty rites. According to her, marriage is one thing and good wife another, and insisted that every woman must have a man recognised by the family as a husband, for; as far as she was concerned, an unwifely woman is a disgrace to her sex and must be resented. She held the view that a virtuous woman,s mark is her obedience to her husbands, as well as being faithful and hard-working; she must also be helpful and not quarrelsome. She must know how to restrain her tongue, and must not talk to others about confidential matters between her and her husband.
As a mother, Nana Yaa Asantewaa was seen by her subjects as a mother of thousands of children. Though she had only one daughter, she considered every child in her society as her own. She combined motherliness with motherhood. Provision of adequate food and sometimes clothing for the grandchildren as well as other people’s children when it became necessary for her to do so, was her concern. The spirit of benevolence won her such appellations as “ The Queen who fends for both the mother and child “; “ The mighty tree with big branches laden with fruits and from which children find sat for their hunger “; The grandmother whose cooking pot entertained strangers “ and The Queen whose hand is always tempting to give “. Her kindness, generosity, concern for other people’s well-being and affection for children, were some of her qualities per excellence since help for her neighbours was pre-occupation. She was content with few goods and notwithstanding her high position as queen, her derisive pride and happy mood often amazed strangers. Nana Yaa Asantewaa believed in the customs and tried to maintain the rich culture bequeathed to her by the ancestors. She also believed in the segregation of age and sex: women and woman, men and man, child and children, old and old, but didn’t rule out the fact that in everyday life, it was necessary for all to meet at certain points whenever the need arose. The queen ( Nana Yaa Asantewaa) maintained that the custom of segregation should not change, especially husband and wife, parents and children and to discuss matters open-heartedly. Nana Yaa Asantewaa disliked monopoly of men by women and this accounted her for numerous wives that her husband married. Though she could afford not to do any manual work, Nana Yaa Asantewaa had to forgo all the norms associated with her position as queen and worked on her farm jointly with her servants. She often left her home very early in the morning for the farm without prevailing upon her servants to accompany her before the normal working time.
Oral tradition has it that Nana Yaa Asantewaa worked hard into the evening and rested on a huge rock which was located at the centre of her farmland. She did this anytime she went to her farm to work before she left for home at sunset. It was on this basis of her hard-working spirit, coupled with selflessness as a queen that she became an object of attraction. Nana Yaa Asantewaa, as the queen, strictly confined herself to the duties of a queen and didn’t interfere with the functions of the King. As the head of women in the community, her pre-occupation was to ensure the welfares of women. The queen ( Nana Yaa Asantewaa) was acclaimed to have possessed such sterling qualities as intelligent, patriotism, integrity and a sense of judgement. Though she was described by her enemy- the British as ‘man’, for her exemplary bravery, she was very kind, sympathetic, affable, fair and forthright and not discriminatory in dealing with any group of people. Cases which came before her were judged on merit, no matter who was involved. Her four years reign as king was marked with peace and tranquillity. This was due mainly to her objectivity which was prevalent in all cases over which she presided. The poor and the rich were given a fair hearing. She discouraged rivalry among women who were married to one man. She dealt mercilessly with any woman who was found guilty of fighting with her rival. She preached love and forgiveness. Nana Yaa Asantewaa instituted stringent measures which gave women protection against violence even at the time women were treated as slaves in some parts of the country or the Asante Kingdom. Brutalities and insults against women were regarded as crimes committed against the Queen. These crimes attracted harsher punishments which served as a deterrent to the men. Rape was considered as murder and carried death sentence; of course, depending on the gravity of the injury-causing to the victim. The unjust treatment of children; such as under feeding, torture and excessive use of children for manual work, were deemed to be cruelty to them and thereby deserved severe punishment. Crimes such as stalking, corruption and embezzlement of state funds deserved equality long sentences, sometimes death. While the Queen was mad against maltreating of children, she hated pampering children; but hardly punished any child without establishing his or her guilt. Parents who punished their children, without a justifiable cause were ordered to pay compensation in the form of eggs to the child. Nana Yaa Asantewaa, though very accommodating, believed in the use of force to achieve her aim. She had a popular proverb which said: “ Sometimes we, rulers have to think for those who find it difficult to take risks “. But, she would not use force on anyone without seeking the advice and approval of the state elders. Although embezzlement of state founds was unheard of in her state, the Edweso State was ranked among the other component states as poor; and that was attributed to what was described as over- generosity on her part. She would ask the State to settle individual debts out of sheer sympathy. At the same time, however, she advised the poor not to borrow from the rich so that they might not be enslaved by the rich. By the same token, women were warned to, refrain from borrowing from men as that might compel them to offer themselves to such men Agyeman their will.
The last three years before the war saw Nana Yaa Asantewaa on a secret mission to other states. The purpose of the visits was to discuss the possibility of ensuring the repatriation of the exiled King, back home as the overlord of the United Asante Kingdom. Her discussions, though yielding no positive results immediately, she succeeded to draw some of the States she contacted earlier on into the war with the British. It was believed that the massive support she received from some states in the Western parts of Asante Kingdom, was the outcome of her discussions with them during her clandestine missions to those areas. Nana Yaa Asantewaa had a successful and peaceful reign as king and queen of her state. The elders loved her for her profound knowledge of history.
Source: The Kingdom of Asante