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The life and afterlife of Yaa Asantewaa  

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The life and afterlife of Yaa Asantewaa
By T.C. McCaskie | Mar 22, 2007 | 13691 words, 0 images

ABSTRACT
This article is about Queen Mother Yaa As antewaa (c. 1830s-1921) of Edweso (Ejisu) in Asante, locally famous in tradition for her supposed leadership role in the last Anglo-Asante conflict (1900-1), and now internationally celebrated as an epitome of African womanhood and resistance to European colonialism. The article is in three parts. The first part examines the historical record concerning Yaa Asantewaa and sets this within the conflicted context of Edweso-Kumase relations before, during and after her lifetime. It also considers her role in the 1900-1 war and the nationalist constructions placed on that role by later Asante and other Ghanaian commentators. The second part examines the politics of the celebrations held in Asante in 2000 to mark the centenary of the last Anglo-Asante war and to honour Yaa Asantewaa for her part in it. Discussion here is concerned with the struggle between the ruling Asante elite and the Rawlings government in Accra to take possession of Yaa Asantewaa's reputation and to define and reinterpret it for contemporary political purposes. This was also a significant and revealing episode in the run-up to the Ghanaian national elections of 2000, in which J. A. Kufuor's Asante-based NPP finally ousted Rawlings's NDC which, in various incarnations, had ruled Ghana for twenty years. The third part examines the recent and ever-growing afterlife of Yaa Asantewaa in the age of globalization and the Internet. Attention is paid in particular to the constructions placed on her by Americans of African descent and to cultural expressions of her present status as, perhaps, the most famous of all pre-colonial African women. Finally, Asante reactions to the internationalization of Yaa Asantewaa are considered. In general, and using the case of Yaa Asantewaa, this article sets out to show that in Asante--as elsewhere in Africa- history is a continuous and vivid presence, constantly fought over, reworked and reconfigured to make the past serve new needs and aspirations.
RESUME
Cet article est consacre a la reine mere Yaa Asantewaa (vers 1830-1921) d'Edweso (Ejisu) en pays Ashanti, localement celebre dans la tradition pour son role suppose de leader lors du dernier conflit anglo-ashanti (1900-01), et aujourd'hui celebree internationalement comme le symbole de la femme africaine et de la resistance au colonialisme europeen. L'article s'articule en trois parties. La premiere partie examine les archives historiques concernant Yaa Asantewaa et les place dans le contexte contraste des relations entre Edweso et Kumasi avant, pendant et apres son existence. Elle etudie egalement son role dans la guerre de 1900-01 et les interpretations nationalistes qui seront donnees a ce role plus tard par les commentateurs ashanti et ghaneens. La seconde partie examine la politique des celebrations organisees en pays Ashanti en 2000 pour commemorer le centenaire de la derniere guerre angloashanti et honorer Yaa Asantewaa pour le role qu'elle y a joue. Le debat porte ici sur la lutte entre l'elite ashanti dirigeante et le gouvernement Rawlings d'Accra pour s'approprier la reputation de Yaa Asantewaa, et la definir et la reinterpreter a des fins politiques contemporaines. C'etait egalement une periode importante et revelatrice precedant les elections nationales ghaneennes de 2000, dans lesquelles le parti NPP ashanti de J. A. Kufuor a fini par renverser le parti NDC de Rawlings, qui etait au pouvoir depuis vingt ans au Ghana sous des incarnations diverses. La troisieme partie examine l'apres-vie recente et croissante de Yaa Asantewaa a l'ere de la mondialisation et d'Interner. Elle s'interesse en particulier aux interpretations qui lui sont donnees par les Americains de descendance africaine et aux expressions culturelles de son statut actuel, a savoir, peut-etre, la plus celebre des femmes africaines precoloniales. Elle se penche ensuite sur les reactions ashanti a l'internationalisation de Yaa Asantewaa. De maniere generale, et a travers le cas de Yaa Asantewaa, cet article vise a montrer qu'en pays Ashanti, comme partout en Afrique, l'histoire est une presence continue et vivante, constamment disputee, retravaillee et reconfiguree afin que le passe serve de nouveaux besoins et aspirations.
LIFE: YAA ASANTEWAA IN 1900
Edweso: times of trial
In 1896 the British seized power in Kumase. In 1901 Asante became a Crown Colony. The monarchy was abolished and central government disbanded (McCaskie 2000a; Wilks 2000). In 1935 'indirect rule' restored both in modified forms (Tordoff 1965: 402-10). Colonial officialdom was convinced that its modernized reinstatement of the past would meet with approval, but just to be sure it canvassed opinion in advance of the restoration. Chiefs were asked for their views. The response was positive, so much so that it focused attention on dissenters. Among the most strident of these was Kwabena Owusu, chief of the territorial division of Edweso (Ejisu). His hostility to restoration raised British eyebrows, for Edweso was barely a dozen miles east of Kumase and was generally regarded as a core member of the old Asante state.
Kwabena Owusu was supported by all of his divisional chiefs in rejecting the restoration of kingship and confederacy. He argued as follows. (1) He claimed that any political order led by a restored Asantehene would reimpose Edweso's 'tyrannous subjection' to Kumase, for his ancestors had been victims of central government's duplicity and predation ever since the creation of Asante. Like the Kumase Oyoko dynasty and many others, the Asona clan royals of Edweso and their kin at Ofinso immigrated into the Kwaman area in the course of the seventeenth century. All these peoples banded together with Osei Tutu to throw off Denkyira overlordship. (2) Prior to the decisive battle of Feyiase (1701), Osei Tutu's spiritual adviser Komfo Anokye called for a volunteer to sacrifice his life in the fighting to ensure victory. Edwesohene Duko Pim stepped forward. In gratitude for this selfless act, Osei Tutu swore a solemn public oath that none of his successors in Kumase would ever execute or in any other way persecute the Edweso or any other Asona clan members. Duko Pim perished, but the battle was won. Osei Tutu became Asantehene as the first occupant of the Golden Stool, and Asante came into existence.
Successive Asantehenes 'flagrantly violated' Osei Tutu's binding oath. They 'dwindled' Edweso by deliberately imposing huge fines in gold that they knew could never be paid. This policy of 'harassing, ransacking and devastating' Edweso meant that its people were forced to 'the necessity of transferring their allegiance to those who would pay the fine for them.' As was intended, the beneficiaries were rich Kumase chiefs. These settled the debts to the Golden Stool, and took Edweso lands and villagers in return for their expenditure. As a result, the Edweso stool had lost thirty-seven villages since the eighteenth century. Resistance was futile, for although Asante had been 'formed by friendship through mutual consent', this 'was ultimately made to mean subjection' to Kumase. In the light of this history, Edwesohene Kwabena Owusu and his people did not want the restoration of the now happily 'decayed' confederacy.
This was a partisan reading of the historical record but it was not without substance. In fact, Asantehenes did allow Kumase office holders to enrich themselves at the expense of others so as to increase the power of central government (McCaskie 1980; 2000b). Moreover, Edweso did suffer this kind of predation on a considerable and even disabling scale. (3) Up to the mid-nineteenth century, Edweso lost people at Onwe and Bosore to the Kumase Anantahene; people at Abrakaso, Nuaso and Asotwe to the Kumase Gyaasewahene; people at Apenkra and Nyinataase to the Asantehemaa and the Kumase Hiahene; and, most damagingly, stool royals as well as land and people at Boankra, Besease and Edweso itself when Edwesohene Asuman Akoben was executed for supposed dereliction of duty in the Gyaman war (1818-19). Worse followed. Between the 1840s and the 1880s four occupants of the Edweso stool were removed from office in circumstances that involved alienating land and people to Kumase for the non-payment of punitive fines.
In the 1850s Edwesohene Osei Borobe Daakwa was executed by Asantehene Kwaku Dua for protesting a judgement given against him in a dispute with Nyameani. Edweso was fined as punishment, and the village of Manhyia together with people from Abanase and Beposo passed under the control of the Kumase stools of Asabi, Ayebiakyere and Ankobia. In the 1860s Edwesohene Ata Nuamoa was convicted of committing incest. He was destooled and banished. Again Edweso was fined, and Kumase Manwerehene purchased the allegiance of Ayaase village by settling the debt. In the 1870s Edwesohene Kwabena Tia defaulted on a loan given him by the Kumase palace official Kra Kyere and then assaulted his creditor. He was destooled by Asantehene Kofi Kakari, and Edweso was heavily fined when its people protested. The king seized some Edweso stool regalia, and people from Besease, Bonwire, Dwenaase and Hwereso were handed over to Kumase palace functionaries. Finally, in the early 1880s Edwesohene Kwame Wuo was assaulted by his own subjects for alleged acts of theft and cruelty. Asantehene Mensa Bonsu destooled him, but also charged his people with insurrection. Edweso stool royals from Boankra were executed and the division was fined. It was unable to pay, and villagers from Boankra and Adadentam passed under the control of Kumase Akyeamehene when he settled the debt. Kwame Wuo's successor Kwasi Afrane inherited an historically aggrieved and now exasperated Edweso.
Edweso suffered interventions, but it is also the case that its very turbulent internal politics invited Kumase's attentions. The Edweso stool was held by Asona clan royals belonging to lineages in Edweso town itself, Boankra and Besease. Competition between these lineages was fierce and it commonly spilled over into violence. This drew the entire division into a destabilizing factionalism. Whatever else motivated Kumase, its recurring interventions in Edweso were also impelled by the need to restore order. In the 1780s, for example, Besease stool royals murdered Edwesohene Boampon. Edweso Nifahene persuaded those thought to be culpable to parley with him at Asotwe. But the meeting broke down and fighting ensued. It spread throughout Edweso until Asantehene Osei Kwame sent in troops to arrest the chief protagonists. Wholesale executions followed and Boampon's successor was installed by Kumase. Again in the 1800s, Edwesohene Owusu Ansa Akyiraa faced a revolt involving Besease stool royals and the Edweso Akwamuhene with his Besease and Detibi subjects. Once more the chief protagonists were seized and brought into Kumase. There, Asantehene Osei Tutu Kwame beheaded Edweso Akwamuhene Boaten, several of the Besease royals and many of their followers. Owusu Ansa Akyiraa was told to keep his people in order and was fined for allowing Edweso to slide into anarchy.
Edweso: years of redress
In 1883 Asantehene Mensa Bonsu was destooled. Five years of civil war ensued as Kumase dynasts fought over the Golden Stool. As conflict widened it laid waste towns, villages and farms and consumed military manpower. By 1886 Kumase was in a ruined condition and its fighting resources were greatly depleted. There were now two candidates for the Golden Stool. Yaw Twereboanna had fresh non-Kumase troops, mobilized and led by Sawuahene and later on by Kokofuhene and Mamponhene. His rival Agyeman Prempeh lacked these advantages because his core Kumase supporters were war-weary and short of men. Facing military disaster, Agyeman Prempeh's mother Asantehemaa Yaa Kyaa resorted to desperate measures. She offered wealth and honours to non-Kumase chiefs who still had fighting men in return for their help in making her son Asantehene. (On the civil wars, Aidoo 1975; Wilks [1975] 1989; Lewin 1978; on their impact, McCaskie 2000b; for Yaa Kyaa and Agyeman Prempeh at this time, Adu Boahen et al. 2003: 3-20.)
The Asona clan kinsmen Edwesohene Kwasi Afrane and Ofinsohene Apea Sea ruled over divisions that had escaped the worst of the fighting thus far, and so both still commanded untapped reserves of military manpower. Kwasi Afrane was known to be bold and decisive, and his leadership skills and resources made him Yaa Kyaa's main target. In return for aid, she offered him regalia, precious beads and a royal wife from the Kumase dynasty. He turned her down and stated his own terms. He demanded, so an eyewitness reported, the return of 'all his subjects', and 'especially the Asonna tribe', who had been made to serve Kumase chiefs. Apprised of this, Ofinsohene demanded 'the same terms as the chief of Ejisu'. Kwasi Afrane's terms threatened to reverse nearly two hundred years of Kumase's dominance over Edweso and the remainder of Asante. Yaa Kyaa knew this, but she was in an impossibly weak position. Neither side trusted the other, and Kwasi Afrane insisted on a series of the most solemn oaths to furnish guarantees for the future. Akua Afriyie, who was to become Kumase queen mother under the British, swore one of these oaths at Kumase Apremoso on behalf of her mother Yaa Kyaa and her uterine brother Agyeman Prempeh. 'I drank fetish' (in the presence of the Edwesohene and Ofinsohene), she recalled in 1909, to confirm on pain of death that all 'original subjects of the stools of these places were given back', except for 'personal servants of the King' and the Kumase royal family. All Edweso and Ofinso people held in pawn (awowa) by Kumase chiefs 'were to be redeemed'. Villages and lands were to be handed back. Furthermore, and in a complete reversal of historic practice, the Asantehene surrendered the right to impose 'death duties' on 'these chiefs when they died'. (4)
Kwasi Afrane, Apea Sea, and others who followed their powerful lead to strike bargains of their own, now banded together, defeated Yaw Twereboanna's forces, and drove them into exile. By July 1888 Agyeman Prempeh was indisputably Asantehene. His mother now tried to renege on her promises. At the same time, a rumour spread that as soon as Kumase had recovered it 'would put the chiefs of Ejisu and Ofinsu back to their previous state'. Kwasi Afrane, now a victorious general of immense power and prestige, extracted another solemn oath from the Kumase dynasty. At Ahyiamu ('a place of meeting') between Edweso and Krapa, Agyeman Prempeh's brother Agyeman Badu 'drank the gods' to the effect that all existing agreements with Edwesohene and others were permanent and irreversible. It was confirmed too that the stools of Edweso and Ofinso were now raised up from the status of abirempon to that of amanhene, divisional rulers with enhanced powers and privileges and a larger voice in the deliberations of the Asantemanhyiamu or 'Asante assembly' (McCaskie 1984). Edweso had exacted revenge (awereto) for its prolonged history of humiliating losses to Kumase. It used its new-found power to settle scores with old antagonists. An offending Kwamo dignitary's body was exhumed and stripped of its gold. (5) In truth, Kwasi Afrane had become an overmighty subject, the general of the king's armies and the custodian of the royal arsenal. He was now the single most powerful chief in Asante.
The events just described promised a fundamental shift in the distribution of power within the Asante polity, away from Kumase domination and towards that more devolved political arrangement that Kwabena Owusu said had once obtained at the very beginnings of Asante history. Be that as it may, implementing the transfer of land and people back to Edweso and its fellow beneficiaries proved intractably difficult. Quarrels broke out over historical rights and prerogatives, and for a variety of reasons the process ground to a halt. In part this was because Agyeman Prempeh, Yaa Kyaa and the Kumase chiefs used every tactic available to them to obstruct the progress of a policy dedicated to their own disempowerment. In part it was because after the ending of the civil war Asante came under a mounting British threat that culminated in its loss of independence in 1896. Most immediately it arose from the fact that Kwasi Afrane, architect of Edweso's resurgence in the new order, died in 1894. He was succeeded as Edwesohene by his only sister's grandson Kofi Tene (also called Afrane Ababio and Afrane kumaa, 'the younger', to distinguish him from his great-uncle). Kofi Tene's grandmother was installed as Edwesohemaa, queen mother of Edweso, by prerogative of her brother Kwasi Afrane, in or about 1887. It was this woman who presided over the election of Kofi Tene, believing him to be a reincarnation (kra pa) of Kwasi Afrane. (Donkoh 2001) She was, of course, the now world-famous Edwesohemaa Yaa Asantewaa.
Edwesohemaa Yaa Asantewaa
The siblings Kwasi Afrane and Yaa Asantewaa were Asona royals of the Besease lineage of the Edweso stool. Their mother was Ata Po, and their father was Kwaku Ampoma from Ampabame near Besease. They were the only children of the marriage and were born in the 1830s. Yaa Asantewaa grew up to marry Owusu Kwabena of Kantinkyiren near Trede. He was a patemal grandson of Asantehene Osei Yaw (1824-33), and he is remembered to this day for three of his marriages that link together members of the Asante elite. His union with Yaa Asantewaa produced only one child, a daughter called Ama Sewaa Brakatu (or Ama Sewaa Boankra, after the Edweso village where her mother farmed and gave birth to her). Owusu Kwabena also married Adwowa Kromo of the Kumase Butuakwa Linguist's stool family. They had three children; one was Ama Sewaa Ano, the maternal grandmother oft he Butuakwa Linguist and 1950s National Liberation Movement political leader Baffour Osei Akoto. Owusu Kwabena also married Nana Atiaa of the Botaase royals of Mampon. They had four children; one became the Mamponhemaa Ama Sewaa Akoto and another was Kumase Bantamahene and later Mamponhene Osei Bonsu, both significant figures in colonial Asante. So, in tradition and memory Owusu Kwabena is celebrated as the father of 'the three Amas', crucial individuals in the genealogical formation and solidarity of today's Asante elite. (On Yaa Asantewaa's genealogical connections, Adu Boahen 2003: 114-17; Wilks and McCaskie, interviews with Baffour Osei Akoto in Kumase, 1966, 1973, 1990, 1992, 1994.) Ama Sewaa Brakatu of Edweso, one of 'the three Amas', married Kwadwo Frimpon from Banso, now incorporated into Manhyia near Besease. The couple had eleven children. One was Kofi Tene who, as noted, became Edwesohene in 1894. Another was Afua Tweneboa, whose daughter Abena Serwah was enstooled as the Edwesohemaa Yaa Asantewaa II in 2000 (Adu Boahen 2003:116-17; Day 2000: 161).
A very great deal has been written about Yaa Asantewaa, although evidence about crucial periods of her life is thin. One such period is that between the death of her brother in 1894 and the events leading up to the last conflict with, or uprising against, the British in 1900. Comment here is strictly limited to the known facts, and to what can be reasonably deduced from the documented history of Edweso set out above. Retrospective speculations based on presumptions about Yaa Asantewaa's role in 1900 are excluded. What then can be said? As Kwasi Afrane's only sibling and also as Edwesohemaa, Yaa Asantewaa was privy to her brother's plans in the later 1880s. The history recounted above leaves no doubt that these plans involved securing material redress for the injuries inflicted on Edweso by Kumase. That is, however, by no means a universal view. Obeng, for example, takes the line that the oaths extracted by Kwasi Afrane from Kumase royalty constituted 'a religio-political pact', a mutual agreement embedded in and arising from 'a royal and cultural history in which the Edweso stool was implicated in the preservation of the Asante monarchy'. Thus, the lands given to Edweso were freely 'awarded' to a loyal subject by a sovereign monarch (Obeng 2000: 137-8; this article is rare in that it actually discusses the oaths). The empirical record does not support this conclusion. So where does it come from? It is a manifestation of the Kumase elite's shaping of Asante history to meet its own ends and purposes. That orthodoxy proclaims Asante history to be a harmonious unity, in which hierarchical power is sanctioned by immemorial custom and not manufactured in historical struggle. In this consensual national epic dissent can only be deviation, for the order of things is natural not historical. Therefore, Edweso and Kumase must naturally share in the goal of upholding the status quo. Other expressions of this same ideology will be discussed in due course (McCaskie 1995: 243-67).
Let us return to Yaa Asantewaa and operate using the principles described. If we scrape off the cosmetic of harmonious unity, then we can see that between 1894 and 1900 Yaa Asantewaa's actions advanced the interests of Edweso more than those of the Golden Stool. Thus, among the lands handed over to Kwasi Afrane was a district called Obuase (or Brunumase). This was quite distant from Edweso, lying between Yapessa, Beposo and Pemenase to the east of Lake Bosomtwe. None of the historical sources indicates that this was once Edweso land, and indeed it was claimed by Kokofuhene who did have subjects and settlements in this area. However, when Kwasi Afrane took possession of Obuase the Kokofuhene and his people were living in exile in the Gold Coast Colony as defeated supporters of Yaw Twereboanna. Setting aside the moot question of whether Obuase was restored to Edweso or confiscated by it, it is not difficult to see why Kwasi Afrane wanted it. It was a gold-bearing area already exploited by local Asante miners. (6)
In, probably, 1895 the newly enstooled Edwesohene Kofi Tene granted a concession over the 'Obbuassi Mines' to G. A. Robertson, the king of Winneba on the Gold Coast, and his concubine and business partner Amma Sika ('Amma Money'). In January 1896 Kofi Tene was among those arrested by the British and exiled with Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh. Yaa Asantewaa was now in charge of Edweso, and she was paid the renewal rent on the concession by Robertson. However, the new British rulers in Kumase were determined to regulate gold mining in Asante so as to maximize profits from it. In late 1896 Stewart, the British Resident in Kumase, went to Edweso to talk with Yaa Asantewaa about the Robertson concession. She disclaimed signing the deed, but told Stewart that Kofi Tene had 'made a paper' leasing Obuase to Robertson. She said she was dissatisfied with the income from the lease, adding that if she had negotiated terms she would have secured a greater share of the profits for the Edweso stool. Governor Maxwell declared the Robertson concession null and void, minuting that Kokofu's claim to the land should be recognized as its chief was known to be pro-British. Yaa Asantewaa was also told that under new regulations Asante lessors would in any case now only receive concession rents and no share in mining profits. Rights in the 'Obbuassi Mines' were now disputed between British speculators. If, as some have claimed, Yaa Asantewaa made representations to the British about this then she was unsuccessful. By 1900 Edweso had lost all title to Obuase. The British, acting in a manner all too reminiscent of the historic behaviour of Kumase, had simply exercised their power to take away what Kwasi Afrane had secured and been granted under oath (Hamilton 1978: 229-40; Wilks 2000: 55-6; Donkoh 2001).
Much of the literature on Yaa Asantewaa is concerned with her role in the last war against the British in 1900-1. There is endless and seemingly inconclusive discussion of just what she did in that conflict. Did she plan, inspire, lead and direct the uprising, or did she merely symbolize resistance? Did she fight in person, or oversee operations from Edweso? What were her precise movements when the struggle was clearly lost and she was in hiding from British troops? Did she surrender voluntarily or was she betrayed, and if so was it by friend or foe? Did the British exile her to die in the Seychelles in 1921 as figurehead or engineer of this last attempt to throw off their rule? From this writing, recently swollen to mark the centenary in 2000, Yaa Asantewaa emerges as a patriotic Asante heroine who led a national war of resistance-cum-liberation. A century on, she also emerges in other incarnations and guises to meet the requirements of various constituencies unheard of or without a voice in 1900 (see Arhin 2000; Asirifi-Danquah 2002; Adu Boahen 2000, 2003; Day 2000; Donkoh 2001; Obeng 2000). For the moment, however, let us concentrate on events in 1900-1. First, this was not an Asante national war against the British, and by the simplest of criteria. That is, while some Asante battled the British, others supported them and many others stayed neutral (McCaskie 2000b: 76-9). Adu Boahen in particular performs contortions trying to square this circle to produce 'a veritable national War of Independence' out of an Asante polity that was by his own reckoning 'a divided nation', and one in which those who 'sided with the British' included 'most of the young, influential and rich commoners of Asante' (Adu Boahen 2003: 154, 156, 173). Patriotic rejection of the British, it seems, did not animate every Asante.
So why precisely did Yaa Asantewaa choose to fight, in whatever capacity or role? Patriotic impulses may have been a necessary motivation, but they are hardly a sufficient one. (7) It is most instructive to ask a modified version of Cicero's famous cui bono ('who benefited by what was done?'), as good a question for Asante historians as Roman lawyers. In other words, what did Yaa Asantewaa hope to gain by fighting the British? Adu Boahen again, but rather in the manner of Obeng cited above, provides the right answer but, I think, the wrong understanding of it. He records the close links that endured throughout the fighting between Yaa Asantewaa and her much older Asona kinswoman, Ofinsohemaa Ama Afranewaa. Like Yaa Asantewaa's grandson, Ama Afranewaa's son Ofinsohene Kwadwo Apea was sent into exile with the Asantehene in 1896. (8) Both women now ruled over their divisions, and no doubt hated the British for the loss of chiefs who were also personally very dear to them. Be that as it may, Adu Boahen argues that both women had the 'motivation and involvement' to go to war because they had 'a greater stake' in the restoration of Agyeman Prempeh than 'probably' any other chief. Thus far, this is correct.
However, Adu Boahen goes on to ignore the history of Edweso, and the intense bargaining that enabled Kwasi Afrane and Apea Sea to extract resources by main force from Yaa Kyaa and Agyeman Prempeh in the later 1880s. Instead, he stands this history on its head, claiming essentially that the two men were disinterested and patriotic office holders who stepped in to save Yaa Kyaa and Agyeman Prempeh, and who were then rewarded 'in recognition of their brave deeds'. This understanding flies in the face of the historical evidence. It arises in the same way and from the same wellsprings as Obeng's argument. Adu Boahen is resolutely unwilling to problematize Asante as a historical concept (or ideological construct), instead representing it as a consensual 'national' given to which Kwasi Afrane and Apea Sea quite naturally and unthinkingly pledged their loyalty. They simply assumed their ascribed roles as 'defenders' and 'custodians' of the Asantehene and the timeless--but also here pointedly patriotic and nationalist--order he embodied (Adu Boahen 2003: 147-9). (9)
Let us look instead to an Occamist interpretation. Yaa Asantewaa's military involvement was inspired in part by patriotism (or a comprehensible xenophobia) and her embittered family feeling. Nevertheless, the reason she took such a prominent role against the British was that she did indeed desire the return of Agyeman Prempeh. However, she did not seek a reinstatement of the Asante past as seen from Kumase, but rather a restoration of the status quo ante of the later 1880s as effected by Edweso for instrumental reasons. British overrule liquidated that arrangement, whereas the repatriated and independent Asantehene might still be held to the oaths he had sworn and the promises he had made. To put the matter even more simply, we might say that it was only by turning the clock back to just before 1896 that Edweso could recuperate the prestige and power that had so recently assuaged its long history of humiliation and loss. And it was only by doing this that Edwesohemaa Yaa Asantewaa might properly honour her dead brother, achieve reunion with her exiled grandson, and live out her own declining years in the dispensation that had been forced from Kumase only a few years before catastrophe struck. Surely these are the core reasons why Yaa Asantewaa went off to war, and these the benefits she hoped to gain from doing so.
As everyone knows Yaa Asantewaa paid the highest price for her stand. She was sent into exile and died aged about ninety on the remote Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles in 1921. In 1928 Agyeman Prempeh, who had been repatriated to Kumase four years earlier, negotiated the exhumation and return of the remains of all those Asante who had died in exile. In 1930 two packing cases containing the bones of twenty-nine people arrived in Kumase. In one of these were the remains of Yaa Asantewaa. On 5 February 1930 Agyeman Prempeh wrote to the British to inform them that 'Yar Santewar' had been buried in her royal Asona lineage's cemetery in Edweso (Adu Boahen et al. 2003: 183-4, 190-1). In her absence much had changed. In 1901 the British installed Yaw Awua as Edwesohene. His ties to the stool were patrilineal and not matrilineal and royal, but his true qualification in British eyes was that he had proved himselfunswervingly loyal to the colonial order, and might be relied upon to keep defeated Edweso insurgents in their place. In the 1880s he had sold guns to Kokofu to be used against Kwasi Afrane. (10) This, and other things, antagonized his subjects and in 1913 he went blind and abdicated after a violent and turbulent reign. Edweso became infamously unstable. Kwabena Owusu first occupied the stool in 1925, but rioting forced his suspension and removal. His successor was Kwadwo Boaten, a son of Asantehene Kwaku Dua (1834-67). He belonged to the Aduana clan rather than the royal Asona of Edweso. The British hoped he might stabilize the division, but he was a 'stranger' and treated as such. When he died in 1932 Kwabena Owusu of the Besease royal lineage was reinstated.11 In 1933, as noted, Kwabena Owusu led Edweso objections to the restoration of the Asantehene and the confederacy. But the new Asantehene Osei Agyeman Prempeh II was a famously unforgiving man, and he brought about Kwabena Owusu's destoolment for the second time (Tordoff 1965:404 fn 4).
From 1937 to 1946 a committee appointed by Asantehene Osei Agyeman Prempeh II laboured to produce an authorized history of Asante dedicated to showing that the occupant of the Golden Stool was 'King Over All'. This unpublished History of Ashanti is four hundred and fifty pages long. Oral traditions gathered from all over Asante form the basis of the text, but their inclusion and interpretation was overseen by the Asantehene. In short, this is a history from the point of view of the Kumase dynasty. (12) In it, Osei Agyeman Prempeh II records details of the transactions between Yaa Kyaa, Agyeman Prempeh and Kwasi Afrane in the 1880s. He makes it clear that the Edwesohene listed what he wanted in order to come to Agyeman Prempeh's aid, and that oaths were sworn to assuage Kwasi Afrane's fears that the Kumase royals and chiefs would seek to renege on the promises he had extracted from them. (13) Later in the text twelve pages are devoted to 'The Ashanti Rising of 1900'. In this discussion, the role of Yaa Asantewaa is scanted and downplayed. There are only three passing mentions of her. First, and significantly, it is said that it was the British who chose to believe that she inspired the uprising. Second, her name is present in a list of fugitives from colonial forces. Third, she is enumerated at number seventeen of forty-two in a roll call of those arrested by the British. (14) There is no mention of her having any leadership role, and she receives much less attention in the text than several other insurgents (Wilks 2000: 58). Considerations of gender--Asante troops led by a woman--may have played some part in Osei Agyeman Prempeh II's erasure of Yaa Asantewaa. But she is so absent from this most politically sculpted of texts that a close reading of it suggests that her suppression is to do with her brother's actions in the 1880s. Then Edweso had dictated terms to Kumase. Now the historic order was reaffirmed in a written history by an Asantehene determined to be 'King Over All'. There is a footnote. The History has its version of Kwabena Owusu's account of Duko Pim at Feyiase. In this, the Edwesohene does not die on the battlefield. He is immolated by his own side as a sacrificial 'victim' to ensure victory before any fighting takes place. There is no mention of Osei Tutu swearing an oath of gratitude granting future immunities of any kind to Edweso and other Asona clan members. (15)
AFTERLIFE: YAA ASANTEWAA IN 2000
Centenary and Congress
At 1.45 in the afternoon of Wednesday, 2 August 2000, I walked to the podium in a lecture hall at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumase and delivered the Keynote Address at an international conference convened to commemorate and honour Yaa Asantewaa. The theme of the proceedings as stated in the programme was 'Celebrating the Heroism of the African Woman'. The subject I had been asked to speak on was presented in an address entitled 'Yaa Asantewaa: traditional values and women's empowerment'. Five more papers were scheduled for the rest of that day and the next morning. They discussed Yaa Asantewaa in relation to the topics of historical representation, the Asante 'resistance war' of 1900, West African literature, black women's empowerment, and development and tourism. (16) The audience ranged from Asante chiefs and schoolchildren to Ghanaian educators and visiting African Americans. In contributions from the floor, questions were outnumbered by testaments to the shaping importance of Yaa Asantewaa and her legacy in the lives of the speakers. Some African Americans introduced their children who had been named for Yaa Asantewaa. The whole event was moving. It was also puzzling at a number of levels, and not least in terms of the auspices under which it was held.
The printed programme said the event was 'sponsored by the National Planning Committee of the Yaa Asantewaa Centenary'. (17) However, my own invitation to speak came from 'The Governing Council of the Second Asante Congress'. Who then was actually responsible for the conference I attended, and for all of the other celebratory happenings that took place in Kumase during the first week of August 2000? (For these events, Day 2000: 155-6.) Most salient among these was the 'Grand Funeral of Nana Yaa Asantewaa and Re-interment of Remains at Ejisu', but there was even some question as to which day this was to take place. These ambiguities arose from the fact that not one but two organizations were planning the week's celebrations. One of these was the Yaa Asantewaa Centenary Celebration Planning Committee (YACCPC), which was convened under the auspices of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government of Ghana in Accra and headed by the NDC's Regional Minister for Asante. Its chief patron was Nana Konadu Rawlings, the Asante wife of the President of Ghana. The First Lady and her husband both took an active part in advancing the work of the YACCPC and were committed to making it a success.
The other organization was the Asante Congress (AC), convened under the auspices of the Golden Stool and headed in 2000 by Denyasehene Owusu Aduenin II in the joint capacity of Chairman and Asantehene's Representative. The AC met biennially, first in 1998 and now once again in 2000. Its congresses were organized around themes of interest in Asante. In 1998 it devoted itself to discussing 'Development Initiatives in the Twenty-first Century'. The theme for the second meeting in 2000 was 'Celebrating the Vision and Heroism of Yaa Asantewaa'. At first sight this seemed a perverse choice, for the AC's Head of Secretariat declared that the object of the 2000 meeting was 'not any different' from its predecessor, being to 'identify and focus attention on the development needs of Asanteman'. (18) What had Yaa Asantewaa to do with 'development needs'? Whatever it planned, the AC was a resolutely Asante organization answerable to the Manhyia Palace. The seventy-nine members appointed to its Governing Council included forty-nine chiefs representing traditional councils. The other thirty included individual nominees, but most represented Asante development or youth organizations from Belgium, Canada, Germany and the USA as well as Ghana. (19)
The politics of honouring Yaa Asantewaa
The YACCPC and AC were the result of complex politicking. (20) Asantehene Opoku Ware II died in February 1999. His successor Osei Tutu II was enstooled in April. He initiated a series of development projects to aid Asante and raise his own profile. One of these was the planning of the second AC, designed as a cultural celebration or festival to bring potential investors to Kumase. The Asantehene appointed a seven-member committee to prepare the ground. This body decided that a week of celebration centred on Yaa Asantewaa and the centenary of the 1900 war would put Asante history and culture in the shop window and attract international investors as well as tourists.
Intermixed with this was a deep concern with electoral politics. The centenary celebration was to take place just four months before the national elections scheduled for December 2000. Its purpose, apart from development, was also to galvanize support for J. A. Kufuor's Asante-dominated New Patriotic Party (NPP) in its upcoming battle with the NDC government. The NDC was in disarray over the succession to President Rawlings, who was debarred from standing again by the constitution, and the NPP had high hopes of victory. It was believed that a large cultural event in Kumase, attracting local and international media coverage, was a way in which to enhance Kufuor's credibility, mobilize Asante voters, and draw non-Asante electors to the NPP by blurring distinctions between Yaa Asantewaa as an Asante heroine and as an icon for all Ghanaians, Africans and people of African descent in the diaspora. Since the last-named were also a likely source of investment capital, it was felt there was a strong synergy between the economic, political and cultural impulses behind the Yaa Asantewaa project.
The difficulty with the plans just described was that President Rawlings, his wife and the NDC government also intended to make political capital out of the centenary events centred around Yaa Asantewaa. It was an open secret that the Rawlingses were cordially loathed by the Asante elite, and that most of the Asante electorate was militantly anti-NDC and wanted it out of government for its supposed pro-Ewe ethnic bias. But Nana Konadu Rawlings was a daughter of the Kumase businessman J. O. T. Agyeman, and she and her husband did have a few allies among the Asante elite. One such was the extremely wealthy Kumase royal and Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) Chief Executive Akwasi Agyeman, a man whose driving ambition was to occupy the Golden Stool. Passed over in 1970, when Opoku Ware II became Asantehene, he had allied himself with Rawlings in the 1980s to secure government support when next the Golden Stool fell vacant. In 1999 his chance came at last. Rawlings was still in power, but the enormous political prize of installing a pro-NDC Asantehene eluded him. In truth, Rawlings, his wife and Akwasi Agyeman all overestimated the strength of their hands, and then overplayed them. Akwasi Agyeman's abrasiveness became an issue in a campaign that openly relied on the blunt instruments of government power and money. This served only to reinforce Asante kingmakers in their detestation of the NDC, and stories going around that government had offered suitcases full of cash to secure Akwasi Agyeman's election sealed the matter. Amidst angry declarations that the Golden Stool was not for sale to government, Asantehemaa Afua Kobi Serwaa Ampem II nominated and secured the election of her own son Kwaku Dua as Asantehene Osei Tutu II.
This was a massive blow for Rawlings, for his key strategy to make political capital in Asante before the 2000 elections now lay in ruins. Another idea suggested itself. Another of the NDC's few elite allies in Asante was Edwesohene Aboagye Agyei II, a stool royal and lawyer who succeeded in 1986 when his predecessor was imprisoned for stealing stool property. In Kumase it was generally believed that Aboagye Agyei II had been enstooled with NDC monetary support. That remains unproven, but it is a matter of public record that he supported Rawlings. For this among other reasons, he had conflicted relations with other Edweso royal lineages, and notably that of Yaa Asantewaa (Day 2000). A plan was now conceived to use the Edwesohene as an instrument for capturing Yaa Asantewaa and her legacy for the NDC. It was proposed that a government committee be set up to celebrate the centenary of the 1900 war as an anti-colonial struggle and to foreground Yaa Asantewaa's role in it. In his earliest incarnation as head of a revolutionary if usurpatory regime, Rawlings had interested himself in Yaa Asantewaa's anti-colonial credentials. He scored points with her lineage by attending the funeral in Edweso of Ama Sewaa Brakatu's daughter Akosua Pokuwaa, and doubly so because the Asantehene sent no official representative. Significantly, too, Rawlings had a daughter named Yaa Asantewaa.
Konadu Agyeman Rawlings had also talked up Yaa Asantewaa's status as an inspirational Ghanaian and African woman, and as a model to be emulated by her own 31st December Women's Movement. She now went very publicly to the Seychelles in search of information about Yaa Asantewaa, and did nothing to discourage rumours that she was bringing home the Edwesohemaa's remains (which, as noted, had been repatriated and buried in Edweso in 1930). A state-sponsored burial or reburial (this politically useful ambiguity was left unresolved) of Yaa Asantewaa, with Nana Konadu at its centre, was to be the climax of the NDC's centenary celebration. Astute observers in Kumase intuited what was going on, for the Edwesohene now began mending his fences with the Yaa Asantewaa lineage, a wooing that would reach its peak in 2000 with the installation of Yaa Asantewaa's granddaughter as the Edwesohemaa Yaa Asantewaa II. Clearly, the NDC wanted to annex Yaa Asantewaa and repackage her under government auspices as a proto-Ghanaian citizen, pan-African heroine and role model. This was a risky strategy calling for considerable sensitivity. If it backfired Rawlings would be accused of cultural theft, and the fallout would inflame existing Asante hostility and negate any political gains that the NDC might have hoped to make from investing effort and cash in celebrating the life and afterlife of Yaa Asantewaa.
Plans were still being formulated on both sides when a confrontation occurred that exposed the depth of the hostility between Kumase and Accra. On 18 June 1999 Asantehene Osei Tutu II and a delegation of Asante chiefs paid an official call on Rawlings. They came to thank government for condolences expressed at Opoku Ware II's death, and formally to introduce his successor to the Head of State. In Kumase I have heard eyewitness accounts of what took place. Whatever their veracity, they embody the truth about the encounter as this came to be understood throughout Asante. (21) It seems that Rawlings was still smarting over the rejection of Akwasi Agyeman as Asantehene. Allegedly, he launched into a hectoring monologue of a sort familiar from his public speeches. He is said to have declared that all the Asante present had remained silent while the media carried out a character assassination of Akwasi Agyeman during his candidacy for the Golden Stool. It is claimed that he went on to contrast Kumase royals who always wore opulent cloth, implying that they were leisured and idle, with Akwasi Agyeman, who spurned such ostentatious garb in favour of apparel suitable for his work as KMA Chief Executive. This work, so the President is alleged to have added, included the task of being Chief Sanitary Inspector of Kumase, a job the media had misrepresented. This was challenging talk, for it made allusion to the rumour that in the first Rawlings coup of 1979 insurgent soldiers had disgraced Akwasi Agyeman by making him carry human excrement. Rawlings seemed to be saying that since then Akwasi Agyeman had mended his political ways, but that other Kumase royals who disdained the government should not presume that they were exempt from similar humiliations. It is said that during this peroration Rawlings failed to use appropriate forms of address to the Asantehene and insultingly pointed a finger at him. It is further said that other government personnel now joined in. Kofi Awoonor, an Ewe intellectual, allegedly contrasted his pride in being a Ghanaian with Asante attitudes of aloofness from and superiority towards their fellow citizens. (22) The meeting then broke up.
In Kumase it was sensed that Rawlings's behaviour arose from fear of what might happen to him when he quit the Presidency and the immunities it afforded in 2000. It was also felt that this insecurity made him unpredictable and dangerous. The policy decided on was to mollify him pending the results of the 2000 elections. Accordingly, the Asantehene's seven-member preparatory committee was merged into the larger NDC planning group being put together by the NDC's Asante Regional Minister Kojo Yankah. (23) This body was now constituted as the YACCPC, and it began its planning meetings in September 1999. However, the AC had been set up as a permanent body at the time of its First Congress in 1998, so that it might plan ahead for its next meeting in 2000. It had thirteen standing committees and a secretariat. Two of its standing committees were chaired by the historian Adu Boahen, the losing NPP Presidential candidate against Rawlings in 1992, and by the businessman A. Appiah Menka, one of the NPP's wealthiest supporters. (24) These and all the other key AC appointees were sanctioned by and linked to the Kumase elite and the NPP.
Given this, it is unsurprising that the AC picked up on the suggestion made by Asantehene Osei Tutu II's now disbanded preliminary planning committee and put Yaa Asantewaa at the centre of its upcoming meeting in 2000. To the AC, if Yaa Asantewaa was a heroine then she was a uniquely Asante one, and it did not see why it should surrender any celebration of her to Rawlings and the NDC. I am told that feelings were very strong on this matter, to the point where it was decided that the AC's celebrations should take place at the very same time as the government-sponsored events. The result was an anomalous and delicate situation. The YACCPC and AC developed parallel and overlapping programmes. However, prudence and political calculation on both sides ruled out open confrontation. As the first week in August 2000 approached, each organization had set out an elaborate programme. Neither one of these was coordinated with the other's content and timetabling.
Yaa Asantewaa celebrated
The YACCPC and AC programmes both ran during 2-6 August 2000. In the event, practical cooperation between them ironed out many scheduling problems. Indeed, some events that were sponsored by one organization ended up taking place under the auspices of the other. A book launch initiated by the YACCPC became an AC event. On the surface, all appeared to pass off with unexpected harmony and goodwill. This was certainly the message put out in every official communication, and later echoed by one participant in a published account of what took place (Day 2000). However, antagonisms rumbled on below the surface and sometimes broke into view. Around the Manhyia Palace, there were complaints about the YACCPC line that Asante Regional Minister Kojo Yankah had first dreamed up the idea of celebrating Yaa Asantewaa, and then persuaded the Asante to join in. Similarly, but off the record, some government participants despaired at official Asante's proprietary attitude towards the celebration. They were prepared to admit privately that the NDC was wasting its time trying to increase its political support in and around Kumase. Predictably enough, the most serious flashpoints of argument circled around Yaa Asantewaa herself. At key events, where her life and afterlife were foregrounded and celebrated, the question of who owned her legacy arose in pointed and unavoidable ways. When this occurred, underlying cleavages ruptured and sometimes broke through the superficial atmosphere of tolerant goodwill.
The commemorative funeral and (re-)burial of Yaa Asantewaa's remains at Edweso was the climax of the week's celebration. This event was also to include the formal opening of a planned museum and tourist village site dedicated to Yaa Asantewaa's memory. The NDC government was determined to be seen to be in charge of these ceremonies. Thus, the Ghana Tourist Board commissioned architectural plans and drawings for just such a tourist village as far back as the 1970s. Nothing happened. Then Edwesohene Aboagye Agyei II dragged his feet over the matter, not wishing to support anything that would bring prestige to the rival royal lineage of Yaa Asantewaa. As noted, however, the NDC encouraged him to reconcile with Yaa Asantewaa's lineage so as to secure its support for the event under discussion. He did so, and agreed to be Chairman of the YACCPC at the government's urging. Ground was broken for the tourist village, and Edwesohene proclaimed that it would bring development and money to his town.
With these matters arranged, the YACCPC turned to consider ways in which to maximize publicity, goodwill and benefit from this event. As an Asante woman herself, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings was chosen (or chose herself) to preside over the funeral, (re-)burial and dedication of the museum and tourist complex. At one level she was a good choice. We have seen that she had a daughter named for Yaa Asantewaa, and had travelled to the Seychelles in pursuit of traces and memories of the Edwesohemaa. Her public relations advisers let it be known that she had commissioned and paid for a large bronze statue of Yaa Asantewaa. It was said that this was being made in China. At another level, however, she was a bad choice. She was widely disliked in Asante, where her reputation was that of a self-seeking arriviste. Scurrilous stories circulated about her parentage and private life. Everything about her--her costly wardrobe, her 'Western' leanness (many said she had had a facelift in Europe), her extravagance, her supposed arrogance and need to be the centre of attention at all times--suggested a stereotype disdained in those very circles in Asante to which she did not belong but from which she plainly craved acceptance. Around the Manhyia Palace some called her 'Deefee', a contraction of odifudepeefo, meaning a person of hugely greedy appetites. Other nicknames were unrepeatable. In sum, Nana Konadu started at a disadvantage and would need to work hard and tactfully to overcome prejudice against her.
The celebratory events at Edweso turned out to be fraught, although the palpable undertow of anger about them in Kumase was smoothed over for public consumption. Here, I can only report what I found. Most commentators described the surface of events or opted for prudence and discretion. Some proclaimed the events a success in the interests of solidarity between Asante, Ghana and the diaspora; some rather naively allowed the powerful emotional content of the events to distract them from the politics of what was going on; and some simply kept silent because rumours abounded that the Golden Stool's displeasure was extreme, and there were compelling historical precedents for keeping one's own counsel in such circumstances. On the surface, yet again, what occurred at Edweso seemed a dramatic, involving and moving experience. Crowds of dignitaries and tourists were entertained by musicians, dancers and all the rich panoply of Asante culture. Nana Konadu was the featured speaker, and had her daughter Yaa Asantewaa by her side. Other speeches were delivered by the government's (new) Asante Regional Minister and the District Chief Executive. An address was given by Ofinsohene as Edwesohene's Asona clan 'brother', but I am told that this made no reference to the history that has been recounted here. I say 'I am told' because I was not present in Edweso. Neither was any Asante chief other than Edwesohene, Ofinsohene, some of their subordinates and a scattering of office holders from elsewhere in Asante who supported the NDC.
This is what happened. The ceremonies at Edweso were initiated, planned and executed by the Rawlingses and the NDC party and government. As noted, it was decided that Nana Konadu was to be the leading spokesperson in Edweso, and the objective was to produce an identification in the public mind between her and Yaa Asantewaa. In turn, this was designed to capture Yaa Asantewaa from Asante, and to relocate her in the wider Ghanaian, African and diasporic consciousness as a transnational, anti-colonial, black female role model and icon. In the process the NDC hoped to gain local political advantage and international kudos. An obvious flaw in this plan was that the Asante ruling elite might not cooperate in the NDC annexation and reconfiguration of Yaa Asantewaa. Measures were set in train to try to involve Asantehene Osei Tutu II and chiefs other than the small pro-NDC minority headed by the Edwesohene. What the NDC really wanted was to have the occupant of the Golden Stool and the panoply of Asante chiefship present before the TV cameras in Edweso, but in a passive or supporting role that might be construed as an approval of and blessing on the proceedings.
Both the Manhyia Palace and the AC were in two minds about this, but they let it be known that if the Asantehene was visibly acknowledged to be the senior participant at the events in Edweso then he might attend. Negotiations about this were still ongoing when the AC printed its programme, making mention of the scheduled funeral and (re-)burial but omitting to say whether or not the Asantehene would be present. This decision came down to the wire. However, as discussion time ran out, Nana Konadu tried to affirm her pre-eminent role in a tactless and perhaps exasperated way. Against all Asante custom and precedent she asked, so it is claimed, that the Asantehene be seated already when she arrived (by helicopter, it was rumoured) to conduct proceedings in Edweso. This story gained wide currency and caused outrage. More than one person told me that anyone making a demand of this sort in the past would have suffered torture and beheading. Since Nana Konadu loudly claimed distinguished Asante descent her request was doubly abominable. Simply, as an invitee of the AC and as a familiar researcher around the palace over many years, I was asked not to attend the events in Edweso because the Asantehene had decided not to be present. This was why there were so few Asante chiefs in Edweso. It is also why Nana Konadu's public relations exercise was, in Asante and behind the scenes, a political disaster. In Kumase, stories circulated immediately that the bones being interred at Edweso actually belonged to a pig. Yaa Asantewaa's remains, it was said, were still safely in the keeping of her lineage and watched over by the Golden Stool.
I draw no lesson from the foregoing, other than to observe that the careful manoeuvring that made the Yaa Asantewaa centenary seem worthwhile to some was at bottom grounded in a political fiction that could not be maintained behind the scenes and so came to grief. If we set aside personalities, or rather subsume them in broader argument, then we can see that the encompassing politics of the occasion were too divided, too fraught with enmities, and just too entrenched in historic antagonisms to get through the week's celebrations without major ruptures. That these remained less public than they might have been served immediate interests. Both the YACCPC and AC felt able to declare the whole thing a success, the former to retrieve what credit it could from its political errors, and the latter to add more lustre to the Golden Stool's image and not frighten off potential investors. In any case, both sides knew that in the larger scheme of things the Yaa Asantewaa centenary was a way station on the road to the electoral battleground of December 2000. That Yaa Asantewaa herself was somewhat peripheralized in all of the barbed exchanges about doing her honour was, well, politics, and very much Asante politics at that. In 2000, as was the case historically, there were latent but real antagonisms between the Golden Stool and Edweso. Yaa Asantewaa was the terrain over which the latest instalment in this conflict was fought, but this time the focus was NPP and NDC politics rather than oaths sworn a century earlier. I have no doubt that she would have understood what was going on.
There is a footnote. On 31 July 2004 I visited Edweso to look over the museum and tourist village site formally opened by Nana Konadu four years earlier. Since then, the Edweso-Dwaben District Assembly had voted funds to improve and develop the site. But these were pitifully insufficient, and in 2003 it was reported that there were few tourists because of the lack of facilities. (25) Anyway, I had been travelling before my visit and had not heard the news. When I arrived on site the museum building was a burned-out shell. A TV crew was filming and asked me for an interview. I declined, but the invitation helped me persuade the police who were present to allow me to inspect the ruins. The fire had started in the night of 23-24 July, and the building was completely gutted. Every room of the neo-traditional compound house was smoke-blackened and destroyed. I was told that Yaa Asantewaa's sandals and war dress (batakari) had been reduced to ashes. Everyone on site said the fire was started by an electrical fault, but to my inexpert eye the devastation looked to be the result of a number of separate fires that had burned outside as well as inside the building.
I returned to Kumase. Everyone there believed the fire was deliberately set, though there was disagreement about the perpetrator. The NPP had won the 2000 election, and one narrative claimed the museum had been torched by 'patriotic' Edweso youth who were conspiring to get rid of the pro-NDC Aboagye Agyei II. Another claimed the Edwesohene had set fire to the building himself because he was again at loggerheads with Yaa Asantewaa's lineage. I dutifully wrote all this down. One further comment is worth recording. A senior royal official and old friend told me he had no idea how the museum had burned down, but somehow it had to do with the fractious internal politics of Edweso. After the 2000 elections, he declared, the Edwesohene had narrowly escaped being beaten or even lynched by his chiefs and subjects for being 'a Rawlings puppet'. But, he concluded, there was nothing odd about any of this. Edweso was always a turbulent, violent place lacking in 'proper respect' for authority. Yaa Asantewaa herself was 'difficult and headstrong' like all Edweso royals, although 'now we cannot say such a thing because she is famous all over the world and [laughs] tourists come to see where she hatched her plots'. (26)
AFTERTHOUGHTS: YAA ASANTEWAA IN THE WORLD
Warrior queen
Whatever happens now in Asante and Ghana respecting Yaa Asantewaa, she has long since escaped the confines of her historical origins to become an internationally known figure. A variety of circumstances and aspirations have made her world-famous, now known to more people on the Internet than ever knew about her during her lifetime. Amongst other things, this has meant that Asante representations of Yaa Asantewaa now increasingly take account of and adjust to international perceptions and expectations. This is about proclaiming pride in Asante history and culture to a global audience. It is also about generating revenue, and most particularly from tourists or investors who identify themselves in one way or another with Yaa Asantewaa. On 22 May 2001 I saw one example of this fusion in action. This was a performance of Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen, a grandly ambitious, lavishly mounted and professionally cast piece of musical theatre. (27)
The Asante consultant adviser on the musical's libretto and mise-enscene was I. Agyeman-Duah, the journalist and biographer of President Kufuor. His interest in Yaa Asantewaa was sparked by stories told him as a child in Kumase by the Boatin brothers. (28) They were sons of Kyidomhene and Ankaasehene Kwame Boaten, who shared Agyeman Prempeh's exile. As children in the Seychelles, they recalled being bathed and sung to by the old Edwesohemaa. Agyeman-Duah eventually went to the Seychelles looking for traces of Yaa Asantewaa and published his findings (Agyeman-Duah 1999; Agyeman-Duah and Mahoune 2000). He also made a TV documentary--Yaa Asantewaa: the heroism of an African queen--that was shown at private screenings in Ghana, the UK and the USA, and eventually appeared in DVD format. It was also shown during the forty-third annual conference of the USA's African Studies Association in Nashville in 2000, when Yaa Asantewaa was honoured by the ASAUSA's Women's Caucus. (29)
Agyeman-Duah was consultant adviser on the project, but the script was actually written by Margaret Busby, otherwise Nana Akua Ackon II, a Ghana-born but British-based publisher, feminist, and black cultural activist who was well known in the media. In her programme notes, she wrote a short history of Yaa Asantewaa based on sources supplied, presumably, by Agyeman-Duah. Her reading of the Edwesohemaa's life emphasized two things. First, she sited Yaa Asantewaa in a tradition of 'foremothers in Africa and the African diaspora' whose inspirational 'contributions' made 'against all odds' needed to be remembered and honoured. Second, she said Yaa Asantewaa's 'fearless stand' against 'foreign oppression' was something that 'pointed the way ahead for later activists and freedom fighters'. Here, then, was a Yaa Asantewaa for the world, a global inspiration for unity and action among peoples of African descent everywhere, and especially women. 'All Africans', Busby concluded, 'owe this heroic woman an incalculable debt.' (30)
The performance I saw mixed together all of these perspectives. Three actresses played Yaa Asantewaa as speaker, singer and dancer. They came respectively from Nigeria, Grenada and Ghana, the last being an Ewe from the Volta Region. The music and dance ensembles mixed together Ghanaians with performers from Africa and the African diaspora. The production's narrative set out to contrast evil colonialists with noble Asante, and within that framework it told a story that placed Yaa Asantewaa at the heart of the 1900-1 war, as inspiration, leader, general and moral conscience. At the end of the show, Yaa Asantewaa's meaning and message were highlighted by the presence of huge golden masks on stage. These portrayed a number of other inspirational African 'foremothers', the earliest being Queen Hatshepsut of pharaonic Egypt. The production situated Yaa Asantewaa in the popular Asante and Ghanaian historical understanding of her, and built on that to illustrate her significance for all people of African descent today.
Googling Yaa Asantewaa
An Internet search for Yaa Asantewaa using Google on 13 April 2005 generated 'about 3,700 results'. Searches for 'Asantehene Osei Tutu' produced 'about 3,250', but included both rulers with that name; 'Komfo Anokye' only scored 'about 505'. From these and other searches it would appear that Yaa Asantewaa is the single most famous Asante historical figure on the worldwide web. Entries for her are divided along the lines suggested by Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen. That is, there are historical items of variable length and quality that discuss Yaa Asantewaa's life, most generally in the context of her resistance against the British in 1900-1. In addition, a number of sites use her name in a talisman-like manner to convey something about individual or collective African or African diasporic identity. A majority of these sites originate in the USA. Black female activists have adopted her name as their own: in New York city there is a black feminist poet and cultural activist named Eva Yaa Asantewaa who has a well-designed and obviously busy website. Others have adopted Yaa Asantewaa's name in combination with the names of her heroic African historical 'sisters'. Thus, a well-documented site deals with the political travails of a Brooklyn schoolteacher called 'Sista Yaa Asantewaa Nzingha'. It is worth pausing over this website, for it illustrates something of the world into which Yaa Asantewaa has now been incorporated and for the purposes of which she is presently deployed. (31)
In 2000 Ms Nzingha was a Junior High School drama teacher at PS 113 in the Clinton Hill neighbourhood of Brooklyn, NY. She fell foul of the Board of Education for 'her methods of teaching students of African descent'. She was then demoted for 'telling her students to refer to themselves as Africans not Americans'. (32) Parents and children demonstrated in front of the school in Ms Nzingha's support, chanting 'We are Africans.' Her supporters said that she raised 'self-esteem' by countering an education system that portrayed Africa and Africans as being 'primitive', and that her name showed her commitment to 'African-centred education'. Complicating the issue was the fact that the fellow teacher who reported what Ms Nzingha was doing was Jewish. This involved the 'African or American' debate in the larger race politics of New York. As things progressed, Ms Nzingha gained support from a black activist coalition called NCOBRA. This made reference to three reports that had appeared since 1994 from New York Board of Education's Commission on Students of African Descent. These called for the Board of Education to promote ways of enhancing the educational experience and achievement of all students of African descent. Ms Nzingha, NCOBRA and the Board of Education then entered into a protracted battle in the courts and the media. The relevance of this story for present purposes is that it shows the way in which Yaa Asantewaa has become detached from her own historical context, or rather has been--and is still being--reconfigured to meet the needs of a different context, in which her history is enlisted to serve a politico-cultural agenda in a place and time very far distant from nineteenth-century Asante.
Yaa Asantewaa has also become a cultural artifact, an emblem of an Africanity that is well represented on the web. Here, middle-class diasporic identity politics and capitalism often sit together. One website 'is pleased to offer' a numbered, limited edition reproduction of an original watercolour entitled Portrait of Queen Yaa Asantewaa. The print is available for purchase at US$50, a percentage of which will be donated to the International Education Fund for Africa to help in the building of the Asantewaa-Du Bois University at Gyakye (Jachie) southeast of Kumase. The Portrait itself shows a young woman wearing head ties, earrings and a somewhat incongruous scallop-necked blouse. It is an idealized painting of a generic African woman or, perhaps, African womanhood. (33) Much more populist, and much more concerned with Yaa Asantewaa as a cultural emblem than as a historical figure, is the black music business. The multimillion-album-selling Rhythm and Blues diva Ashanti (Douglas, from New York), who was given her name by her parents, has mentioned Yaa Asantewaa as an inspirational role model. Interestingly, one profile of the singer is entitled Warrior Queen. (34) The Asante themselves, she has said, are 'a particular tribe' in which 'the women are just, like, the bomb' and are 'respected to the utmost'. (35) But here, perhaps, we have reached the attenuated limits of the historical Yaa Asantewaa's influence, for Ashanti has claimed that 'in other cultures' her name means 'different things'; hence, in 'Indian' [sic] it means 'war'. (36) Like all inhabitants of the globalized electronic village Yaa Asantewaa is not bounded, but instead peters out in a cultural borderland where her quiddity bleeds into other images and different meanings.
Bringing it all back home
In 2002 the Bank of Ghana announced that Kufuor's NPP government had authorized the introduction of new ten and twenty thousand Cedi banknotes. The theme of the 10,000 Cedi note was 'Nationhood', and it pictured Nkrumah and the other members of the famous 'big six' who 'led Ghana to independence in 1957'. The 20,000 Cedi note celebrated 'Culture', and featured the composer Ainu whose yen ara asase ni was an unofficial national anthem before the coming of independence. Both note issues were watermarked with a portrait of Yaa Asantewaa, visible against the light and a safeguard against forgery. (37) In 2003 Ghana Post issued five new stamps 'in honour of five distinguished Ghanaian women.' Of the women chosen, Yaa Asantewaa was the only one from the pre-colonial era, and the only one without formal schooling and a professional career. (38) By this time the question of Yaa Asantewaa's identity as an Asante or a Ghanaian symbol had been resolved, at least temporarily, by the fact that the country had an Asante President and an Asante-led government. However, Ghanaians were not the only people in Ghana with an interest and investment in Yaa Asantewaa and African history.
When NCOBRA was mounting a case in defence of Ms Nzingha it cited work by Professor Asa Hilliard of Georgia State University on the education of students of African descent in the USA. Hilliard is a well-known educator. He was a founding member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations along with Leonard Jeffries and others. This organization is at the forefront of contending that pharaonic Egypt was a black civilization. Hilliard has argued that educational models can be derived from Kemitic (KMT) wisdom, and he was involved in creating Free Your Mind, Return to the Source: African Origins, a TV series based on these educational precepts (Hilliard 1992, 1994; Howe 1998: 124, 247). (39) He is also a frequent visitor to Ghana, and leads educational tours to the country from the USA. His Asou Mankran Tour III (The Spirit of the River) took African Americans on an itinerary that progressed from the slave forts of coastal Ghana to Asante. This is a standard route for many tours of this kind, describing as it does a journey from the point of rupture from Africa to the healing and redemptive heart of a great historic African kingdom (Hasty 2003, 2004). (40) One of the stopping places on Hilliard's tour, as on many others, was Edweso. Here, tour participants had the 'wonderful experience' of 'visiting with the direct descendants of Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa', a 'great African woman' who fought the colonial British. The 'sisters and brothers' who comprised her lineage descendants had 'regal character and dignity' that 'was written all over them'. (41)
On this same tour a visit was made to Mankranso, west of Kumase in the Ahafo-Ano South district of Asante. In 2000 Professor Hilliard was enstooled here as Nkosuohene under the name of Baffour Amankwatia II. The word nkosuo means 'progress', and it has long been used in Asante to describe responsible advancement through combined or communal effort. In 1985 this concept was chosen by Asantehene Opoku Ware II to name the new stool that he, like every Asante ruler, was obliged to decree into existence to commemorate his reign. The first Kumase Nkosuohene was the wealthy businessman E. K. Osei, who took the stool name Osei Nkwantabisa. His brief was 'progress' through development, and more specifically to secure the funding for and coordinate non-governmental development projects. Later, it was announced by the Asantehene that all Asante divisional towns and chiefs should create their own Nkosuo stool and appoint to it (Wilks 1998: 177-8). By the 1990s the idea had spread throughout and then beyond Asante, and many Ghanaian towns and villages appointed an Nkosuohene. In truth, many communities sought out an expatriate in the hope that he (or as Nkosuohemaa, she) would provide foreign currency and other benefits. Some appointees were from Europe, but a very large number were Americans of African descent who toured Ghana as visiting returnees coming 'home'. In Asante, Hilliard's enstoolment was paralleled in many communities.
Despite sincerity and the best will in the world, the system of appointing Nkosuohenes and Nkosuohemaas soon fell into disrepute. Appointees claimed that Ghanaians were greedy or that donated money and resources disappeared; Ghanaians countered that appointees were arrogant and visited irregularly or not at all. By the close of the 1990s the Golden Stool was having second thoughts about the whole idea, and was starting to move towards restricting appointments to Nkosuo stools to Asante people. An Nkosuohene, it was said, must be 'a man of the soil' with the resources and commitment to 'progress' his community (Abayie Boaten 1999: 15-16). But no easy solution to this problem presented itself, for across Asante people persisted in seeing this stool as a means of gaining access to funds, while visitors from the African diaspora were all at once moved, inspired and flattered to be offered a chiefship title. In 2005 the Asanteman Council was still debating how to stop the 'abuse of the concept of Nkosuohene in Ashanti' and how to prevent 'anybody at all' from being offered such a stool. (42)
All this may seem a long way from Yaa Asantewaa, but it is not. In the last few years the Asante ruling elite has undergone a revanche against what has been described to me as American cultural imperialism. In private many Asante chiefs angrily mock Africans from the diaspora who think they have somehow returned home and been reintegrated because they wear cloth, speak greetings in Twi and buy Nkosuo stools. Painful though it is to say, and no one seems willing to say it, many Asante office holders regard returnees from the diaspora as the unwelcome descendants of slaves, as well as being people who proclaim themselves to be African but all too often behave like stereotypical 'ugly Americans'. One of the things that has fuelled this attitude is the sense that Nkosuohenes and others assert proprietorial rights over Asante culture. Yaa Asantewaa is often mentioned as someone who has undergone a startling, and startlingly distasteful, transmogrification in the course of being exported to and reconfigured in the USA. In truth, I am not saying anything here that any serious student of Asante does not know. I have cited the ruling elite, because these are overwhelmingly the people I have worked with and known for forty years. What, then, about commoner or ordinary Asante? It might come as a shock to many returnees to discover that what many Asante youth most want from them is late capitalism's consumer goods, and a visa to work in the USA or elsewhere in the West. Young, urban and all too often unemployed inhabitants of Kumase take pride in Yaa Asantewaa and those like her, but only when more pressing matters allow them time to think about history or culture. They are quite astonished at the amount of leisure time that diasporic Africans will spend seeing and discussing tradition and the pre-colonial past. If all this is a tragedy, and it is, then it is one with a pedigree. Richard Wright, that most discomforting of Americans of African descent, famously visited newly independent Ghana. He travelled up to Kumase, and described the stand made against the British by 'black Queen Ashantuah of Ejisu'. But of course, and as everyone knows, Wright came away from Asante and Ghana in sorrowful recognition of the fact that if he did not feel comfortable being American, then he felt little less of a stranger in Africa (Wright 1954: 267-71).
REFERENCES
Abayie Boaten, B. (1999) Kotokohene Otumfuo Opoku Ware II. Accra: Kwagyanso Publications.
Adu Boahen, A. (2000) 'Yaa Asantewaa in the Yaa Asantewaa war of 1900: military leader or symbolic head?', Ghana Studies 3:111-35.
--(2003) Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1, edited with an editor's note by E. Akyeampong. Accra and Oxford: Sub-Saharan Publishers and James Currey.
Adu Boahen, A., E. Akyeampong, N. Lawler, T. C. McCaskie and I. Wilks (eds) (2003) 'The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself' and Other Writings by Otumfuo, Nana Agyeman Prempeh I. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy.
Agyeman-Duah, I. (1999) The Asante Monarchy in Exile: the exile of King Prempeh I, and the Yaa ,Asantewaa war of 1900. Accra: Centre for Intellectual Renewal.
Agyeman-Duah, I. and J. C. P. Mahoune (2000) The Asante Monarchy in Exile: sojourn of King Prempeh I and Nana Yaa Asantewaa in Seychelles. Kumasi: Centre for Intellectual Renewal and Ausapp Printing House.
Aidoo, A. A. (1975) 'Political Crisis and Social Change in the Asante Kingdom, 1867-1901'. PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.
Arhin Brempong, N. (Arhin, K.) (2000) 'The role of Nana Yaa Asantewaa in the 1900 Asante war of resistance', Ghana Studies 3:97-110.
Asirifi-Danquah (2002) Yaa Asantewaa: an African queen who led an army to fight the British. Kumasi: Asirifi-Danquah Books Ltd.
Awoonor, K. N. (1990) Ghana: a political history. Accra: Sedco Publishing Ltd. and Woeli Publishing Services.
Day, L. R. (2000) 'Long live the queen! The Yaa Asantewaa centenary and the politics of history', Ghana Studies 3: 153-66. Also available online at AfricaResource.com Site Update in Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies 2 (2001).
Donkoh, W. J. (2001) 'Yaa Asantewaa: a role model for womanhood in the new millennium', only available online at AfricaResource.com Site Update in Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies 1.
Hamilton, R. E. (1978) 'Asante, 1895-1900: Prelude to War'. PhD dissertation, Northwestern University.
Hasty, J. (2003) 'Rites of passage, routes of redemption: emancipation tourism and the wealth of culture', Africa Today 49 (3): 47-78.
--(2004) '"Forget the past or go back to the slave trade!": trans-Africanism and popular history in postcolonial Ghana', Ghana Studies 6:131-57.
Hilliard, A. G. (1992) 'The meaning of KMT (ancient Egyptian) history for contemporary African American experience', Phylon, 49: 1-2, 10-22.
--(1994) 'Bringing Maat, destroying Isfet: the African and African diasporan presence in the study of ancient KNIT', in I. van Sertima (ed.), Egypt: Child of Africa, 127-47. New Brunswick: Journal of African Civilizations Press.
Howe, S. (1998) Afrocentrism: mythical past and imagined homes. London and New York: Verso.
Lewin, T. J. (1974) 'The Structure of Political Conflict in Asante, 1875-1900'. 2 vols. PhD dissertation, Northwestern University.
--1978. Asante before the British: the Prempean years, 1875-1900. Lawrence: The Regents Press of Kansas.
McCaskie, T. C. (1980) 'Office, land and subjects in the history of the Manwere fekuo of Kumase: an essay in the political economy of the Asante state', Journal of African History, 21 (2): 189-208.
--(1984) 'Ahyiamu--"a place of meeting": an essay on process and event in the history of the Asante state', Journal of African History, 25 (2): 169-88.
--(1995) State and Society in Pre-colonial Asante. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
--(2000a) 'The Golden Stool at the end of the nineteenth century: setting the record straight', Ghana Studies 3: 61-96.
--(2000b) Asante Identities: history and modernity in an African village 1850-1950. Edinburgh and Bloomington IN: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute and Indiana University Press.
Obeng, P. (2000) 'Yaa Asantewaa's war of independence: honoring and ratifying an historic pledge', Ghana Studies 3: 137-52.
Tordoff, W. (1965) Ashanti under the Prempehs 1888-1935. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wilks, I. [1975] (1989) Asante in the Nineteenth Century: the structure and evolution of a political order. Reprinted with a new Preamble. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
--(1998) '"Unity and progress": Asante politics revisited', Ghana Studies 1: 151-79.
--(2000) 'Asante at the end of the nineteenth century: setting the record straight', Ghana Studies 3:13-59. Wright, R. (1954) Black Power. London: Dennis Dobson.
(1) Gold Coast: Papers Relating to the Restoration of the Ashanti Confederacy (Accra, 1935), Appendix 50, 'History of Ejisu' by Omanhene Kwabena Owusu, Ohemaa Afua Ampobin and Elders, dd. Edweso, 27 June 1933; Appendix 51, 'Proposed Reconstitution of Ashanti Confederacy', Kwabena Owusu to Ag. CCA, dd. Edweso, 19 August 1933; PRAAD [Public Records and Archives Administration Department; formerly Ghana National Archives], Kumase, ARG 1/2/13/12, 'Ejisu Affairs 1925-1938', Afua Ampobin to CCA, dd. Edweso, 11 July 1933. Unless otherwise indicated, material quoted in this section is drawn from these documents.
(2) Institute of African Studies (Legon), Ashanti Stool Histories, IAS AS 11: Ejisu (1963).
(3) The reconstruction that follows here is based on a wide range of sources. See in particular MRO (Manhyia Records Office), Kumase, E/DC/11, 'Ejisu Stool 1913-1935'; 'Correspondence concerning the claims of ex-Omanhene Yaw Awua against the Ejisu Stool 1915-1931'; DCK No. 37, 'Enquiry into Ejisu Stool Lands and Properties 1938-1941'; Correspondence concerning Privy Council Appeals, 'Affairs of Donyina, Apromasi, Ekisu, Akyinakrom and Kwaso 1921 1948'; PRAAD, Kumase, ARG 1/2/13/12, 'Ejisu Affairs 1925-1938'; ARG 1/2/13/13, 'Ejisu Affairs 1935 1936.'
(4) MRO, Kumase, 'Palaver Book 1907 etc.', 'Chief Kweku Baidu claiming the subjects of Edu Akwesi, Yaw Donkor, etc. residing in Ofinsu District', heard before C. H. Hobart (DC), Testimony of Akua Afriyie, dd. Kumase, 19 May 1909; see further ibid., Testimonies of Kumase royal ahenkwaa Kwame Kyem and Dwaben Linguist Kwadwo Owusu, dd. Kumase, 19 May 1909. Here I record my gratitude to Gina Spencer, who copied out this entire volume by hand.
(5) PRAAD, Kurnase, ARG 1/2/13/12, 'Ejisu Affairs 1925-1938', Edwesohene Kwabena Owusu to CEPA, dd. Kumase, 9 March 1925.
(6) This area was situated in the auriferous belt that runs SW-NE along the Obuom strike range south of Lake Bosomtwe; it extends from the present mining town of Obuase (not the place discussed here) in the south to Konongo in the north.
(7) Yaa Asantewaa's patriotism included the defence of Asante cultural norms; see Arhin 2000:100 for her call to Asante men to live up to their ascribed gender role.
(8) Ofinsohene Kwadwo Apea died in the Seychelles in 1922.
(9) The footnotes (83-5) in support of these conclusions refer the reader to Lewin 1974, 1978 and Aidoo 1975; checking these works reveals that the sources used by them were oral informants who shared in Adu Boahen's somewhat Panglossian view of Asante history.
(10) PRAAD, Kumase, ARG 1/2/13/10, 'Ejisu Stool Houses in Kumasi', Puckridge to CCA, dd. Kumase, 22 February 1928 contains an enclosure detailing the facts of Yaw Awua's 'remarkable history'; ibid., ARG 1/2/13/12, 'Ejisu Affairs 1925-1938', CCA to Yaw Awua, dd. Kumase, 23 May 1930 confirms that the Kokofu bought three hundred and seventy rifles from Yaw Awua, which were paid for in gold by stripping stool regalia.
(11) Ibid., DC (Kumase), Minutes of a Meeting held at Edweso, 1 February 1927; Edweso Kontihene and Elders to DC (Kumase), dd. Edweso, 30 January 1932.
(12) NMP [New Manhyia Palace], Kumase, History of Ashanti, typescript prepared by a Committee under the Chairmanship of Asantehene Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, n.d. (but 1937-46). I am preparing an annotated edition of this text for publication by Oxford University Press for the British Academy.
(13) Ibid., Chapter 15.
(14) Ibid.; the phrasing can be read as implying that it was Yaw Awua who told the British that Yaa Asantewaa had called for people to take up arms.
(15) NMP, Kumase, History of Ashanti, Chapter 3.
(16) In order of presentation the papers were T. C. McCaskie, 'Yaa Asantewaa: traditional values and women's empowerment'; Wilhelmina J. Donkoh, 'Yaa Asantewaa: myths and realities in historical representation'; Nana Arhin Brempon (Kwame Arhin), 'The role of Yaa Asantewaa in the Asante Resistance War of 1900'; K. Opoku-Agyeman, 'The Yaa Asantewaa factor in West African literature'; T. Laverne Ricks-Brown, 'Black women leading the way: Yaa Asantewaa, Mary Anne Schadd and Harriet Tubman'; Linda Day, 'The Yaa Asantewaa legacy and development: what's tourism got to do with it?' At least three of these papers were subsequently revised and published; see Arhin (2000); Day (2000); Donkoh (2001).
(17) International Conference on Nana Yaa Asantewaa: Centenary Celebration, 1900-2000. Celebrating the Heroism of the African Woman, Levine Hall, School of Engineering, KNUST, 2-3 August 2000; the support of the Faculty of Social Sciences, KNUST, was also acknowledged in this programme.
(18) Programme Brochure: 2nd Asante Congress: Celebrating the Vision and Heroism of Yaa Asantewaa: August 2-6, 2000, Kumase, 2000, '15 Reasons why Investors will find the Asante macro-environment attractive and conducive', p. 13.
(19) Ibid., 'Members of the Governing Council of the Asante Congress', pp. 14-17.
(20) I am grateful to those who have talked to me about the events described here, and have respected the strict condition of anonymity they insisted upon for patently obvious reasons. That said, I owe thanks to the following for conversation or aid in arranging meetings on my behalf: Asumagyahene Odeneho Oduro Numapau II for the use of a room in his Kumase house in which to talk with people; Baffour Akoto, aged, ailing, but as sharp as ever about Asante history and politics, who arranged meetings for me with a number of Kumase royals and chiefs; Buasiako Antwi for his help over the years in setting up interviews with Edweso informants; Dr Sue Benson of Cambridge University who talked with Osei Kwadwo and other members of the curatorial staff at the Manhyia Palace Museum on my behalf; Ernest Sarhene, Chief of Protocol, Manhyia Palace, who introduced me to a number of informants at a cocktail party held in 2003 when I was honoured by Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II for services to Asante culture; and last, but certainly not least, Professor Nana Arhin Brempong (Kwame Arhin), who served as a member of the Council of State and as National Commissioner on Culture in the 1990s, and who provided an incisive running commentary from the point of view of someone who had held high national office under Rawlings's NDC.
(21) The media had a field day reporting on and speculating about what happened on 18 June; see for example www.Ghanaweb.com/news, 'Rawlings chastises Otumfuo for failure to reprimand media', 24 June 1999.
(22) See Awoonor 1990, a marxisant political history of Ghana that takes a strong anti-colonial line; it expresses the view that pre-colonial chiefship derived its power from the people.
(23) I have been told that Kojo Yankah was a key factor in this decision; although an NDC functionary, he was admired by the Asante elite for his tact in defusing many potential confrontations between Accra and Kumase.
(24) Adu Boahen, indisposed at the time, chaired the AC's Committee on Asante History; Appiah Menka chaired the Committee on Projects and Physical Development.
(25) See www.Ghanaweb.com/news, 'Assembly to develop Yaa Asantewaa museum', 7 May 2003.
(26) Ibid., 'Ejisuhene escapes mob justice', 15 August 2001; 'Fire guts Yaa Asantewaa museum', 25 July 2004.
(27) I saw this performed on its opening night at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, thanks to the kind offices of Lisa and Rowan Carr.
(28) I. Agyeman-Duah, 'Childhood memories', in Programme: Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen, 2001.
(29) See for example www.Ghanaweb.com/news, 'Award for Yaa Asantewaa in the United States', 13 November 2000; 'Yaa Asantewaa goes to Chatham House', 18 January 2005; 'DVD on Yaa Asantewaa outdoored', 28 January 2005.
(30) M. Busby (Nana Akua Ackon II), 'Historical background', Programme: Yaa Asantewaa: Warrior Queen, 2001.
(31) See <www.khandi.kickinthedoorprod.com ncobra="" yaaasantewanzingha.support="">; unless indicated otherwise, all quoted materials in this section are from this source.
(32) P. Noel, 'A Brooklyn teacher is disciplined for telling her students to refer to themselves as Africans not Americans', The Village Voice, New York, 22-28 November 2000.
(33) See <AOL Hometown ersweeting="" home="" artshop="">.
(34) See Mobo: The Official Magazine for the Mastercard Mobo Awards, 2002, p. 19.
(35) See <Rolling Stone: Music News, Reviews, Photos, Videos, Interviews, Politics and More news="" newsarticle="">, 'Ashanti means war', May 2002.
(36) Ibid.
(37) See <Ghana HomePage, resource for News, Sports, Facts, Opinions and Classifieds news="">, 'New currency to be released in December', 13 November 2002; 'Beware--fake Cedi notes circulating', 12 March 2003.
(38) Ibid., 'Ghana Post issues new stamps', 13 June 2003. The other women honoured were the women's rights activist Rebecca Deedei Aryeetey; the judge Annie Jiagge; the playwright Efua Sutherland; and the industrialist Esther Ocloo.
(39) See too Africa Within.
(40) I thank the late Dr Sue Benson of Cambridge University for many discussions on and around the matters discussed in this section.
(41) See R. Rashidi, 'In the magical land of Ghana, West Africa', www.cwo.com/lucumi/ ghana2, 25 April 2002.
(42) See <Graphic Online news="">, 'Asanteman to check abuse of Nkosuohene', 13 April 2005.
T.C. MCCASKIE was, until 2006, Professor of Asante History, Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham. He is now Professor of the History of Africa at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is the author of State and Society in Precolonial Asante (1995) and Asante Identities: history and modernity in an African village, 1850-1950 (2000). He co-edited 'The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself' and Other Writings by Otumfuo, Nana Agyeman Prempeh I (2003) and has written numerous articles on Asante history and society. In 2003 he was publicly honoured in Kumase by Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II for his services to the public understanding of Asante culture.
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BlackJestic Afrikan Registered

Meda wo ase!

That is a great story and information about the Kings and Queens whom ruled Ghana, especially about this amazing Queen name Yaa Asantewaa! It is really something that our people and the British (crackers) fighting over just for the gold stool. At least Yaa Asantewaa put a end to this.

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Posted : 09/08/2008 1:46 pm
(@Mawusi)
BlackStanding Afrikan Registered

do you know there is a movie of the major event of her life - has anyone seen it or does anyhave it to share

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Posted : 03/09/2012 6:50 pm
(@obadelekambon)
Most BlackNificent Afrikan! Admin

I haven't seen a documentary on her as of yet. There are a couple of videos on her life posted online.

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Posted : 05/09/2012 8:35 am

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