Bio | Yaa Asantewaa
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Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa

Long before the so-called “superwomen” of the 20th and 21st centuries, Yaa Asantewaa was juggling several obligations.   A member of the Asona Royal Family, Yaa Asantewaa was born around 1832 and was first a woman who satisfied many of the roles expected of an Asante woman, including marriage, childbirth and performing household chores.   As with other ethnic groupings in Ghana, Asante women, are often the economic backbone of the family and Yaa Asantewaa was known to be a hardworking farmer, growing plantain, cocoyam, groundnuts and onions to sustain her family.

 
In 1877, when she was in her mid 40s, she was installed Queen of Edweso (now spelt Ejisu), later becoming the Paramount Chief of Edweso when her grandson, Akwasi Agrane Kuma, the Chief of Edweso, was sent into exile in 1896.   According to all accounts, her reign as Queen and later Chief was distinguished by her sense of fairness and objectivity, as well as her readiness to defend women’s rights whenever the opportunity arose, clamping down heavily on rape, domestic abuse and crimes against the vulnerable in the Edweso society.
 
For all her achievements, it was for her role as General and war strategist that she is celebrated.   Incensed by the demands of Governor Sir Frederick Hodgson, she rallied the Asante nation to war, taking on the role of Commander-In-Chief.
 
One of her challenges was to raise a sizeable army to meet the British threat, and here her charisma and bravery inspired many to follow.   For the less willing, s*x was used as a recruitment tool.   The partners of men who refused to be drafted were encouraged to refuse the “cowards” s*x, a tactic which was hugely successful.
 
Yaa Asantewaa proved to be an astute strategist, counting roadblocks on all routes leading to Kumasi to halt the advance of British reinforcement.   Telegraph poles were also destroyed to disable communication between Asante and the coast, laying the found for the siege of the Kumasi Fort, where the governor and his people were trapped.
 
Asirifi-Danquah, in his biography of Yaa Asantewaa, estimates that there were 3,500 adults and 200 children besieged in the fort.   The assault on the fort was relentless, despite the killing of 150 Asante troops in the encounter and the arrival of reinforcement from Lagos under a British captain.
 
Meanwhile, the occupants of the fort were ravaged by disease, starvation and death, with Sir Frederick making at least two attempts to negotiate a ceasefire with Yaa Asantewaa.   On each occasion, however, he refused to accept the terms of the Asante Commander-In-Chief, which included the return of the exiled royals.   Asirifi-Danquah records that 30 to 50 occupants of the fort died of starvation and disease every day.   The inmates, having run out of supplies, were buying a mouse for a penny, a rat for four pence and a spoonful of whisky for two pence.   It is instructive to note that occasionally, Yaa Asantewaa allowed supplies of food to be sent to the fort to ameliorate the suffering of her enemies.
 
Remarkably, Governor Hodgson, for reasons which cannot be fully examined here, managed to escape.   The Asante were eventually defeated with the arrival of further reinforcement and superior firepower.   Yaa Asantewaa was betrayed and captured while in hiding at Sreso Timponmu, 130 kilometres from Kumasi, thereby ending the last significant attempt by the Asante people to halt the machinery of British military and cultural imperialism.

 

The Yaa Asantewaa Festival:

Despite the establishment of some monuments in her honour, Yaa Asantewaa has still not been accorded the recognition due her.   It has plausibly been argued that male chauvinism may have something to do with this.   It is almost certain that had she been a male general, she would long have achieved iconic status.   Another possible reason is the refusal or reluctance of African scholars to pay enough attention to chronicling our history and telling our story in our own words.
 
It is to rectify the anomally that the Yaa Asantewaa Festival, a biennial international festival, is being held in Ejisu and Kumasi from July 28 to August 6, 2006, under the auspices of the Golden Stool Heritage Foundation, a creation of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, The current Asantehene.
 
In November 1998, the then newly-appointed Regional Minister; Mr. Kojo Yankah, addressed the Asanteman Council.   In outlining his programme for the region, he proposed a biennial festival in Kumasi which would institution-alise the heroic deeds of Yaa Asantewaa and give Ghana another international festival alternate to the now famous PANAFEST.
 
Mr. Yankah’s proposal was happily welcomed at the time and a committee was established to plan the first in the series.
The first Yaa Asantewaa Festival, which attracted a large number of people from Ghana and outside, was celebrated on August 2000.
 
This year’s festival, like the earlier version held in 2000, is expected to be heavily patronized by tourists, Africans from all over the continent, as well as Africans in the Diaspora.  The 10-day festival is expected to be a celebration, not only of the life and work of a great African queen but also rich Asante culture, which is one of the best preserved on the continent.
 
The festival, which is to be launched by the Asante King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, will play host to several cultural performances at the Kumasi Cultural Centre, a re-enactment of the Yaa Asantewaa War and a pilgrimage to Sreso-Timpong where Yaa Asantewaa sought refuge before her capture.    Another big attraction of the festival will be a durbar of queens in Kumasi, during which Black heroines will be honoured for their achievements.   There will also be an intellectual colloquium.
 
Finally, and most important, a festival trade fair will be open to all businesses at the Kumasi Cultural Centre from July 28 to August 5, 2006.
By Editor K 30/09/2011 15:30:00
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