Born in 1840, Yaa Asantewa played a supporting role in the royal family of Ashanti Empire (located in modern-day Ghana) as ‘Queen Mother’. Following the exile of her grandson King Prempeh I by the British in 1896, Yaa Asantewa inherited leadership of the empire as regent in his stead.
In 1900, the British governor-general of the Gold Coast, Frederick Hodgson, met with local leaders at Kumasi. He demanded that the Golden Stool, the divine throne and symbol of the Ashanti nation, be turned over to him as a recognition of British power. While some of the leaders considered this, Yaa Asantewa, as Guardian of the Golden Stool, reprimanded them, saying:
“If you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
Yaa Asantewa then assembled an army of 5000 volunteers to resist the British forces, inflicting heavy losses upon them and forcing them to retreat to the fortified British offices at Kumasi. With the offices defended by machine guns and 500 Nigerian Hausas, Yaa Asantewa’s forces chose to instead lay siege to the British, cutting telegraph wires and blocking supply routes. Two days before the British would have been forced to surrender, a relief column sent by Hodgson broke the siege and forced the Ashanti to retreat.
Despite having been able to harass the British forces from several well-defended forts, the Ashanti Empire was eventually defeated and absorbed into the British Empire in 1902. As rulers before her had been, Yaa Asantewaa was exiled to the Seychelles, where she remained until her death in the early 1920s. In 1924 Prempeh I was finally allowed to return to Ashanti, bringing Yaa Asantewa’s remains with him to receive a royal burial on her native soil.