Yaa Asantewaa: a woman of iron.

Author:Agyeman-Duah, Ivor

As the Yaa Asantewaa centenary celebrations end this month (December) in Ghana, Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Osei Boateng profile the woman voted by BBC listeners as "Africa's Woman of the 20th Century".

From the existing, greying, black and white photos of Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen of Ejisu near Kumasi, the Asante capital, you might think butter would not melt in her mouth. She looks all innocent, an old woman pleased with her life in the village. But her exploits tell a different story. Though she lost to the British in the war of 1900 -- a war named after her -- the army she led gave as much as it received, before succumbing finally to the British big guns.

In an earlier war in 1844, the British governor, Sir Charles McCarthy, was beheaded by the Asantes as his defeated troops fled in disarray. It gave the then Asantehene the smug satisfaction to tell his people: "The white man brought his cannons to the bush, but the bush is stronger than the cannons."

Fifty-six years later, in 1900, the Asantes took on the British again. The star of that war, Yaa Asantewaa, has been the centre of the recent (centenary) celebrations in Ghana which end this month.

The celebrations were launched in London in June by the new Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, as part of the Emancipation Day festivities in Ghana, (which were observed from 26 July to 1 August, but the Yaa Asantewaa Centenary Celebrations continued till the end of the year).

Emancipation Day is a day set aside in Ghana to commemorate the abolition of chattel slavery in the British colonies in 1824 and in the Americas in 1865. It was first celebrated in August 1998, during which the mortal remains of two African ancestors were brought from the Americas to be re-interred in Ghana. Since then the Day has been celebrated every August. This year's festivities were special as they coincided with the 100th anniversary of Yaa Asantewaa's uprising against the British.

There are many great women in Ghanaian and African history but, to BBC listeners, Yaa Asantewaa stands above them all. Her glorious exploits -- a woman leading the Asante army against the Old Enemy -- are so revered that many Asante parents today, (including President Rawlings who is not Asante but his wife is), have named their daughters after her.

Last December, when the BBC African Service announced the result of its year-long "African Personality of the Century" poll (in which African listeners had been asked to vote for their heroes and heroines of the 20th century), Yaa Asantewaa was the only woman named in the first 30 African heroes and heroines.

The BBC listeners voted Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, as Africa's "Man of the Century", and the next 29 "heroes" after him were all men. Yaa Asantewaa was No. 30 on the list, the only...

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