An Original Black Woman: Celebrating Yaa Asantewaa

The Ashanti nation goes down in history as one of the fiercest African nations to resist European colonialism. Second only to the famed Zulu warriors. Today, the Ashanti display such cultural pride; images of them cause a yearning for the days of old. What a wonder it must have been exist in the colorful, golden pre-colonial Ashanti kingdom. Among their fiercest leaders, one stands out more than others. Not just because she was a woman—because she was prepared to fight just when everyone else wanted to give in. In spite of the fall of the Ashanti, their fierce resistance earned them a place of high esteem even among the same empire that was massacring their people.

Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa is remembered as a woman of integrity. Who despised anything less than the truth, who hated injustice. While other African nations were rolling over for the British massive, she was prepared to lead even women to war to defend her peoples’ sovereignty—and their golden stool.

“If you chiefs are going to behave like cowards and not like men,” she said to the all-male leadership, “you should exchange your loin cloths for my undergarments.” In the Ashanti culture of that time, her boldness was not as unthinkable as it might have been elsewhere in Africa. Most of the matriarchal government systems had been decimated by beginning of the colonial period. Yaa Asantewaa represents the last of such a time. The fact that she is so celebrated speaks volumes about the Ashanti people. That the men did not rise up and silence her is intriguing. Perhaps because she was royalty; or perhaps they were secure enough in their manhood to take criticism from a woman, in the interest of their people. Ghanaians are believed even today to be one of the few African nations where women are treated with high regard.

In 2013, American women are penalized for being this bold. This is the kind of woman that few men want to marry, as we live in a time in which the male ego rules. Fierce Black women are continually pushed to mute their wisdom, accept a life of single-hood or find love outside their race. But we weren’t always this way. Yaa Asantewaa’s regal strength made her a figure to be celebrated in every aspect of modern Ghanaian society. With schools, museums, and 20-cedi note and organizations named after her; she continues to be deified by proud Ghanaians everywhere.

Here is an original Black woman who loved freedom, who preferred death to enslavement, whom we must salute.


Ololade Siyonbola is the author of Market of Dreams, President of the Yoruba Cultural Institute, and co-founder of Exodus to Afrika International, a New York based initiative providing housing and work resources, and cultural training, to Diasporans traveling to or relocating in Africa. Learn more about Siyonbola’s work at

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