The war between the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana and the British was in many ways like the other wars of various African people with European invaders. At the end of the 1800s, Europeans governments, empowered by the resolution of the Berlin Conference, set out to conquer Africa, steal its resources, and decimate her people who would resist their rule.
The Queen of England had sent Sir William Edward Maxwell to the Ashanti kingdom, to subdue them and bring them under the British crown, as a colony.
Sir Maxwell started with diplomatic talks and subtle threats to the Ashanti people, in an attempt to make them give up their lands and resources for direct rule by the queen. The cunning and ill-thought diplomatic talks were failing all over Africa, and that was because African leaders and peoples knew better, than to make any deals with the Europeans – they knew trouble had come to their shores.
The Ashanti Empire was led by their king, Prempe I. He and his people, alongside the leader of the Ejisu, vehemently refused to accept the proposition for their land and gold to be annexed and ruled by the British.
The British started to use force to try to dominate and conquer the Ashanti, just like they were doing all over Africa, but the Ashanti resisted them repeatedly and fiercely.
The continuous resistance of the Ashanti people led to more brute force from the British and subsequently led to what is known as the fourth Anglo-Ashanti War.
The war was brief and lasted for about three months, from December of 1895 to February of 1896. The king of the Ashanti Empire, Prempe I was forced into exile by the British, together with the ruler of the Ejisu district, and also other notable leaders and members of the Ashanti Empire. Their exile was a punishment for resisting and defying the authority of the British.
After the king and the other chieftains where exiled, the British went ahead to plunder and steal their resources. This was one of the main aims of their invasion.
The king of the Ashanti, Prempe I, has advised his people not to put up more resistance after his exile. This was to try to negotiate with the British and save the lives of his people.
So, after his exile, the grandmother of the ruler of Ejisuhene assumed the position of queen regent of the Ejisu-Juaban district. Her name was Yaa Asantewa. The people needed a leader who would stand for them in the dealings with the British.
By this time, the region had been signed over to the British protectorate, and Sir Frederick Hudgson had taken over as the governor of the region and was intensifying the British rule and suppression of the Ashanti people.
News reached Hodgson of the Ashanti Golden Stool, and how priced and symbolic it was for the ruler of the Ashanti people and their custom in general. Out of sheer pride, envy and covetousness, Hodgson wanted the chair. He believed, as the new ruler of the Ashanti region, he should sit on the Golden stool, instead of the ordinary chair he was offered.
But his wishes were not going to be granted by the Ashanti people, who held the stool and their traditions in high esteem. The stool was a sacred symbol and an embodiment of their sovereignty and divine prestige, and they were not willing to give it to a foreigner to sit on.
The people hid the stool away, and Hodgson deployed his soldiers to search for the stool around the kingdom.
While he was focused on finding the Golden stool, the queen regent, Yaa Asantewa gathered the remaining leaders of the Ashanti government in a secret meeting. She brought them together so they could find a way to protect their sacred Golden Stool, and also secure the return of their exiled king. She wanted them to revolt and chase out the British.
Many of the leaders whom she had summoned were fearful of the consequences of revolting against the British, and would not agree to some of her suggestions. But Yaa Asentewa was not a woman who was afraid. She was bold and brave.
In anger, she said: “…Is it true that the bravery of Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it! It cannot be! If the men of Ashanti fear to fight, then I shall summon my fellow women of Ashanti! We shall fight till the last among us falls on the battlefield!”
And by her fearlessness and words, she was able to assemble an army of 5,000. She commanded the army to engage the British in a battle, which is known till date as the “War of the Golden Stool.”
The Ashanti army and warriors ambushed Hodgson’s deputy and his forces and killed them in great number. Those who survived escaped because of a rainstorm that had started. When the escapees reached the other soldiers and told them of the strength of the Ashanti army, the British soldiers stationed in the Ashanti Kingdom retreated to Kumasi, which was the major base for the British colonial offices.
The British officers and soldiers immediately fortified their base with high walls, firing turrets, and over 500 armed men. But the Ashanti warriors were smart. They knew storming the fort would mean the death of many of them. So, they settle into a long siege. They launched an assault on the base on the 29th of April, but it was not successful.
The Ashanti was bent on removing the British totally from their kingdom. They didn’t give up their revolt. They surrounded the British at all corners, frustrating their mission. The Ashanti warriors blocked all the roads leading to the town, intercepted the British food supply, and destroyed their telegraph wires.
The guerrilla warfare technique of the Ashanti was frustrating for the British officers. They could not communicate with other regions, and they had no food. To make their matter worse, a disease broke out in their base.
A British rescue party arrived on the 23rd of June, and helped Hodgson, his wife and a few others who were not affected by the disease, to escape. While they were escaping, the Ashanti Abrade warriors hunted them down and killed many of them.
This was a big blow for the British. They waited one whole year to gather forces and ammunition with which they attacked the Ashanti kingdom. After a fierce battle, they defeated the Ashanti people and arrested their leaders.
The leaders were exiled to Seychelles for 25 years. Many of them lived and died in Seychelles without setting eyes on their mother-land again. Yaa Asantewa also died in exile in 1921. The King, Prempe I was released from exile in 1924 and returned to his people, after the British had formed strong bases in Ghana.
The Ashanti people took great pride in the way they prosecuted the war, and their ability to prevent the British from stealing and owning the Golden Stool. It was their ancestral divine heritage and they defended it with their lives and blood.
No one can really tell how many of the Ashanti warriors died in that war, but the British dead were accounted to be over 1,000. The war was the last resistance put forward by the Ashanti people, before their empire was made a protectorate of the British Crown.
The name of the Queen Regent, Yaa Asantewa, was forever written in the hearts of the Ashanti people and indeed all Africans, as one of the greatest and fearless women who resisted and protected her people in the face of Caucasian greed and viciousness.
Her story and the bravery of the Ashanti people adds to the many accounts of resistance put forward by various African kingdoms and peoples against the rape and pillaging of Africa, masterminded and perpetuated by Europeans from the 1600s till the 1900s.
Although African nations are declared independent today, it is still clear to see that the greedy and manipulative colonial hands of Europe still holds Africa by the throat. At times like this, the bravery of African ancestors is studied and evoked to prepare this generation for the liberation struggle that is coming. For Africa must be free.
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