YAA ASANTEWAA WAR
( 1900 )
The main objective of the Government for deporting Nana Prempeh( the King of Asante Kingdom) was to cause the disintegration of the Asante Kingdom, but this rather strengthen it, because the Asante,s realised that if care was not taken , the Golden Stool which continued to be the soul of the Nation or Kingdom and which was the symbol of their unity, would be taken away from them by the British. They therefore organised themselves secretly to protect the Golden Stool. This action revealed to the government that it was not the occupant of the Golden Stool who mattered but the Golden Stool itself and so the new governor in the person of Hodgson decided that in order to break the confederation, he must get the Golden Stool. He therefore came to Kumase and called a meeting of all the chiefs on 28th of March 1900 in front of Kumase Fort . When the chiefs were going to welcome him, one of men called Kofi Fofie , penetrated through the people caring the chief of Dwaben and told him that if the Governor did not tell them something meaningful , they would fight. After the salutation , the Governor got up and made the following statements:
(A) That neither Nana Prempeh ( the King of Asante Kingdom) nor Atwereboana would never return to Kumase . Asante would be ruled by the government,s resident representative.
(B) That the government had the right to call people to do communalism labour in the form of road construction and building of governor buildings.
(C) That the people had to help in the smooth admit of the states and to do that , peace should prevail.
(D) That they were to pay interest in the indemnity of fifty thousand ounces of gold in the Fomena treaty. He had divided the money among the states in the following order:
1. Kumase State — — One hundred and twenty-five mperedwan
2. Mampong, Adanse, Bekwai, Nkoranza and Manso Nkwanta
— — One hundred and fifty mperedwan each
3. Nsuta, Kokofu, and Agona —– One hundred and ten mperedwan each
4. Gyaman —— One hundred mperedwan
5. Dwaben, Takyiman, Bekyem, Nkwanta, Wam and Bompata
—— Seventy – five mperedwan each.
6. Agogo —— Ywenty mperedwan.
( One mperedwan was equal to eight pounds eight shillings sterling)
(E) Finally, he stated that the Asante Kingdom had shown on insolent attitude towards him. He was not happy with the chair he was given. It meant relegation of authority. He was the representative of the Queen of England and the Queen was the supreme power of the Nation. If the Kingdom gave the Golden Stool to Nana Prempeh ( the King ) to sit on , why didn’t they bring it to him to sit on? . He therefore demanded it as a right. He continued that , though the government had not received the Golden Stool, he would rule the Kingdom with all power and strictness at his disposal. This statement was greeted with the moment of silence, followed by murmuring. He therefore gave chance to anybody who had a question to ask.
According to oral tradition, Nana Yaa Asantewaa, queen mother of Edweso,who was also acting as the chief of Edweso following the deportation of Nana Afrane, after waiting a little for the men to speak, and seeing that nobody was prepared to ask question, stood up to ask questions. She first asked whether the governor saw Nana Prempeh ( the King) when he was coming to Kumase. Governor Hodgson replied that Nana Prempeh ( the King) had been deported to Seychelles Island. She then told the Governor that it was the custom of the Asantes that whoever occupied a stool was in charge of it and was the person who knew where it was kept. Therefore, if the Governor was anxious to get the Golden Stool, he has to bring Nana Prempeh ( the king) back to show him where the Golden Stool was. The Governor again replied her that Nana Prempeh (the King) would not be returned. Nana Yaa Asantewaa,s last statement was: “Tomorrow, ghost widows would get husbands “. There was silence, then the people began to break off. After the meeting, some of the chiefs decided that they would not give in to the demand. If the demand was repeated, they would fight to defend the Golden Stool. They remembered the way their King ( Nana Prempeh) was taken away from them. They bowed in shame for not firing a gun, therefore they would not repeat the scene. States which took this decision were: Kumase , Edweso , Offinso , Atwima , Ahafo , Kokofu , Bekyem , Nkwanta and Adanse.
Outspoken among the agitators for war was Nana Yaa Asantewaa, the queen mother of Edweso. There were other chiefs who did not subscribe to war. They held the view that Asante was not united as at first . There were some states which had opted for British rule. Looking at their military might too. They were not strong enough to meet the British army at that particular time. Their was leaders too were arrested and deported with the King ( Nana Prempeh) therefore they preferred friendship with the British so that they could tell the Governor that they could not part with the Golden Stool. They were of the view that if they fought and the Golden Stool was captured , they would lose it forever. The chiefs who subscribed to those views were the chiefs of Mampong , Nsuta , Dwaben and Agona. They therefore were in the Fort when Nana Yaa Asantewaa war was declared and they fought on the side of the British. With the exception of Agona where there was division of allegiance and some of the men fought alongside the troops of Nana Yaa Asantewaa , the subjects of the other three states did not take part in the war. The chiefs of Bompata, Kumawu, Atebubu, Gyaman, Nkoranza and Bekwai decided not to raise arms against the Government, so their subject too did not take part in the war. The chiefs of Takyiman, Wankyi, Berekum, Wam, Manso Nkwanta and their subjects also stayed out of the war. Manso Nkwanta later came to fight for the British Government. According to Claridge , before the Governor and his men left for Accra, he had a young man who told him that he knew where the Golden Stool was being kept and that the custodians were tired of keeping watch over it day and night. They needed some gift from the Governor to induce them to give it up to him . The informant dressed in military uniform to disguise his identity. As rightly said: ” When you are arguing with a blind man and he threatens to throw a stone at you, then he is standing on one” . That was why the Governor stated in his speech that he would by all means get the Golden Stool. Immediately the meeting ended, the Governor detailed some soldiers to leave the fort with the informant in the night to go and start the search for the Golden Stool early the following day at Bare.
According to Offinso tradition, when the news of the search party was heard , the queen mother of Offinso, Nana Afranewaa and her men laid ambush T Bare and Nkwanta. After the search party had searched in vain and were coming back , Nana Yaa Afranewaa ordered her men to open fire on them . There was some fighting along banks of River Offin , claiming some casualties. This incident gave birth to the statement, ” Etuo ato Bare ” ( gun has been fired at Bare). Nana Yaa Asantewaa,s men too ambushed the search party at the outskirts of Kumase therefore they had to fight their way through to the fort. According to Claridge, the Governor got hint of the preparation for war by Kumase , Edweso and Offinso states so he sent some Hausa soldiers to go and warn them to desist from causing trouble. The soldiers never returned back to the Governor. It was later learnt that they had been killed. That meant declaration of war. In another development, two out of the three chiefs detailed to govern Kumase state in the absence of the King (Nana Prempeh), deserted to the camp of those preparing for war. The two were Nana Afrifa and Nana Nantwi. This fully proved that the rumour was true. In another instance too, the missionary, Rev. Ramseyer and his people and other traders ran to seek refuge in the Fort . The Fort was surrounded by the Asante soldiers on 25th of April 1900. People in the fort numbered over seven hundred and seventy-nine . The number was made up of 29 whites and 750 soldiers and their wives. This resulted in shortage of food in the Fort.
The reason for the war as given by Nana Yaa Asantewaa and her soldiers were as follows:
(A) That Governor Maxwell deceived the Asante Kingdom by asking them to mount a durbar for him , not knowing that he was coming to arrest their King ( Nana Prempeh)
(B) That the new Governor was also trying to take away Golden Stool which contained the soul of the Asante Kingdom from them .
(C) That the search for the Golden Stool at Bare had taught them that if they did not take their arms , the precious legacy of theirs would be lost forever. These were the reasons which made them decided to die for the Golden Stool and the Asante Kingdom
A fierce battle was therefore fought. Because of better ammunition, the soldiers loyal to the government inflicted heavy casualties on the Asante soldiers but because of their numbers this didn’t deter them and they continued to fight . In the Governor,s camp, apart from casualties from actual fighting, famine and disease claimed many lives. The Governor therefore called his men and decided to ceasefire. He called his loyal chiefs and ask them to go to the Asante Camp and discuss the issue with them . The Asante army replied that they would agree to the request provided if the Governor would meet the following demands:
(A) That their King ,Nana Prempeh, should be brought back
(B) That the Governor should permit them to buy and sell slaves
(C) That no Asante citizens should be made to serve as a carrier.
(D) That they should not be forced to break stones for building government houses.
(E) That the government should ask all strangers engaged in buying and selling on Asante soil to stop and leave trading to Asantes only.
According to Claridge, after hearing the grievances, the Governor replied that he could do nothing about the request because:
(A) Nana Prempeh (the king) had been deported and he would not be allowed to come back.
(A). The British Government had banned slave trade, therefore he was not in the position to allow them to trade in slaves.
(C) When his soldiers were engaged in an encounter, he was obliged to engage the citizens as carriers.
(D) On banning non- Asantes from trading on Asante soil was also against the order of the day because the land was a British Colony and therefore every subject under the crown had right to trade on the land.
(E) On forced labour, the Governor stated that, that could be stopped.
Since the terms stated above were not agreed upon by the Governor, the ceasefire could not materialised and the fighting continued. After some says of heavy fighting, the Asante forces decided not to fire but leave the Governor and his men to die through starvation. Death toll from disease and starvation rose high so in June , the Governor and his men decided to find a solution. They planned a way of escape fro the Governor and his civilian population in the Fort. At the appointed time, the troops guiding the Governor tricked the opposing troops by marching towards Cape Coast road whereas the Governor and his men took another road. However, they met some Asante troops on the way and were engaged in some fighting. When the going became hard, some of the Governor,s carries threw their loads and money away. Instead of the Asante troops continuing to chase them , they rather went after booty. This paved the way for the Governor and his men to run to safety. At the peak of the war when the Governor and his men planned to escape, he sent a message to England for troops reinforcements, 1,400 trained troops were called from the West African Colonies to come and help. They reached Kumase 17 days after the escape of the Governor. Because of their superior weapons and large quantities of ammunition, they were able to subdue Nana Yaa Asantewaa and her forces after three months fighting. The soldiers left , behind the Fort during the Governor,s escape consisted of 3 white officers, 1 African officer, 129 Hausa soldiers and 25 carries. Apart from the numbers mentioned , those involved in the escape were:
(A) The remaining whites
(B) 600 Hausa troops
(C) 800 African natives made up of native soldiers and loyal chiefs.
(D) 1,000 civilians ran to seek protection. Some of these people also died on their march to the Coast.
After the war, Nana Yaa Asantewaa and fifteen leaders who supported her ,were deported to join the King (Nana Prempeh) at the Seychelles Islands. Those deported with Nana Yaa Asantewaa were as follows:
1. Nana Yaa Asantewaa Queen of Edweso
2. Nana Yaw Ntoa Chief of Antoa
3. Nana Asibe Chief of Kokofu
4. Nana Kwame Ponponsuo Chief of Bonwire
5. Nana Kwasi Katakyew Chief of Odumase
6. Nana Yaw Asamoa Chief of Duayaw Nkwanta
7. Nana Yaw Konto Akwaboahene
8. Nana Kwame Amankwa Chief of Kontanase
9. Nana Kwaku Fosu Chief of Trede
10. Nana Kwame Nkansa Oyokohene
11. Nana Atakora Chief of Agona
12. Nana Fofie Chief of Edweso
13. Nana Kwaku Nsia Akroponghene
Thirty – one others were imprisoned in Elmina Castle while Kwabena , chief of Bantama was hanged for war crimes. According to oral tradition, some stools in Asante became vacant as a result of the arrest of the occupants with Nana Prempeh, the King and the deportation and imprisonment of some chiefs who helped Nana Yaa Asantewaa. The Government, through the advice of her loyal chiefs appointed people who fought on her side to occupy the vacant stools. Whether they were royals to the stool or not . In some instances, strangers were appointed to occupy some stools . Bantama, Offinso, Edweso, Ankaase and Atipim stools were occupied by the government appointees. The captain of Nana Yaa Asantewaa,s forces was called Boadu from Edweso. Two factors caused the defeat of Nana Yaa Asantewaa and her troops.
1. The first thing was disunity
2. The Asante Kingdom became a divided Kingdom with half of the people deciding not to raise arms against the British Government. Of the remaining half, a section of them fought for the British Government,while the remainder fought on the side of Yaa Asantewaa. According to oral tradition,the trick in Asante warfare was revealed to the British by the chiefs who were loyal to the Government. This contributed to the defeat of Nana Yaa Asantewaa. Another factor which contributed to the defeat was love of money and wealth. During the escape of the Governor, Antoa Mensa was given 1,500 troops to chase him and if possible to prevent his escape from Asante land. He was charged to bring the Governor,s head to the Capital. But according to Claridge, he was more interested in capturing many refugees and carries and their loads than pursuing the Governor and bringing his head. He was of the opinion that the people would be more interested in riches and slaves than he the Governor,s head, therefore he stopped chasing him. When this action of his was reported, he was degraded . Oral tradition has it that during the chase , the Governor,s men were given tip-off that most of Yaa Asantewaa,s men loved money more than their assignment, therefore when they saw that they were almost in the grip of Yaa Asantewaa,s men , they threw money about and the soldiers took delight in collecting the money. This action of theirs gave the Governor and his men the chance to run many miles ahead to safety and contributed to Yaa Asantewaa,s defeat. This war , in the view of the writer , cannot be classified among the Asante- British wars because it was a war fought between two factions of Asante with one faction being helped by the British. It didn’t even involve the Asante Kingdom.