Yaa Asantewaa was born in 1840; she was appointed queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire now part of modern-day Ghana by her brother Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpese, the Ejisuhene or ruler of Ejisu. During her brother’s reign, Yaa Asantewaa saw the Asante Confederacy go through a series of events that threatened its future, including civil war from 1883 to 1888. When her brother died in 1894, Yaa Asantewaa used her right as Queen Mother to nominate her own grandson as Ejisuhene. When the British exiled him in the Seychelles in 1896, along with the King of Asante Prempeh I and other members of the Asante government, Yaa Asantewaa became regent of the Ejisu-Juaben District.
After the deportation of Prempeh I, the British governor-general of the Gold Coast, Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation. This request led to a secret meeting of the remaining members of the Asante government at Kumasi, to discuss how to secure the return of their king. There was a disagreement among those present on how to go about this. Yaa Asantewaa, who was present at this meeting, was highly disgusted at the behavior of her male counterparts and insisted that if the men would not fight, she would gather the women to fight for the land as she stood and addressed the members of the council with these now-famous words: “Now, I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it was in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware I, chiefs would not sit down to see their king to be taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight! We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.
Yaa Asantewaa led the famous war known as the War of the Golden Stool in 1900 against the British. She was captured and sent on exile to the Seychelles. Yaa Asantewa died in exile on the 17th of October 1921. Yaa Asantewa’s War was the last major war led by an African woman. To date, she is honored in Africa as one of the greatest African women. Her body was later returned to Ghana were she was given a befitting burial.