The Legendary Nana Yaa Asantewaa & the War of the Golden Stool
Yaanom, Mekyea Mo Nyinaa, Mema Mo Akwaaba. Apparently, it seems like I have found some sort of a lost love for my own culture, my mind keeps boggling with curiosity these days about my Ghanaian roots, its heritage and thus its history from which it originates. In all fairness though, for the Ghanaians who live in diaspora, especially from my generation and younger, it is hard to come across valuable and rich pieces of our own history, which in my opinion ought to be taught everywhere. I am pretty sure that there are many people out there who have heard about our historic, iconic ancestors, but unfortunately, the knowledge of it still remains on the surface for some of us (myself included before I started this study journey). Not to worry though… this lady got your back on this one, so let’s get cracking.
So I took it upon myself to do a little digging, and after an extensive research I’m ready to present to you some correlated historic events that took place between the mid 1600’s and the early 1900’s that have been forgotten by some of us, or just never even known at all…Today, I will be telling you the story of the legendary Nana Yaa Asantewaa and her incredibly heroic role in the war of the Golden Stool as well as the origin of the “Sika Dwa Kofi” itself (the Golden Stool). Before you proceed to read the rest of the article, you are invited to watch the short introductory video (created by yours truly), just so you can orientate yourself a bit in the correct timeframe and to have a little taste of what is to come, so do enjoy!
Nana Yaa Asantewaa: The Warrior Queen
You are welcome back! So as explained in the introductory video, this war was quite a memorable one. The “War of the Golden Stool” is sometimes even referred to as the “Nana Yaa Asantewaa’s War”. Now this woman was also known as the Warrior Queen, she was a fierce lady who was made gatekeeper of the Golden Stool and therefor she took her duty very very seriously. On top of that, she was also queen mother of Edweso (Ejisu) of the Ashanti confederacy. When Ghana was still under British colonialism, and still carried the name “Gold Coast”, the British did everything in their power to get hold of the Golden Stool. So they decided to captivate the Asantehene, Nana Prempeh I, and to keep him hostage in the hopes that the Ashanti people would eventually cave and exchange the stool for their king. However, they soon realized that their decision to ship the king and other chiefs off to Seychelles had minimal effect. It became clear that if the Ashanti people had to choose, then they would rather give up their king than to give up the stool. So what was it about the Golden Stool that made it so insanely important? Why on earth would a group of people choose a “simple” stool over their own king? This seemed so illogic and irrational to the British, it made absolutely no sense, and because it made no sense, the desire to possess it grew even stronger. The “Forbidden Fruit” hypothesis/complex, the desire to want something you simply cannot have… is truly a thing. So a whole lot of commotion was stirred after Sir Frederick Hodgson committed the biggest faux pas by demanding the Golden Stool with the “slightest” ignorance, simply because he felt as though he was somehow entitled to sit upon it. And so after this so-called meeting, which was nothing but humiliating, Nana Yaa Asantewaa decided to have a gathering with the remaining kings so they could discuss the matter at hand…but they seemed so frightened and passive. It outraged her so much and she basically said the following:
“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King. If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opolu Ware, leaders would not sit down to see their King taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to a leader of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields!”
So it was then that Nana Yaa Asantewaa declared war. She became commander in chief of an army of approximately 5000 men, and led them into battle. That right there… took a whole lot of courage. Now even though she was captured in the very end…the purpose of the fight was still achieved. She was gatekeeper of the Golden Stool and so she made sure she executed her duty diligently. She protected the Golden stool… metaphorically and literally! And thanks to her bravery, the Golden Stool remained in its royal home, in Kumasi.
The Golden Stool: A Throne With A Throne Of Its Own
Now, that I have taken you back in time, and dragged you through the war of the Golden Stool, I’m pretty sure that some of you are still wondering what the Golden Stool even is and what makes it is so incredibly special to declare a whole war over if push comes to shove… Well, it is believed that the Golden Stool or also known as “Sika Dwa Kofi” harbors all the souls of the Ashanti people, making it the very heart of the Ashanti tribe. And since it fell out of the sky on a white cloud of dust on a Friday (hence Kofi), it made it not only a sacred object but also a spiritual one. See, the Golden Stool has a specific function, and this is to give prosperity and strength to its people. So when the Ashanti would go to war, they would never lose a battle because of the protecting powers of the Golden Stool. So this is how the stool actually came to be. Okay so in the 1600’s there was no peace between certain Akan states, especially between the Ashanti and the Denkyira people. Now there was a king called Nana Osei Tutu I (who became the very first Asantehene), and he had a close friend called Okomfo Anokye who was a chief priest, and according to some literature he was even acknowledged as the most feared, awed and respected traditional/fetish priest from that time. His original name was Kwame Anokye Frimpon Kotobre, but I will simply refer to him as Okomfo Anokye from here on out. He performed a historical ceremony that was and still is a major milestone in the Ashanti kingdom, simply because the Ashanti Kingdom truly came to its very existence after this event.
So according to the legend, on a fateful Friday (in the late 1600’s), or Efiada in the Akan language, Okomfo Anokye consulted the heavens and requested for spiritual guidance in order to help the Ashanti people to unite all the chiefs against their hostile neighbors, the ruling Denkyira. Before they became to be known as Ashanti, they were actually individual Akan states governed by independent chiefs. Okomfo Anokye proclaimed that the only way one could be released of its yoke or oppression is to come together and to form a union. So this is what they did next… they summoned all the paramount chiefs together for a grand meeting. Okomfo Anokye said that the gods would be consulted for assistance in this matter and that the gods themselves would decide who would be the leader of this union. He then continued to say that he will command a stool to fall down from the sky, and onto whom it may land, will be the chosen one to lead this union. So after all was said and done, Okomfo Anokye started to dance and chant, and then… lo and behold… the Golden Stool descended from the sky, and this landed on the lap of Nana Osei Tutu I, which automatically made him the king of all the kings that came together. And therefor, if the gods have spoken that Nana Osei Tutu I should be the leader, then so be it… after all, who are humans to go against the gods. Okomfo Anokye then continued to speak and said “This stool is going to represent all the souls (“sunsum” in the Akan language) of all the Ashanti people. Then the chief priest proceeded with the rituals, he gathered hair and fingernails from all the chiefs and made a concoction. Then performed a sacred ritual and mixed the concoction with palm wine for all the chiefs to drink. And it was this very act that sanctified the Golden Stool. However, this did come with a fierce warning… Okomfo Anokye made it crystal clear that if the Golden Stool should ever be defiled or captivated, then the Ashanti would lose their power and there will be nothing left but chaos. So after this event, the Ashanti people went to war as a united front and they defeated the Denkyira people, just as it was prophesized they would.
In the Akan language “asa” which is a derivative of “ese” means “war” and “nti” means “because”. So “asa-nti” or “ese-nti” means “because of war”. And hence “Asantefuo” means “warriors”. At this point, it was left with one more remaining thing… a new established kingdom does need a capital to go with it. So Okomfo Anokye said that he will plant 3 ‘Kum’ trees at 3 different locations, and the place where one of those 3 ‘Kum’ trees would flourish, would become the capital of the newly established Ashanti kingdom. So he planted one in Kwaaman, another one in Apemso-Bankofo and the last one in Obuani. Now the ‘Kum’ tree at Obuani grew to be very small, so the name of the village was later changed into ‘Kuma’ meaning small. The ‘Kum’ tree planted at Apemso-Bakofo was very disappointing, it did not grow at all, it was able to get some few branches but they were soon rotten and the tree fell down. So at this point, it was said that ‘Kum’ awu, meaning the ‘Kum’ has died. The name of the village was later changed into Kumawu. Now as for the ‘Kum’ tree planted at Kwaaman, this tree flourished so large and beautiful, so much so that it became a place where the king and his people would often sit, and discuss some pressing issues. So the name of this village was later changed into ‘Kum’ase, meaning under the ‘Kum’ tree. And now, the flourishing Ashanti kingdom, which came to its very existence through the prosperity powers of the Golden Stool, was now completed.
Now, the “Sika Dwa Kofi”, or The Golden Stool, is kind of a big deal, and trust me when I say… this is not an overstatement. It is a royal throne that has a throne of its very own… ow yeah, you read that correctly! It is always seated on its own stool or on animal skin, hence it never touches the ground, and it travels with its own crew/entourage, which consists of an umbrella and some drums. This sacred stool is 46cm high (or 18 inches), 61cm long (or 24 inches) and 30cm wide (or 12 inches). The stool is completely adorned in gold, and has strings and bells attached to it. Today the Golden Stool is housed in the Royal Palace in Kumasi. Not many people have been lucky enough to see the stool and it only leaves the premises on highly important occasions. So as you can see, the Golden Stool is not just a simple artifact for a foreigner to easily take away to place in a museum overseas. It is an important part of our culture, and it belongs right here… on ‘our’ native soil.
Well I hope this was a bit insightful to you as it was to me. Reading about it was so enlightening and interesting. A big thank you to Mr. Kojo Yankah (author of “The King of the Golden Stool”) and Prof. Dr. Irene Odotei (Historian at University of Ghana, East Legon) for their valuable indirect contribution. Also, big thanks to Sy Blake and Gyimah Gariba for the amazing female illustrations and a huge shout out to Creo Concepts for their super illustration of Okomfo Anokye. Alright my dear readers, this is my cue to go, let me know what you guys think of the article, would love to hear your thoughts! Until then… xoxo
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