War of the Golden Stool

The Yaa Asantewaa War, also known as the War of the Golden Stool, the Third Ashanti Expedition, the Ashanti Uprising or variations thereof, was the final war in a series of conflicts between the British Imperial government of the Gold Coast (later Ghana) and the Empire of Ashanti, a powerful semi-autonomous African state which fractiously co-existed with the British and their vassal coastal tribes.

When the Asante began rebelling against the British rule, the British attempted to put down the unrests. Furthermore, the British governor, Lord Hodgson, demanded that the Asante turn over to them the Golden Stool, i.e. the throne and a symbol of Asante independence. Capt. C. H. Armitage was sent out to force the people to tell him where the Golden Stool was hidden and to bring it back. After going from village to village with no success, Armitage found at the village of Bare only the children who said their parents had gone hunting. In response, Armitage ordered the children to be beaten. When their parents came out of hiding to defend the children, he had them bound and beaten, too.

The war ended with the Ashanti maintaining their independence de facto. Even though the Ashanti were annexed into the British Empire on paper, they ruled themselves with little reference to their supposed overlords. However, Ashanti was consumed by the larger Ghana when Ghana became the first modern democratic sub-Saharan African country in 1957. This war was the last conflict in Africa commanded by a woman.

The Brutality of the British

Below is an eyewitness account of Kwadwo Afodo

"The white man asked the children where the Golden Stool was kept in Bare. The white man said he would beat the children if they did not bring their fathers from the bush. The children told the white man not to call their fathers. If he wanted to beat them, he should do it. The children knew the white men were coming for the Golden Stool. The children did not fear beating. The white soldiers began to bully and beat the children."

This act of brutality was the instigation for the Yaa Asantewaa War for Independence which began on March 28, 1900. Yaa Asantewaa mobilized the Ashanti troops and for three months laid siege to the British mission at the fort in Kumasi. The British had to bring in several thousand troops and artillery to break the cordon. Also, in retaliation, the British troops plundered the villages, killed much of the populace, confiscated their lands and left the remaining population dependent upon the British for their very survival. They also captured The Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa whom they exiled along with her close companions to the Seychelle Islands off of Africa's east coast, while most of the captured chiefs became prisoners-of-war. Yaa Asantewaa died in exiled 20 year’s later. However The exiled Asantehene, Prempeh I eventually did return back to Ashanti, alive and well.

The Stool was so important to the Ashanti, that they allowed the Asantehene (King of all Ashanti) Prempeh I to be exiled, rather than let it be stolen. Moreover after the war, the Ashanti were able to proclaim victory because their pre-war goal of protecting the Golden Stool was accomplished.

The "Golden Stool" speech

Thus Hodgson advanced towards Kumasi with a small force of British soldiers and local levies, arriving on the 25 March 1900. Hodgson, as representative of a powerful nation himself, was accorded traditional honours upon entering the city and after ascending a platform, he made a speech to the assembled Ashanti leaders. The speech, or the closest surviving account which comes through an African translator, reportedly read:

Your King Prempeh I is in exile and will not return to Ashanti. His power and authority will be taken over by the Representative of the Queen of Britain. The terms of the 1874 Peace Treaty of Formena which required you to pay the costs of the 1874 war have not been forgotten. You have to pay with interest the sum of £160,000 a year. Then there is the matter of the Golden Stool of Ashanti. The Queen is entitled to the stool; she must receive it.

Where is the Golden Stool? I am the representative of the Paramount Power. Why have you relegated me to this ordinary chair? Why did you not take to opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool for me to sit upon? However you may be quite sure that though the Government has not received the Golden Stool at his hands it will rule over you with the same impartiality and fairness as if you had produced it.

Not understanding the significance of the stool, Hodgson clearly had no inkling of the storm his words would produce: The suggestion that he, a white man, should sit on the Golden Stool, the very embodiment of The Ashanti state, and very symbol of the Ashanti peoples, living, dead, and yet to be born, was far too disrespectful for the crowd. Almost immediately, the queen mother of the Ejisu dominion within the Ashanti kingdom, Yaa Asantewaa, was collecting men to form a force with which to attack the British and retrieve their exiled king. The enraged populace produced a large number of volunteers and as Hodgson's deputy Captain Cecil Armitage searched for the stool in nearby brush his force was surrounded and ambushed, only a sudden rainstorm allowing the survivors to retreat to the British offices in Kumasi. The offices were then fortified into a small stockade which housed 18 Europeans, dozens of mixed race colonial administrators and 500 Nigerian Hausas who possessed six small field guns and four Maxim Guns. The Ashanti, aware that they were unprepared for a storm of the fort settled into a long siege, only making one assault on the position on the 29 April which was unsuccessful. The Ashanti then continued to snipe at the defenders, cut the telegraph wires, blockaded food supplies and attacked relief columns.

As supplies ran low and disease took its toll on the defenders, another rescue party of 700 arrived in June. Recognising that it was necessary to escape from the trap and to preserve the remaining food for the wounded and sick, some of the more healthy men were evacuated along with Hodgson, his wife and over a hundred of the Hausas. 12,000 Ashanti abrade (Warriors) were summoned to attack the escapees, who gained a lead on the long road back to the Crown Colony and avoided the main body of the Abrade. Days later the few survivors of the Abrade attack, took a ship for Accra, receiving all available medical attention.

The rescue column

As Hodgson arrived at the coast, a rescue force of 1,000 men corralled from British units and police forces stationed across West Africa under the veteran Major James Willcocks had set out from Accra. On the march Willcocks' men had been repulsed from several well-defended forts belonging to groups allied with the Ashanti, most notably the stockade at Kokofu where he had suffered heavy casualties. During the march he was faced with constant trials of skirmishing with an enemy in his own element and maintaining his supply route in the face of effective guerilla opposition. In early July, his force arrived at Beckwai and prepared for the final assault on Kumasi, which began on the morning of the 14 July 1900. Using a force lead by Yoroba warriors from Nigeria serving in the Frontier Force, Willcocks drove in four heavily guarded stockades, finally relieving the fort on the evening of the fifteenth, when the inhabitants were just two days from surrender.

In September, after spending the summer recuperating and tending to the sick and wounded in captured Kumasi, Willcocks sent out flying columns to the neighbouring regions which had supported the uprising. His troops defeated an Ashanti force in a skirmish at Obassa on the 30 September and also succeeded in destroying the fort and town at Kokofu where he had been defeated before, using Nigerian levies to hunt Ashanti fugitives into the forests once the defenders fled after a stiff engagement. Following the storm of the town, Captain Charles John Melliss was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the attack, the only such award of the campaign although a number of other officers received the Distinguished Service Order.

Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa was the queen mother of Ejisu in what is now modern day Ghana. At that time, the now former Gold Coast was under the British protectorate. The British supported their campaigns against the Ashanti using taxes they levied upon the local population. Additionally, they also took over the state-owned gold mines thus removing considerable revenue from the Ashanti State government. Missionary schools were also established and once the missionaries began interfering in local affairs, the Ashanti begun to deeply resent the British

The Yaa Asantewaa speech

"Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to a chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs 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."

Return of the King Prempeh I to Ashanti

"Thousands of people, white and black, flocked down to the beach to welcome him. They were sorely disappointed when the news flashed through that Nana Prempeh was not to be seen by anyone, and that he was to land at 5:30 pm and proceed straight away to Kumasi by a special train. Twenty minutes after the arrival of the train, a beautiful car brought Nana Prempeh into the midst of the assembly. It was difficult for us to realise even yet that he had arrived. A charming aristocratic-looking person in a black long suit with a fashionable black hat held up his hand to the cheers of the crowd. That noble figure was Nana Prempeh." Extract from the Gold Coast Leader newspaper, 27 Dec 1924.


The Ashanti were defeated on the battlefield, but they won the war. Even though, Kumasi was supposedly annexed into the British empire, the Ashanti still largely governed themselves. The Ashanti pre-war goal of protecting the Golden Stool from the British was successful, but the British pre-war goal of stealing the Golden Stool was unsuccessful. However, the following year numerous chiefs including the Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa were arrested and exiled to the Seychelles, not being allowed to return for twenty five years by which time many, including Yaa Asantewaa, had died. Kumasi City still retains a war memorial and several large colonial residences, although it with the rest of the former Gold Coast, eventually became part of Ghana.

The British never did steal the Golden Stool; it was hidden deep in the forests for the duration of the war, although efforts by British thieves to steal it lasted until 1920, when they finally gave up. Shortly after this it was accidentally uncovered by some labourers who took the golden ornaments which adorned the stool, rendering it powerless in the eyes of the Ashanti people. The labourers were sentenced to death by an Ashanti court who had jurisdiction over them, but the British again meddled in Ashanti affairs, and they were exiled instead. The war cost the British and their allies 1,007 fatal casualties in total. Ashanti casualties are estimated to be around 2,000.

See also


  • http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/people/pop-up.php?ID=175
  • http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Classroom/9912/asantewa.html
  • http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/toc/history/giblinstate.html
  • http://www.africanconservancy.org/member/furniture/stools2.html
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/4chapter6.shtml
  • Hernon, Ian Britain's Forgotten Wars (ISBN 0-7509-3162-0, 2002)
  • Lewin, J Asante before the British: The Prempean Years 1875-1900

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