Yaa Akyaa (c. 1837–c. 1921)
Yaa Akyaa (c. 1837–c. 1921)
Asantehemaa (queenmother) of the Ashanti Empire. Born into the royal matriclan of Oyoko around 1837 in Kumasi, Ashanti; died on the Seychelles Islands around 1921 (some sources cite after 1896); married Kwasi Gyambibi (advisor to asantehene); children: 13, including Kwaka Dua II (asantehene, 1884); Agyemon Badu; and Agyeman Prempe (also known as Kwaku Dua III or Prempeh I, asantehene, 1888–1896).
Elected asantehemaa (1884), during the disarray in the Ashanti Empire; helped her sons, as asantehenes, reassert peace in Ashanti to face British colonial encroachment, only to be arrested on false charges and held without trial by the British; ruled as queenmother until imprisonment (1896).
Yaa Asantewaa was the queenmother of Ejisu, a state within the Ashanti Empire; Yaa Akyaa was the queenmother of the empire itself, since she was Prempeh's queenmother.
With the Ashanti in disarray due to British efforts to take over the empire, the royal clan of Oyoko presented Yaa Akyaa for ascension to the position of asantehemaa (queenmother). Her predecessor, Afua Koba , and the former asantehene had submitted the nation to a tenuous peace with Britain. Upon her election in 1884, Yaa Akyaa found her people ravaged by war and new diseases, fighting with one another and disheartened by a seemingly impenetrable British opponent. Resurrection of the Ashanti Empire became Yaa Akyaa's first priority.
As a king was required, Yaa Akyaa placed her sons Kwaka Dua II and Agyemon Badu in the positions of asantehene and heir apparent respectively. Within months, both men died from European-borne chicken pox. Yaa Akyaa then nominated a third son, Agyeman Prempe (Prempeh I). On the argument that he was not the named "heir" to the Golden Stool, a rival challenged Prempeh, and Ashanti crumbled further with its bickering. Taking advantage of the empire's weakness, the Adansis tribe, a lawless band of thieves, began to pillage outlying areas. Requesting assistance in their "battle" against the Ashanti, the Adansis called on the British. Without checking the legitimacy of the claim, Britain renewed its attack on Ashanti while the Adansis systematically robbed and destroyed the tribes. When the error was revealed, the British withdrew, but the Ashanti chiefs were drained from war, illness, and theft. They felt their only recourse was to gain peace with the colonialists, and pledged allegiance to neither Prempeh nor his rival until they obtained a British guarantee to support a new king. For four years, alone in ruling Ashanti, Yaa Akyaa repeatedly requested diplomatic representation from the British government. Not until 1888 was their support obtained. With this pledge in hand, the cunning queenmother maneuvered Prempeh into power.
At long last the Golden Stool was firmly occupied. Prempeh swiftly put down his challenger and reigned during the last days of the empire. Drawn together again, the Ashanti were renewed, and in 1890 they turned their attentions back to the encroaching British colonies. For several years, Prempeh I sought to renegotiate the articles of peace to which his predecessor had submitted. It was a sign of strength which frightened Britain.
Hoping to finally subdue the troublesome Ashanti, Britain again advanced on Kumasi, as it had when Afua Koba was asantehemaa. They repeatedly suggested to Prempeh that he commit Ashanti to British protectionism. He declined, but presented them no military opposition, recognizing the futility of such an effort. Not until 1896, when troops arrived in the capital, did Yaa Akyaa and Prempeh I agree to place Ashanti in Britain's care. Knowing privately that their people would never actually follow the British monarch, the asantehemaa and asantehene thought the concession would stall Britain. Instead, the commander of the British military had Yaa Akyaa and Prempeh I arrested on false charges of murder. Confident that they could be proved innocent, they agreed to be held in custody. The queen and king were accompanied by Yaa Akyaa's husband, two brothers, another son and several tribal chiefs. Once they were detained, the British refused to release them or bring them to trial. Yaa Akyaa and her family were moved to Sierra Leone and then, in 1900, to the Seychelles Islands, 1,000 miles off the east coast of Africa. Although they had committed the greatest offense yet against the Ashanti, the British were never to wholly defeat the empire. Yaa Akyaa lived out her days on the Seychelles. Prempeh was repatriated in 1924, and his role as asantehene awaited him.
Crowder, Michael, ed. West African Resistance. NY: Africana, 1971.
Jackson, Guida M. Women Who Ruled. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1990.
Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts