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The Life and Afterlife of Yaa Asantewaa

McCaskie, Tom (2007) 'The Life and Afterlife of Yaa Asantewaa.' Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 77 (2). pp. 151-179.

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Abstract

This article is about Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa (c. 1830s–1921) of Edweso (Ejisu) in Asante, locally famous in tradition for her supposed leadership role in the last Anglo-Asante conflict (1900–1), and now internationally celebrated as an epitome of African womanhood and resistance to European colonialism. The article is in three parts. The first part examines the historical record concerning Yaa Asantewaa and sets this within the conflicted context of Edweso-Kumase relations before, during and after her lifetime. It also considers her role in the 1900–1 war and the nationalist constructions placed on that role by later Asante and other Ghanaian commentators. The second part examines the politics of the celebrations held in Asante in 2000 to mark the centenary of the last Anglo-Asante war and to honour Yaa Asantewaa for her part in it. Discussion here is concerned with the struggle between the ruling Asante elite and the Rawlings government in Accra to take possession of Yaa Asantewaa's reputation and to define and reinterpret it for contemporary political purposes. This was also a significant and revealing episode in the run-up to the Ghanaian national elections of 2000, in which J. A. Kufuor's Asante-based NPP finally ousted Rawlings's NDC which, in various incarnations, had ruled Ghana for twenty years. The third part examines the recent and ever-growing afterlife of Yaa Asantewaa in the age of globalization and the Internet. Attention is paid in particular to the constructions placed on her by Americans of African descent and to cultural expressions of her present status as, perhaps, the most famous of all precolonial African women. Finally, Asante reactions to the internationalization of Yaa Asantewaa are considered. In general, and using the case of Yaa Asantewaa, this article sets out to show that in Asante - as elsewhere in Africa - history is a continuous and vivid presence, constantly fought over, reworked and reconfigured to make the past serve new needs and aspirations.

Item Type: Articles
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of History
ISSN: 00019720
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): 10.3366/afr.2007.77.2.151
Depositing User: Tom McCaskie
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2010 10:00
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/8404

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