Monday, 17 October 2011

Rebirth and Revolution: the Return of Yaa Asantewaa’s Body PART I

Momma yenkafo no eeei,
Yaa Asantewaa eeei,
Obaa basia a oko aprem ano eeei,
Obaa Yaa eeei!’

(‘Hail her!
Yaa Asantewaa
A mere woman
Who fought against the cannon!
The Woman Yaa’)

Folk Chant as homage to Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa

I was told that I would be in hospital four days following the operation. It had taken over two years for me to decide to have the operation but by now I felt assured that I was in good hands (Divine Order). Instead of four days, however, I remained in the hospital for four weeks. Complications from the first caused me to have a further operation. My immune system became severely compromised (it didn’t exactly break down – I was on a drip and unable to eat or drink for three weeks) for which reason the medical team insisted I have a blood transfusion (I had instructed that this should be given only as a matter of life or death). I wasn’t dying but my haemoglobin had fallen way below the level at which they would normally transfuse (my cries of resistance now seemed futile and irrational). As well as this, my wound became infected and had to be opened to release inflammation.

Due to the severity of the infection and the discovery of yet another internal obstruction it was decided that I should have a third procedure. By this time my family and friends feared I might not make it. In truth when I was told about this third procedure I felt that some greater force was seeking to utterly destroy me; not satisfied that the two earlier/major operations had failed to do this. My chanting intensified. I called on my family to add their prayers and chants to mine – rather I needed them to intensify their support -which had so far been remarkable- in uplifting me. Early one morning I was prepped to have the third procedure at which point psychologically I felt I was about to complete the battle with an unrelenting enemy. It would be a final confrontation out of which there could only be one victor. Who would be the victor and what “victory” would mean to me is what I’m hoping to express in this Shout. To do this I will consider the story of Yaa Asantewaa whose name I have claimed as a cultural realignment with my ancestry. I use her story to link some issues upon which I’ve been reflecting since coming out of hospital. These relate to my spiritual development (rebirth), my renewed commitment to Pan-Africanism as a stance against racism, imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism and my activism in the revolution which objective is to dismantle these oppressive, dehumanising forces and thus to further the cause of humanity.

Most of us know the legend of Yaa Asantewaa. Her death is recorded as 17th October 1921 so in honour of the 90th anniversary of her transition this very day I will briefly outline her story for those who might not be aware of this remarkable African warrior and ancestor. Queen Mother of Edweso (Ejisu) part of the Asante region of Ghana she led a war (otherwise referred to as ‘rebellion’) against the British Colonials who sought complete dominance of the Asante Empire. This war (1900-1) was the last in a series of such wars between the Asante and Britain throughout the 19th Century. It is also remembered as the last war in Africa to be led by a woman. Having seized power of Kumasi, the Asante capital and exiling its King Prempeh I and other members of Asante government, including Yaa Asantewaa’s grandson, Edwesohene (Chief of Edweso) Kofi Tene to the Seychelles, the British demanded the Golden Stool which symbolised the soul of Asante.

This brazen and offensive demand by Frederic Hodgson, the British governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) incensed Yaa Asantewaa. She wondered why members (men) of the Asante Government were allowing Hodgson airtime to insult them by his facetious demand when instead they should be demanding the return of King Prempeh. She declared that where the men exhibited cowardice, contrary to the fighting spirit of Asantes of old, like Nana Osei Tutu I she would rouse other women to fight the British and thus liberate her district Ejisu, Asante generally, its King Prempeh and her grandson from their exile. Her brave campaign lasted a year before she was captured and also exiled to Seychelles. There she died on October 17th 1921. Prempeh I was repatriated to Kumasi in 1924 whereupon he later negotiated the return of all exiled Asantes. Yaa Asantewaa’s body along with others was exhumed and returned to the Gold Coast in 1930 where she received a royal burial.

Following a trip to Ghana in 2002 I adopted the name of this remarkable African woman who sacrificed her life for her people. At the time I didn’t know very much about her. I was born on Thursday, like Yaa so the adoption made sense. It would take me several years later to register a spiritual precision in our birth and death. I was born on 16th October. My name was changed by Deed Poll which was signed 9 years ago on 17th October 2002. This was not a deliberate convergence. I was not aware of her birth and death dates when I chose the name – just about the campaign she led against British Colonials – which was for me inspiring enough. It might be considered coincidental but I prefer to see this as an intuitive activation, a spiritual vibration that signalled the poignancy of my rebirth. Thus more than a symbol of patriotism, resistance, liberation and womanhood, Yaa Asantewaa for me also represents continuity and the incarnatory vibration of struggle. This vibration of struggle would see Ghana achieve Independence in 1957, the first Sub-Saharan African country to do so. Yaa as (earth – “Asase Yaa”) mother, as warrior, as freedom fighter metaphorically birthed a son of revolution, Kwame Nkrumah. The significance of this is that her exile to the Seychelles didn’t halt the struggle for liberation.

The return of Yaa Asantewa’s body (remnants of her spirit one might say) to Ghana in 1930, the same year Nkrumah had completed his theological studies, symbolises a re-memberment of the struggle not only for Ghana’s liberation but that of Africa. Nkrumah pursued the struggle for liberation with a new emphasis – Pan-Africanism. Inspired by the ideas of Marcus Garvey and others he called for unity of all Africans, diasporic and continental for mass organisation and politicisation which movement would confront and ultimately defeat the forces of imperialism and colonialism. This Revolution as underpinned by Pan-Africanism calls for the participation of the mass without which it carries little force. Thus it is that Nkrumah declared that, "all people of African descent whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any other part of the world are Africans and belong to the African Nation." Nkrumah called for the creation of an All-African People’s Revolutionary Party - as we find in the A-APRP - which was realized by Kwame Ture, amongst others in 1968 and which continues to activate towards the liberation and unification of Africa and its people. The party also works with other organizations committed to the freedom of all oppressed and exploited peoples across the world.

Yaa Asantewaa’s body then (as depicted here, emaciated and frail) can be regarded as a symbol of struggle and resistance; as Africa under the siege of colonialism. Metaphorically I also relate her story to that pregnant woman in Revelations 12 who was pursued by the ‘great red dragon’ - her pregnancy being a symbol of rebirth, renewal, freedom, the emergence of self, transformation of society, liberation (awakening consciousness)- in essence the battle for humanity. The ‘red dragon’ by which the woman was viciously pursued I relate to the evil hands of imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism clutching at every corner of the earth to destroy humanity. Like that woman who had to ‘flee into the wilderness’ whilst a battle ensued between Archangel Michael (“and his angels!” – support from the mass) and the Devil (“and his angels” - forces of oppression/exploitation), Yaa Asantewaa was exiled whilst Ghana remained a site of struggle for its independence. This was achieved when colonialism (‘the great dragon’) ‘was cast out’.

But the story didn’t end there. The last verse in Revelations 12 writes: ‘and the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed.’ An indulgent interpretation sees this ‘woman’ (and therefore Yaa Asantewaa) as Africa (by extension the oppressed world) and the ‘remnant seed’ as Africans who are perpetually confronted by the instruments of racism throughout our lives and the forces of imperialism, capitalism and neo-colonialism (incarnatory vibrations of the ’great red dragon’) which continue to blight our reach toward self-determination.

TO BE CONTINUED: you’ll have to wait for the second installment to hear how I relate the foregoing to my time in hospital which will be posted at the end of the month.

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