The War of the Golden Stool

As we look into Akua’s and Willie’s stories in Homegoing, we enter the 20th century. In Africa, the political scene was once again changing. After the Anglo-Ashanti wars at the end of the 19th century the British tried to remain in control by appointing colonial administrators who would work with their colonies in West Africa.

However, the peace did not stay for long. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Frederick Hodgson, a British colonial administrator who was the governor of the British Gold Coast stirred up more trouble with the Asante people. He began to put into place policies and demands that disrespected the Asante people and caused more issues between the groups. In March of 1900, he gave a speech in Kumasi in which he told Asante leaders that their king Prempeh I would not be released from his exile. He then proceeded to further insult the leaders by demanding that they bring him the Golden Stool as he believed that with his power, he should be allowed to sit on it.

What is the Golden Stool?

The Golden Stool was the most important artifact in Asante culture. According to the legend, a priest had taken it down from heaven given it to the first Asante ruler as a sign of the spirit and unity of the nation. It was seen as the soul of the nation and even the kings were not allowed to sit on it. It also was not allowed to touch the ground and had its own throne. When the new kings were appointed, they were carried over the stool without actually touching it. It was seen as a live deity and was even consulted during times of war. The continued success and heritage of the Asante people was connected to the stool, and without it, they feared the loss of the very heart of their people.

Hodgson saw it solely for its symbol of governing power, but it was much more than just that. For the white foreigner to keep their king from them and demand such an atrocious act was seen as a great insult and threat to their people.

The Beginnings of the War

After leaving Kumasi, the Asante leaders immediately began to prepare for war. The Asante Queen mother Yaa Asantewaa railed her people, and they launched a surprise attack on the British fort at Kumasi.

The Asante warriors trapped the British inside the fort and cut off their food, water, and communication. After weeks of the siege, it became clear that the Asante people would not let up, and the British began to look for other options. Food and water were quickly running out and there were numerous sick and injured soldiers that needed supplies they were not able to get. Hodgens and a few healthy men were able to escape to the coast to rally up a relief army of around 1,000 soldiers from various British units and police forces across West Africa. They began a march back but met resistance at several forts allied with the Asante people. Even with another big defeat at the Battle of Kokofu, the British still had an upper hand when it came to equipment and training and eventually gained control on the war.

The Asante empire was annexed into the British Empire but continued to mostly ignore colonial authority and rule over themselves. More importantly, they were able to keep the Golden Stool out of the hands of the British. These battles became known as the War of the Golden Stool or the Yaa Asantewaa War. The victory of keeping the Golden Stool also came with a high cost as their main leaders and chiefs, including Yaa Asantewaa, were arrested and exiled for 25 years. Casualties on the Asante side ended up at around 2,000, and the British side also suffered 1,000 casualties. Both sides ended up with more fatalities in this six-month time span than all the Anglo-Ashanti wars combined.

This war is much longer and complicated than I could quickly summarize, but if you are interested in finding out more, check out this two-part episode from History of Africa that goes into more detail on this war.

While this war led to losses on both sides, it brought together the Asante people, and this unity allowed them to keep forms of freedom and independence, even while technically under British control.

Early Harlem History

Over in America, we get to see Willie’s story and her experience in early 1900s Harlem. Harlem is a part of Manhattan in New York City, New York that has held an important place in history over many different time periods. At this point we are in the early 1900s in America, and this is when Harlem really begins to become a crucial part of history, especially for its black community. There had been black residents in Harlem since the 1600s, but in the early 1900s there were tens of thousands. There had been a mass migration to this part of the city after an economic crash. Most of the growth in Harlem can be credited to the Great Migration. Crash Course has a great video that you can watch that talks a bit more about what the Great Migration is and how it affected American demographics going forward.

Harlem grew a lot from the migration from the south, but also because of the oppertunities the area gave even fellow New Yorkers. Black New Yorkers faced a hard time to find new places to live after a large economic crash, but black real estate entrepreneurs like Phillip Payton Jr. and his company the Afro-American Realty Company soon took this as an opportunity to bring more people to Harlem.

In areas like Harlem, people could find a wider variety of jobs, better education for their kids, and find a black community. As the community there began to grow, it encouraged more black people to move there as it got a reputation for being a safe place where you could get involved in many different areas of life and work. In 1910, a census showed that around 10% of central Harlem was black, but after all these factors combined, it jumped up to 70% by 1930.

This photo from the New York Public Library shows life at a Harlem Tenement in 1935.

This growth was not met without resistance. As the black community grew in Harlem, many white families began to move out to get away. Between 1920 and 1930 almost 120,000 white people left the neighborhood. While this led to a lack of diversity and other socio-economic issues, it also opened the way for the growth of black communities in Harlem. Other resistance came from white residents who made packs not to sell to or rent to black people, but this soon faded as they failed to find anyone to rent or buy the properties.

As the black population in Harlem grew, so did the organizations made to support the black community. Many movements and a variety of artist began to rise up in Halem and this gave birth to many of the famous people and works of art that we think of when it comes to the Harlem Renaissance.

Both of these stories are setting up the scene for important social and political movements that shaped the lives for the upcoming generation of Homegoing. Yaw and Sonny will be up next, and we will get to dive into some of these issues a bit more.

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