Female Warriors In Ghana’s History; Nana Afuah Dokua


The issue of female warriors under the premises of African indigenous warfare and diplomacy has become a subject of interest to most historians around the globe. The question of female combatants has generated substantial historical research in recent years sparked by military historians’ interest in uncovering roles of women in social and political history. In most cases in African indigenous warfares, majority of them were led by men (kings) while some women played other roles during the event of the war. In the event of wars, there were many ways in which women helped the cause. Women on the battle field helped pass water and ammunition to the soldiers; they acted as nurses to treat soldiers who were injured. Some women also participated in the wars to the extent of being the leader and commander of their army. The cases of Queen Adisa of Nanumba, Yaa Asantewaa of Asante, Queen Mbande Nzinga of Angola, Queen Mantatisi of Batelokwas, Queen Amina of Zaria, priestess Nehanda of the MaShona of Zimbabwe, Taytu Betul of Ethiopia and Queen Afia Dokua of Akyem are few examples.


This article seeks to throw more light on Queen Afia Dokuaa (1817 -1835) of Akyem-Abuakwa as one of the female warriors who played a leading role in most battles during her tenure. For us to establish a proper comprehension about Queen Dokuaa we cannot overlook the history of the society (Akyem-Abuakwa) which she hailed from and with which its political structure enabled her to rise.  OKYEMAN is a traditional area in the Eastern Region of Ghana. The Akyem states, commonly known as “Akyem Manso”, consists of three main independent states, all grouped in the Eastern Region, with common language, culture, customs and historical background. The states are: Akyem-Abuakwa – the largest of the states in terms of land, size, population and natural resources. Akyem-Kotoku – the second largest and Akyem-Bosome – the smallest of the three. The Akyems, according to history were a part of the then all powerful Adansi kingdom, the first nation to build mud houses in their kingdom at that time; hence the name “ADANSI” (Builders). The Ashanti Kingdom emerged and under the leadership of Nana Osei Tutu, they fought and defeated Adansi about the 14th Century and absorbed the Adansi Kingdom into the growing Ashanti Kingdom. The Akyem nations which were then part of the Adansi Kingdom broke away and crossed the River Pra to settle on its banks to avoid becoming subjects of the Ashanti. The Akyem Abuakwa counts four predecessors of their chief Ofori Panin, who first migrated from Adansi. The Akyems, especially the Abuakwas, had to fight the Akwamus and got settled in the areas evacuated by the Akwamus. The Akyem Abuakwas made their temporary capitals in several areas, including Praso, until they finally settled at Pameng. However, it was during the reign of Nana Ofori Panin that the capital of Akyem Abuakwa was finally moved to “Kyebirie” (named after a black hat used by a hunter using the area as his hunting grounds). It is now known as KYEBI, where the Aduana clan had already settled. They engaged in several wars with their neighbors such as the Akwamu, Fante, Agona, Ga states (Ada, Kpone Osudoku, etc) to extend or impose their authority on them. Most of their leaders were imperial minded and Dokuaa was of no exception. Akyem Abuakwa, like all Akan nation-states and tribes, inherit properties and stools through their Maternal clan, except where a personal WILL, affecting the person’s personally acquired property has been made in the presence of his family and a form of customary rites have been performed, before such a WILL is accepted as valid by the family. The practice excludes Stools in any form in the Akan states. The clan which has ruled and continues to rule in Akyem Abuakwa paramountcy is the ASONA clan of the ancestry of Nana Kuntunkununku I, “Odiahene Kan” (first King) of Akyem Abuakwa.

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Biography of Nana Afuah Dokua

Nana Dokuaa was the great grandniece of Ofori Panin. Her mother, Akotowaa,was the daughter of Korama born of  a union between Adu Darko Asamankesehene (and nephew of Akwamuhene Ansa Sasraku), and Oforiwaa,niece of Ofori Panin. Nana Dokua was the wife of Barima Twum Ampofo of the Oyoko clan of Barekeseso in Ashanti whom she made the Asiakwahene and the Nifahene of Akyem Abuakwa when she ascended the throne in 1817. Thus her husband became the only foreigner who held the title of a divisional wing chief in Akem-Abuakwa. She was blessed with male twins whose birth brought about the institution and recognition of the Abam festival of Akyem-Abuakwa state. They were Atta Panin and Atta Obuom. Nana Dokua, 23rd Queen of Akyem Abuakwa 1817/1835 (1826 Regent) was the first and only woman to hold the office of ruler as well as that of Ohemaa (Queen mother) in the history of Akyem-Abuakwa and ascended the Ofori stool in 1817 in lieu of a male heir to her uncle, Kofi Asante (1811-1816). She was a woman like her counterpart, Nana Yaa Asantewaa of the same Asona clan of Ejisu,Ashanti. Both were warlike and heroines.

Political structure of Akyem-Abuakwa

The Akyem nation is divided into three sections, the Akyem-Abuakwa, the Akyem-Kotoku and the Akyem-Bosome. Akyem-Abuakwa is the largest sub division of modern Akyem. It occupies much of the western half of Eastern Region. On the eve of the imposition of colonial rule, it was a sovereign independent state. Kyebi was the capital. Akyem-Abuakwa featured the decentralization of political power. Thus power was shared between the states capital and the divisional chief. The political system of Akyem-Abuakwa was structured in such a manner that, power emanates from the paramount (Okyehene) who was the highest among them. The Okyehene was assisted by five divisional chiefs, traditionally known as the Mpankanfo who also shared power with their subordinate chiefs called Adikrofo (village heads). The paramount chief (traditionally known as Okyehene) was the head of the central government. He exercised great deal of authority. The Okyehene’s symbols of authority that distinguished him from other chiefs were golden sandals, swords with golden hilts, golden head gear (crown) and two ‘‘Bomaa’’ drums. His authority was so great that he could impose heavy fines on his divisional and sub chiefs who neglected their duties or performed any act of insubordination. For example, in 1868, Okyehene Amoako Atta1 fined Gyasehene Kwasi Amoako an amount of 90 dollars for neglecting his duties. In that same year Nana Amoako Atta also fined Benkumhene Kwaku Fening for violating a ban on salt trade with Asante. The Okyehene was also recognized as the supreme political and judicial authority in the state. Notwithstanding the supremacy of the Okyehene, he did not exercise absolute power. His powers were circumscribed by custom, for example the Okyehene did not have upper hand in the enthronement and dethronement of the Adikrofo (village heads). He also had his council of elders (Okyeman council) whose concerns were very important in decision making. The Okyehene also worked hand in hand with the Abakumahene. The divisional chiefs (mpakanfo), like Adikrofo, discharged military, legislative and judicial functions with the assistance of their respective councils of elders, reinforced from time to time as occasion demanded, by the co-option of representatives of the villages constituting their respective divisions. The Adikrofo in a division were required by custom to be present at the enstoolment ceremony of their divisional chief as well as at his annual festival. Divisional chief and Adikrofo were liable to destoolment if they violated custom or persistently ignored advice. The Odikro (village head) was elected from a particular matrilineal stool (royal) family, as in the case of the Okyehene. The Oman (state) reserved the right to reject his nomination on grounds of the physical deformity or moral depravity. In the event of an impasse between the stool family and the Oman, the final decisions rested with the Oman which could proceed to elect and install any eligible heir of their choice. The procedures for the election and installation of divisional chief were the same for Adikrofo.

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Wars of Nana Afuah Dokuah

The era of Nana Dokuah was known as an era of peace and prosperity due to her way of solving problems. History has it that during the reign of the famous Nana Dokuah as both Okyehene (king) and Ohemaa (queenmother), a quarrel arose between her and the Kotokuhene at that time. As a result, she ordered part of the Amantomiensa (soldiers of the Paramount stool), the Asiakwahene (King of Asiakwa area of Akyem) and the Begorohene (King of Begoro area of Akyem) to remove the Kotokus from Gyadam. This war, known as the “Gyadam War”, forced the Kotoku to leave Gyadam. The Kwabenghene allowed them a safe passage and not a shot was fired when they passed through Kwabeng. The Kotokuhene was given land by the then chief of Wankyi, Barimah Awire Oseawuohene (Chief of Oseawuo area of Akyem Abuakwa) to settle at what is now known as Oda, the capital of Akyem Kotoku state.

Moreover, Nana Dokuah maintained the tradition of resistance to Asante’s overlordship and together with her principal chiefs took Akyem Abuakwa into an anti-Asante alliance of coastal chiefs and the British Administration on the coast. She led Akyem Abuakwa contingent who fought on the allied left wing at Akatamanso (August 1826) in which rockets were used for the first time. She fought Asante several times warding them off anytime they attacked the Akyems. Dokuaa’s record of unflinching defiance of Asante power turned Abuakwa into a haven for political dissidents escaping the fury of Asante retribution. In 1818 and in 1824 the Bosome and Kotoku, respectively, sought refuge in Akyem territory. Her outstanding and renowned feats are still remembered in songs in her praise. During the reign of Nana Dokuah, in 1832, six years after the battle of Akatamanso in which the Asante army suffered its first defeat at the hands of the coastal states and their British allies, civil war broke out between Asante and Dwaben. A section of the Juabens of Ashanti revolted against the Golden Stool of Ashanti. The rebels, led by their chief, Nana Kwaku Boateng, were forced to leave Juaben in Ashanti for the south. The Dwaben refugees, including the royal family, were cordially welcome by Dokuah and her two sons, King Atta and Obuom. They found settlement at Kyebi, Kwabeng, Tafo, Asamankese and other parts of Akyem Abuakwa. Later, when the trouble in Juaben subsided, some of them returned to Ashanti but came back again. On the third occasion a negotiating settlement on their behalf was met and with the consent of both the Kukurantumihene (the Adontehee of Akyem Abuakwa), Nana Kwaku Abrante and Okyehene Nana Dokuah, the Juabens got land. They settled on it under the leadership and rule of their chief, Nana Kwaku Boateng, calling the area New Juaben, with Koforidua as its capital. An annual fee was agreed to be paid to the Akyem. This practice continued until Dr. Kwame Nkrumah abolished it after independence.



Dokuah’s Contribution

The allied victory at Akatamanso and the ensuing Treaty of 1831 meant of course, the end of all Asante suzerainty over Akyem Abuakwa and the prestige of Nana Dokuaa rose high. It was at this time that many of the outlying Akim settlements commended themselves to the paramount stool of Akyem Abuakwa, so that the Akyem Abuakwa state became consolidated.

Queen Dokuah was not only a warrior, but also a first class administrator. She set up Akyem Abuakwa towns and villages into the present divisions for the purposes of war and administration, as well as preventing break-ups or revolts in her kingdom. She married Barima Twum Ampofo of the Oyoko clan of Barekeseso in Ashanti, whom she made the Asiakwahene and the Nifahene of Akyem Abuakwa; the only “foreigner” holding the title of a Divisional Wing Chief in Akyem Abuakwa. The rest of the five Divisional Wing Chiefs are:Kukurantumihene (Adonten), Begorohene (Benkum), Wankyihene (Oseawuo), and Kwabehene, (Gyase), who are all Asonas. There are also the Akyeasehene (Tarkwa) of the Oyoko clan; and Otwereasehene (Oda) of the Aduana clan; both of whom rank as equals to the five Divisional Wing Chiefs. She also organized the surrounding villages of Apapam, Apedwa, Tetteh (Asikam), Adadientam, Ahwenease, Affiasa, Pano, and Wirenkyiren-Amanfrom into “Amantomiensa” (soldiers and guardians of the Paramount Stool). This group became members of the Kyebi Executive Council, including Ankobea, Pesemaka and Kyidom, with the Okyenhene as the head. This body always acted in the place or in the absence of the Okyeman Council in all matters affecting Akyem Abuakwa.

Nana Dokuaa had two male twins Atta Panin and Atta Obuom, who successively became kings of Akyem Abuakwa after her death. The birth of the royal male twins by Nana Dokuaa and Barima Twum Ampofo led to the institution and the recognition by the Akyem Abuakwa State of what is termed “ABAM” (The Twins Day), which is celebrated each year on the first Friday after the celebration of the “Odwira” festival by the Paramount stool at Kyebi. The “Abam” festival is performed at all times by the Nifahene of Akyem Abuakwa, at the Okyeman Queenmother’s residence at Kyebi, as the “father” who brought forth the royal twins. This festival is always attended by all the twins in Akyem Abuakwa and by the occupant of the Paramount stool, the Okyehene.

To crown it all, Dokuaa’s remarkable feat is still remembered by the Akyem Abuakwa state. The royal horns at Kyebi palace commemorate her rare valor in a terse statement: Dokuaa ‘‘obaabasia a oko oprem ano (Dokuaa, the valiant woman who fights amidst rockets). Queen Dokuaa is well renowned for her fierce resistant to Asante overlordship on Akyem Abuakwa and the anti-Asante alliances of the coastal state which she led Akyem Abuakwa and other Akyem states to join. Dokuaa abdicated the throne for her twins, Atta Panin and Atta Obuom who ruled successfully after their mum. Queen Dokuaa died in 1855.