Beverly Stoeltje, Ph.D.

Asante Queen Mothers and Chiefs
Anthropology of Law/Legal Anthropology

The Queen Mother of Juaso

With the support of a Fulbright Research grant for faculty, I began my focus on Asante Queen Mothers in 1990 when I spent many months in Ghana observing disputes and resolutions in the Queen Mother's formal court. Queen Mothers are the female leaders of the Asante people of Ghana, one of the Akan groups, who are best known for Kente cloth, gold, and brass weights. 

As female authorities, the position of Queen Mother parallels that of the chief in the indigenous political system known as chieftancy. Never married to each other, chiefs and queen mothers each have their own stool, the symbol of authority among the Akan. Responsible for selecting and advising the chief, Queen Mothers are also responsible for the welfare of women in their specific village or town. They are important in settling disputes and resolving conflicts, particularly ones involving women.

My ethnographic study attempts to bring together perspectives of power and authority with those of performance and discourse to demonstrate the actual practices of custom and the politics of chieftancy. In contemporary Ghana, the influence of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank mixes with the forces of traditional authority, creating a dynamic set of influences and institutions.

My approach argues for a theory that recognizes the significance of the dual gender political system among the Asante and Akan peoples and the importance of viewing the political system, the legal system, the kinship system, and gender relations as one integrated system. Chieftancy provides a political as well as social foundation for the institutional practices of everyday life in Ghana today, bringing the modern state into conjunction with local affairs.
    My research addresses the point at which cultural identity and modern politics intersect and identifies the significance of queen mothers in today's Ghana.

Concentrating on Queen Mothers’ role as performed in contemporary society has led me to the anthropology of law, particularly the law of the Asante people as practiced in what is called the "customary courts" of Ghana. Concentrating on chieftaincy, including queen mothers, as practiced among contemporary Asante, my research analyzes the role of queen mothers as it is performed today, on narrative in Asante society, and on the chiefs' and queen mothers' courts and the litigants who utilize these courts to resolve disputes.

Selected Publications:

2006    The Performance of Litigation.  Research Review.  New Series, vol. 22. No.1. Institute of African Studies.  University of Ghana, Legon.

2003 Asante Queenmothers: Precolonial Authority in a Postcolonial Society. Research Review.  New Series. Institute of African Studies. University of Ghana. Vol. 19: (2). 1-19.

2002 Guest Editor, Special Issue of Africa Today: Women, Language and Law in Africa. Vol. 49 (1) and (2).

2002 Performing Litigation at the Queen Mother's Court. In Access to Justice:The Role of Court Administrators and Lay Adjudicators in the African and  Islamic Contexts.  Ed. Christina Jones-Pauly and Stefanie Elbern. The Hauge: Kluwer Law International. 1- 22

2002 Women, Language and Law in Africa: Introduction, with Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, Okello Ogwang, Africa Today.  Vol. 49: (1). vii-xx.

2002 Women, Language and Law in Africa II: Gender and Relations of Power,  Africa Today, vol. 49: (2). vii-xiv.

2000 Gender Ideologies and Discursive Practices in Asante. Political and Legal Anthropology Review.  Vol. 23: (2).  77-88.

1997 Asante Queenmothers: A Study in Female Authority.  In  Queens, Queen Mothers, Priestesses, and Power.  Flora  Kaplan, ed. New York: New York Academy of Science. vol. 810.  41-71. (transferred to Johns Hopkins University Press.)

1997 Narrative and Negotiation: A Woman's Case in the  Queen Mother's Court in Ghana. Werner Zips and E. Adriaan B. van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal, eds. In Sovereignty, Legitimacy and Power in West African Societies. Hamburg: Lit Verlag.172-190.

1997 Traces of Female and Male Power in the Kingdom of Asante in West Africa. In Female Power and Male Dominance: Gender Relations in Cross-Cultural  Perspective. (Sie und Er: Frauenmacht und Mannerherrschaft in Kulturvergleich.)  Ed. Herausgegeben von Gisela Volger.  Museum catalogue (two vols.). Cologne: The Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle.  375-380.

1995 Asante Queenmothers: A Study in Identity and Continuity. in Gender and     Identity in Africa.   Mechtild Reh and Gudrun Ludwar-Ene, eds. Westview  Press and Beitrage zur Afrikaforschung. Band 8. Universitat Bayreuth.

Video Publications

1992 Asante Queenmothers: The Performance of Art and Ritual.
Twenty minute video of Asante Chiefs and Queenmothers in ritual and everyday settings.  Footage from Stoeltje's  fieldwork in Ghana.  Script and Narration by Stoeltje.  Filmed by Beverly Stoeltje, Gretchen Stoeltje, Richard Bauman.  Edited with Rory Turner.  Editing funded by Indiana University.