‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in UNITY.” PSALM 133
This Psalm was brought to life at the Rastafari RootzFest-HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup held in Negril November 12-15. The event was a celebration of joy by all those whose daily lives have been conducted under the fear of arrest for partaking of a plant that provides them medicinal healing as well as sacramental inspiration. The thousands of RASTA who have passed on to higher heights before seeing the fulfillment of their life campaign, must have been looking down and smiling with the same joy being expressed by the thousands gathered at the beautiful Negril Beach Park.
Most of all, Rastafari RootzFest was a celebration of RASTA Unity that many people claim no longer exists within the movement at home. The disputes that have taken center stage in RASTA news this past year were nowhere in sight, as RASTA from all Mansions joined together in UNITY to participate in the event and show their approval of the revision of Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Law. Nyabinghi, Twelve Tribes, Boboshanti, House of Dread, School of Vision, Youth Initiative Council, as well as RASTA ganja farmers representing several Parishes united in Negril in a show of solidarity that surely heralds a new beginning for RASTAFARI.
INITIAL RESERVATIONS I was one of those RASTA who expressed initial reservations about the proposal that US magazine HIGH TIMES, an outspoken advocate of legalization for recreational use, would partner with a group of RASTA to host a Cannabis Cup in Jamaica. It seemed like exploitation of a high order, especially as the group was not an existing RASTA organization but a company formed specifically for the purpose and I questioned the ‘sacramental’ nature of the event that had earned the proposal’s approval by the Sacramental Committee set up by Minister of Justice Mark Golding.
Applying for and receiving media accreditation as RASTA RADIO JA, I attended the launch at the Bob Marley Museum and my reservations vanished when I saw and heard the speeches by the many RASTA involved in the event. In fact, no representative of HIGH TIMES spoke or was present at the event. It was strictly Roots RASTA, and from Ras Iyah-V, the chief organizer, to the representatives of several Mansions who spoke, it was clear that the event was truly a RASTA event. Several RASTA friends told me of how eagerly they anticipated the event as an opportunity to earn at the booth they had rented in the Rasta Indigenous Village, and especially of how eagerly they were looking forward to an event that allowed them to use ganja as freely as they desired.
Noting my report after the launch, Professor Charles Nesson – one of the event organizers – wrote inviting RASTA RADIO JA to share our broadcast coverage with his Berkman Center at Harvard University, a welcome opportunity to share news, interviews and information to a wider audience.
FIRST REPORT Arriving in Negril on Thursday in time for the launch, we were greeted by a beautiful sight. The Long Bay Beach Park is a nice stretch of the Negril beach that has been set aside for the public. On one side was a vast football field with tents displaying samples and promotional material of ganja related products mostly from US entrepreneurs whose booths attracted the most interest from the many foreigners present.
The other half of the Park housed the Rastafari Indigenous Village — the real heart of the event and a beautiful scene of RASTA life. First a food court with several stalls offering a variety of Ital dishes, then a cluster of tents housing Rastafari Mansions – Nyabinghi, Twelve Tribes, House of Dread, School of Vision , Boboshanti — leading into a beautiful craft exposition spread out under trees on the sand.
Tents fluttered Red, Gold and Green decor and pictures of the Emperor. There was jewelery of all kinds from a variety of natural woods, seeds and beads; steam chalices with short and long pipes; intricately carved calabash bowls; fresh fruit and squeezed juices. But most of all, most stalls offered branches and buds of ganja for sale, as well as products made from ganja such as oils for medicine, foods, cosmetics and wines. Tent holders seemed happy with the flow of business and music gave appropriate sounds for the occasion.
RASTA RADIO JA With portable internet and 2 laptops, RASTA RADIO JA was able to broadcast live pictures from the Village and interviews with vendors and visitors. I was especially glad to speak with Rick Cusick, HIGH TIMES Editor, a very happy man who said how pleased he was with how the Festival was manifesting and gave some history of how it all came about from a desire that began when the very first celebrity cover issue of HIGH TIMES 40 years ago carried a photo of Bob Marley. He said he was proud and delighted that HIGH TIMES was a part of world history, and that the liberalization of Jamaica’s ganja law is an example that the rest of the world will follow. He reminded me of our first meeting a year ago when he came to discuss the event with Ras IyahV and Kubba Pringle, saying what a loss Kubba’s passing has been to Negril and to the Westmoreland ganja movement, and paying tribute to his memory.
SATURDAY SUNSHINE On Saturday the sunshine welcomed a crowd of visitors to the Village. At midday Priest Fagan of the Rastafari School of Vision conducted Sabbath prayers, then music by Natural High sound system provided an irie backdrop to the comings and goings of the curious and the committed. As dusk fell, Ras Iv-I led a Nyabinghi chant that gathered a large crowd of participants, singing and dancing to the drumbeat. Short speeches closed the ceremony, and the Village settled in to receive the night’s visitors.
On the beach, the crowd gathered by a Sumfest-level stage featuring a dynamic opening performance by Jah9, who showed why she is in such international demand. Performances followed by Luciano, The Mighty Diamonds and I-Wayne. Patrons were were arriving as I left the Park, thinking of all the GanJAH warriors fought the hard battle to get RASTA to this day when the herb is FREE to use! I remembered such GanJAH warriors now ancestors whose spirits were surely with us in Negril.
ORGANIZERS Special mention must be made of five people whose work was crucial to the event’s success. Sister Mitzie Williams is well known as a RASTA voice on many issues and actions. At RootzFest she showed herself to be a true RASTA leader whose greatest asset is her ability to retain her cool and composure under all circumstances, never raising her voice even when speaking firmly to resolve a situation. Her quiet supervision of all aspects of the event, and her motherly female personality provided the confidence and firm foundation on which the event proceeded. She is to be highly praised.
Rick Cusick, HIGH TIMES Editor and chief negotiator with Rasta In Inity, deserves praise for the easy manner in which he manifested the partnership with RASTA culture. HIGH TIMES funding and the contacts that brought so many foreign exhibitors to compete joyously in Jamaica, enabled the event to be an excellent start for what will surely become a regular annual event. The rain flooded the Cannabis Cup field, but did not discourage hundreds from visiting the stalls and learning more about exotic strains and new products such as BHO a.k.a ‘shatter’ – a THC xtract turned into a dry gum or oil that is the new and more healthy way of using ganja through electronic smokeless vaporizer pipes. Many eyes were opened by the Cannabis Cup and it was good to see Jamaican entries among the winners.
Ras Iyah-V was statesman-like in his speeches and presentations. He especially excelled in his speech at the Ganjah Seminar held by the Beckley Foundation, hosted by Countess Amanda Whyms. He is to be commended for being bold enough to accept the HIGH TIMES proposal, despite much negative pressure, and to make it manifest in a manner that was both sacramental as well as economic. His constant insistence that grass roots ganja farmers must be the chief beneficiaries of the revised law, gives confidence that he will use the power and influence that the success of the RootzFest has given him to keep that objective in sight.
Law Professor Charles Nesson shocked his Harvard University years ago when he admitted being a ganja smoker. Through his love of Jamaica, he followed the discussions leading to the revised ganja law, then persuaded his HIGH TIMES friends to partner with Rastafari In Inity to celebrate the new GanJAH Freedoms. Nesson’s activism at the highest levels of the national and international legalization campaign provided the assurance the organizers needed to move forward with the project. His presence at the event (with his wife Fern, whose photos decorate this article) added to the organizational help.
And last, but by no means least, the Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding deserves highest commendation and praise from the RASTA community for the measured and intelligent way in which he guided the revision of the ganja laws through Parliament, with especial consideration for the RASTA community which has suffered and advocated for legalization. Ignoring critics, Golding has treated the RASTA community with total RASpect throughout the process and has thereby earned himself in return a similar high level of RASpect and LOVE.
RASTAFARI UNITED Rastafari RootzFest was a very peaceful 4 days and nights of Rastafari UNITY, with not a single incident of crime, no fights, not even a bag snatching. Some of the celebrities who mingled with the crowd included Rohan Marley, Donisha Prendergast, Jah9, Chronnix, Kiddus I, Jah Cure and Mutabaruka. It was wonderful to have been there and I look forward to a bigger, better event next year.
(c) Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah
ALL PHOTOS: (c) Fern Nesson