Remember the COPTICS?

REMEMBER THE COPTICS? signAs Jamaica’s effort to legalize ganja evolves under the control of the Government, I remember a time in the 1970s when a brave and pioneering group of ganja activists manifested and gave hope that the elusive dream would be a reality. The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, a mansion of the Rastafari movement based in White Horses, St. Thomas, made no effort to hide the fact that they were in the ganja business and determined that legalization should be Jamaica’s future wealth. With the large number of white Americans now involved in the effort to legalize ganja, it is worth remembering the Coptics, whose white American members gave strength to the Black Rastas by successfully distributing hundreds of tons of ganja to the USA. I found an article I wrote in 1986 when Brother Niah Keith passed. I share some of it here.

VISIT TO THE COPTICS      “In the 70’s, when I used to write a lot of articles on ganja, and in favour of its legalisation, one of my articles was re-published in the widely distributed Coptic Times. I felt it was time to find out who these people were, and whether they were truly defending – as they claimed – the principles of Marcus Garvey as well as the legalisation of ganja. So I went to see them at their farm in St. Thomas, and ultimately to visit them at their Star Island home in Miami. copticsWhat I found surprised me at first, but then I realised that Coptic was a perfectly genuine and legitimate expression of Rasta – a movement of which I was then an active promoter – and one which attempted to realise the dream of Rasta/Black African aspirations in Jamaica, of a nation whose economy is based on reaping the wealth to be earned from ganja.

The group’s white leader was Thomas Reilly, also known as Brother Louv, while the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church in Jamaica was led by Everton Shand, chief elder, and spiritual leader Brother Niah Keith Gordon. The Coptics promoted the teachings of Marcus Garvey and said that they used cannabis as the Rastafari sacrament. “ Among their beliefs is that cannabis is the plant consistently referred to in the Bible—from the burning bush to daily bread—and that smoking it several times a day during prayer is vital to one’s connection with God. They also believe that in smoking the sacred herb, people grew to understand the nature of God in themselves and each other, a prerequisite to making this world a better place for everyone. (Wikipedia)

niah keith

Niah Keith Gordon

Brother Louv

Brother Louv

COPTIC BUSINESS         They published a free newspaper COPTIC TIMES with a circulation of 25,000 promoting Garveyism and the decriminalization of marijuana; they operated a fleet of trucks as Coptic Container Co. and also a large Kingston supermarket. Another article on the net informed that:

By the mid-1970s the Coptics, with the help of funds raised by the Brotherhood, owned large tracts in Jamaica and had over a thousand locals working with them, raising organic fruit and vegetables, cattle, working irrigation and forestry projects. They had a container company, a trucking firm and an auto-parts company. And they weren’t done growing. By 1975 they were flourishing enough to buy a compound on exclusive Star Island off Miami Beach for communal use by church members. farm

Carl Olsen says it was a very good scene. “What I saw in Jamaica with the Coptics was better than anything else going on in the world that I could see. I thought the world would be a better place if everyone lived like that. I really did.”

And by 1980, according to Brian Tranmer, who was raised in Jamaica, and recently finished serving more than 13-years on the bust his father James Tranmer was later charged with conspiracy in, the Coptics were the largest land owners in Jamaica, and were supporting nearly 10,000 locals in an otherwise impoverished area.

children260 MINUTES SCANDAL   But the Coptics actions were not approved by all. Their blatant ganja use and advocacy brought the attention of the US government and media. CBS 60 Minutes Reporter Dan Rather did an expose on the Coptics which not only showed footage of the farm and an interview with Brother Louv, but contained shocking footage of young white children smoking ganja, as all their Coptic parents did — a big mistake, in my opinion.

The outrage led to serious crackdowns on the Coptics. In 1979 the group was accused, tried, and convicted of smuggling massive amounts of potent cannabis from Jamaica to Miami in actions that kept the Jamaican economy afloat that decade. The most serious sentence of 35 years was given to James Tranmer. Tranmer refused to apologize for his herb smuggling. More than that, on being sentenced, he is reported to have said during an impassioned speech on the value of marijuana as a sacrament: “I’m an herb man. I’ve always been an herb man for more than 30-years. The herb is a sacrament: ganja is my sacrament…America is a sick nation spiritually…you cannot win this fight against marijuana. If you fight against the herb, you fight against creation.” And then, as if goading the sentencing judge, he added, “I will take anything you give me for ganja. You can’t take ganja away from the people. Ganja is what is given by God for the people and you can’t take that away from them.”

ganjaSEAGA CONSIDERS LEGALIZATION In an article in the Montreal Gazette 1980: Christopher Dickey of the Washington Post reported the opinion of newly elected Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga about the ganja trade. The article on Jamaica begins:Where there’s dope, there’s hope. The island’s marijuana trade is vast, vital and illegal and also worth US$1.1 billion per year. While the world watched this year and wondered if the troubled island’s economy might go up in smoke, the people here came to realize that smoke – specifically ganja smoke – was all that kept the economy going.

Seaga: “The ganja trade in the past several months was virtually all that was keeping the economy alive. It supplied black market Dollars which were then used by …. persons in the economy who wanted to import raw materials for which they could not get Bank of Jamaica dollars. … The question of legalizing it so as to bring the flow of several hundred million dollars as part of our foreign exchange… is not just an economic one, but a moral one. But I believe if you are going to analyze Jamaica’s problems in any depth … you are going to run into the fact that this huge traffic is going on and I’m going to have to say it’s keeping us alive. How else do we get kept alive?”

Regardless whether we want it or not, the industry is here to stay. It is just not possible for it to be wiped out and we have to make up our minds how best to deal with it. There is a bigger moral problem, that is the bribery that runs with the illicit traffic. And at leasst two cases we know of gun trafficking that has been associated with it.” In 1980 guns and cocaine were not closely linked with the ganja trade. Historians see Seaga’s veiled threat as the reason for the USA’s consequent help to his administration. lands

HISTORY OF THE ETHIOPIAN ZION COPTIC CHURCH (Excerpt)  By Walter Wells, Spiritual Leader, Servant of Goud ……We finally settled at Coptic Heights, St. Thomas, once more in the East, for the final battle with modern Pharaoh. With more land space, we were able to expand our resources and make sounder planning. We were able to establish a fully accredited farming institution: – The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church Farms Eternal Limited, compromising over one thousand acres of land fully cultivated and pastured. On this farm we cultivate, vegetables, ground provisions, fruits, peanuts, escallion, thyme, onions, peas, melons, pumpkins, okras, bananas, sugar cane. There is also over one thousand head of beef and dairy cattle, horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, mules and over two thousand head of poultry. A native lumber industry is also operated by cutting wood from the trees on the farm and sometimes buying from outside supplies. Coal is burned for the trade, and a stone quarry is operated. We were also able to establish a trucking department which, along with the produce of the farm, assists the brethren in their everyday needs. Today, as we look back at our past journey, and of a vast experiment of six thousand years, which are now coming to a close, the achievement that we have made, we now know that these could not be achieved by black alone, or white alone, yet by a united people, fulfilling the Mysteries of Goud in those who fear him and keep his commandments.

Coptic Tabernacle, White Horses, St Thomas

Coptic Tabernacle, White Horses, St Thomas

NATURAL MYSTIC BLOWING        Will the Coptic dream of legal ganja be realized to finance a Jamaica where farms and industries like these flourish all over the island? Who knows. That is not my battle anymore. But one battle of the Coptics that is definitely mine, is their advocacy that the teachings of Garvey can be used as the foundation for a new Jamaica of true independence. A new mystic is blowing in Jamaica, and Niah Keith and the Coptics are part of that storm. I wonder what the remaining Coptics would think of what is happening now, as dreams of 40 years ago are becoming reality. Their story would make a great film.

MELKAM FASIKA! A HOLY EASTER TO ALL!

SOURCES: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_Zion_Coptic_Church http://weedpress.wordpress.com/current-events/interesting-2010-stories/james-tranmer-and-the-ethiopian-zion-coptic-church/ http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2205&dat=19810602&id=GNEmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ygIGAAAAIBAJ&pg=1290,1769928 http://www.moonjamaica.com/content/ethiopian-zion-coptic-church Transcript of Dan Rather CBS programme: https://www.erowid.org/plants/cannabis/cannabis_spirit3.shtml 1986 barbara blake hannah http://textfiles.com/occult/ROSICRUCIAN/gordon.txt

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Cayman Break

 

IMG-20140411-01580TAKING A BREAK    I’ve been in Grand Cayman for the past few days, taking a well-deserved break from Jamaica’s problems.  It’s my first visit, invited as part of a team of entertainers and media for the 2014 Cayman Spring Splash presented by Youngblood Productions, and I’ve had an eye-opening look at the surprising contrasts between this Caribbean nation and my home Jamaica.

The Cayman Islands used to be a dependency of Jamaica, governed as another part of our British colonial system. However, at Independence, the Cayman Islands chose to remain as a British colony and still retains that status. Cayman also enjoys tax free status, hence the higher standard of living of all, but I still wonder how Cayman is so much more advanced in simple ways that Jamaica should be. People obey the speed limit, stash their garbage, and mostly live without fear of petty crime. There are few fences, actual or social, and Jamaica’s reggae music plays continually from radio stations and relaxation spaces everywhere.

IMG-20140406-01474Little touches show the difference. Take for instance, the Cayman policy that preserves their native turtles. Jamaica’s turtle population died out when development came to our beaches and turtle nests were raided for eggs by beach boys to sell to tourists. When baby turtles hatched and turned instinctively towards the light, they headed towards the lights of the hotels on the beach, while any survivors that grew large enough soon became lampshades, belts and other tortoise shell ornaments.

IMG-20140406-01454

Columbus landing marker

In Cayman hotels must by law turn off their lights at night during turtle hatching season. Turtle shell ornaments are illegal and turtles are a tourist attraction, so the natural sea life is preserved. I saw more fish in the sea in Cayman than I have ever seen in Jamaican waters and the abundant sea life is part of the island’s attractions. Another impressive fact is that few hotels are all-inclusive, so restaurants and entertainment spots off property are well supported as part of the tourism product.

IMG-20140411-01572Among the magnificent mansions that line the main roads, there is always pride of place for the original wooden Cayman houses with pastel paint and gingerbread trim that have been there for up to 100 years, maintained as part of the nation’s beauty. The sight made me think what Spanish Town or Port Antonio could look like with the same thoughtfulness and pride! Roads are well maintained, no potholes. At one spot being dug up for a new road I saw why: the asphalt is 6 inches thick, not just a thin black ‘icing’ spread over marl.

On board 'Keepin It Reel' with Big John of Slackem Charters

On board ‘Keepin It Reel’ with Big John of Slackem Charters

Cayman is truly a tourism island with an emphasis on water sports. Spending a day on board a super deep sea fishing yacht anchored off a sand bar so we could swim with the stingrays, seeing a young child pick up starfish from the sea floor, admiring a beautiful conch shell I found on the beach, all made me realize how much Cayman life is tied to the sea. There are many accessible and free beaches all around the island and sea craft of all kinds are everywhere.

camana bayThere was a lot that impressed me in Cayman. But most impressive of all was the Camana Bay development – a visionary new city created by US Billionare Ken Dart that surpasses any I have seen anywhere in the world. Think upscale Palm Beach mixed with Fifth Avenue, Manhattan in a setting rivaling the beauty of Jamaica’s North Coast, and you will have Camana Bay.

IMG-20140408-01562My first sight was at night, as the concert was held on the grassy Camana Bay entertainment field with its own helicopter pad beside the man-made lagoon and marina. Beautiful by night with the buildings lit up, it was even more beautiful when I visited by day, first by deep-sea fishing yacht to pick up a passenger at the marina, then the following day on foot to explore its many spaces.

IMG-20140408-01560Ground floor shops, offices and restaurants have balcony apartments on top with a 2nd floor swimming pool overlooking the marina. Fountains spurt in strategic corners, streams flow beside walkways, flowering vines flow down the sides of buildings and you can recharge your electric car in the basement parking lot. A great deal of innovative design has gone into making Camana Bay a spectacular 21st Century city with artistic touches everywhere and a cultural programme that attracts residents and visitors. The open spaces on land invite relaxation, while the lagoon and marina give Camana Bay a water-based option for fun.

Childrens art exhibition

Childrens art exhibition

The Dart family earned their fortune by inventing and manufacturing the foam plastic cups we all use.  Ken Dart has invested some of his financial resources in Grand Cayman, with Camana Bay being just one of his several major projects that include a massive new hotel. Before Camana Bay construction started, Dart created nurseries growing the trees and plants that would eventually be needed, thus, he can plant a highway of flowering trees to beautify the meridian of a new highway passing his new hotel. If only Jamaica had such a developer!  It’s the kind of place everyone would wish to live.

acaymanIt was a pleasure to see the relaxed prosperity of this small Caribbean nation, such a contrast to the fear and economic uncertainty of Jamaica today. I truly enjoyed my short break from ‘reality’ and definitely plan to return.

maskel2EOTC TROUBLES       When Marxist dictator Mengistu took power in Ethiopia, he broke the Canon Law of the EOTC by removing the sitting Patriarch (the EOTC equivalent of a Pope) and appointing a new one. The Archbishop of the Western Hemisphere, beloved Abuna Yesehaq, objected to the breaking of the Canon Law and ‘removed’ himself AND the members of the EOTC Churches he had established in the West from the governorship of the Head Office. The faithful members, especially of the Jamaican and Bronx churches, sided with and supported Abuna Yesehaq’s stand and continued operating without the official sanction of the EOTC in Ethiopia. However, some Jamaican priests did not agree with the Archbishop’s action and established another venue where they have held EOTC communion services since then.

The controversial Patriarch died recently, having been predeceased by Abuna Yesehaq (who is buried at Maxfield Avenue), and a new Patriarch has been appointed. Now the head office of the Church in Ethiopia has sought to bring the Jamaican church into the fold again and has appointed Jamaican EOTC priests who did not agree with Archbishop Yesehaq’s actions, to take over the Maxfield Avenue building and operations of the church in Jamaica. Despite a Jamaican court case that ruled that the present administrators should hand over the church property to those appointed by the Head Office, this was opposed by some Church members leading to recent activity at Maxfield Avenue, where keys to the office and church documents were siezed under Police supervision and belongings of residents of the care home on the premises put outside (though later replaced until the end of Lent). The change has been inevitable, but not easy for the Maxfield Avenue faithful.

howellPINNACLE          There is uncertainty about the status of  Pinnacle and also the OCCUPY PINNACLE movement.  The Government has approved the allocation of the original 5 lots which will be under the control of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, on the board of which still sits one of the Pinnacle real estate developers. There is as yet no notification or plan of how these lots will be developed or by whom.  On the other side, a major issue is how to find a solution to the question of WHO are actually the authorized and accepted leaders of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica and therefore qualified to represent RASTA in any or all the necessary forums.

Meanwhile, the Howell Family continues their legal battle to reclaim the entire Pinnacle Property once owned by their father Leonard Howell, and fund-raising continues for the ongoing campaign.

ganjaGANJA REFORM       The Government has clearly already set in place the actions and people necessary to enable the legalization and/or decriminalization of ganja. However,  I continue to insist that the first action should be the wiping of the records of all those convicted for personal use. It should not be difficult to identify and clear the records of those to  benefit, as the Police have  the information  and an efficient computerized service. It doesn’t seem to be on the agenda, so let me say:  WIPE THE RECORDS!!!  CORRECT THE PAIN BEFORE YOU BANK THE GAIN!!!

emperor 3

 BLESSINGS & LOVE