2016 – THE YEAR IN REVIEW

by Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah
village2016 was a year of mixed blessings. The RASTAFARI Nation began the year smiling at the success of the first entertainment event at which Sacramental Rights enabled the use and sale of Ganja for the first time. The Rastafari RootzFest in Negril sponsored by HIGH TIMES Magazine in December 2015 at which Rastafari culture, arts & crafts and music were on display with ganja plants and products, was followed in January by the Rebel Salute music show at which Sacramental Rights again enabled the sale and use of the Holy Herb.

ELECTION CHANGES    The Election in February had a surprising result that upset predictions that the PNP would continue its rule, and instead brought forward another chance for the JLP to govern under a new leader. Among the changes that resulted from the change in administration, the threat was removed of the Goat Islands being turned from an ecological sanctuary into a hub of Chinese commerce. The power of China that had appeared in all aspects of the national development, economy, business and even education also diminished in 2016, even after the opening of a major cross-island highway.

image001DAWTA OF JAH    In April I had the good fortune to spend a blessed week lecturing to students at Texas Christian University on aspects of Rastafari culture and philosophy. I spent a further three weeks in America observing and resting in that unique society as it prepared for its own election. However, issues of wanton and racist police brutality threw the USA into national turmoil that was further increased by the campaign of the Republican candidate, who later surprised the world by winning the opportunity to replace Barak Obama as the next US President. Thanks to his controversial opinions on traditional international relations, racial and religious minorities and the international economy, the world awaits his rule with increasing fear.

emperor_haile_selassie_i_visits_jamaica_smH.I.M. VISIT COMMEMORATED    Also in 2016 the Rastafari Nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the visit to Jamaica by H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Defender of the Holy Orthodox Faith, with a ceremonial recreation of his triumphant motorcade from the Kingston airport, as well as a series of activities over three days to commemorate and institutionalize this special history.  The Emperor’s Grandson H.I.H. Prince Ermis Sahle Selassie, Chairman of the Ethiopian Crown Council, officiated.

CRIME & VIOLENCE INCREASE     In Jamaica, the violence of 300 years of slavery in which this nation was born, manifested itself in a rise in murders, especially of women by male partners, as well as acts of a criminal underworld financed by the scamming industry. The situation is so unmanageable that the Commissioner of Police resigned, leaving a vacuum that seems impossible to be filled.

OLYMPIC GLORY    One great good light for Jamaica in 2016 was the rise of Usain Bolt to legendary status by winning three Olympic Gold medals in Rio to crown a career that began with similar wins in the two previous Olympics. As Jamaica celebrated with and for him, Bolt’s playboy behavior off the track celebrating his achievement diminished the glory of that sparkling moment of history. Though Jamaica was still proud of him, his crown seemed a little tarnished thereafter.

HURRICANE MATTHEW PASSES OVER     Thanks to our prayers, the island was spared a devastating hurricane that promised to be the worst in our history, but the destruction was diverted to our Northern neighbours Cuba and Haiti, neither of which could afford it either. We gave thanks and sent what help we could to our sister islands. fidel

VIVA FIDEL!     Cuba suffered the loss of their great leader Fidel Castro who, despite efforts by international media to diminish the glory of his reputation, was hailed by Jamaica and Third World countries especially in Africa as a revolutionary hero whose life work helped liberate those living under European colonialism. Jamaica especially remembers him fondly for his many gifts to our nation. The opening up of US relations with Cuba by  President Obama opens the way for a new history for Jamaica’s closest neighbor.

sister-carol

RASTA RADIO JA interviews Sister Carol @ RootzFest

RASTA ROOTZFEST 2016      The year 2016 closed with another successful staging of Rastafari RootzFest, this time organized by a fully Jamaican organization, with emphasis on locally-grown ganja and associated products.  However, the event left unanswered several important issues of concern to the Rastafari Nation. These include the future of the Pinnacle lands, the building of the promised Pinnacle National Heritage monument, as well as the payment of outstanding reparations to victims and descendants of the Coral Gardens genocidal brutality.

Most important is the necessity for the Jamaican Government to establish a firm relationship with the Rastafari Nation relating to the development of Ganja business. Plans for issuing of licenses for production and sale of medical marijuana have not properly acknowledged the traditional role of Rastafari in the ganja industry, nor provided compensation or opportunities for those who for decades were the sole advocates and maintainers of ganja agriculture, when such activity was illegal and resulted in violence and imprisonment for ganja farmers — most of whom were and are Rastafari.

sela4LEGALIZE IT!     The high costs to enter the ganja industry as proposed by the Cannabis Licensing Authority, as well as the fact that ganja is still not fully legalized for purchase by recreational and sacramental users, are just some of the many problematic issues that will need time and harmonious discussion to be suitably resolved.

The RASTAFARI Nation looks forward to building on the important changes brought by the revision of the Dangerous Drugs Act – including a name change of this important legislation — to reflect the inheritance Jamaica has received from the pioneers who paid the bitter price to make the GanJAH Green Gold become positioned now as the salvation of the Jamaican economy. FORWARD in 2017!!!

JAMAICA’S REGULATED CANNABIS INDUSTRY – FIRST STEPS

ganja1The greatest achievement of the present Jamaican Government has been the liberation of the Ganja laws and the opening up of opportunities for Jamaica to capitalize on the many opportunities available to benefit from the Green Gold for which Jamaica is famous. RASTA had been saying for decades that Ganja was for ‘the healing of the nation’. Now, at last the doors have been opened by an enlightened administration, and RASTA gives thanks to all.

The manner in which the revision of the Dangerous Drugs law was piloted by Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice through the minefields of Jamaica’s social, economic and religious groups – including RASTA – is to be commended. Jamaica has taken a pioneering step that treads carefully through the restrictions of the international treaties while providing previously unheard of freedoms for Jamaican ganja users and producers. The provision for sacramental use as a Constitutional human right of RASTA is unprecedented and opens the way for other users of the herb – nationally and internationally, also make claims for their very human right to use ganja as medication or recreation.

villageA very important conference was held during the recent Rastafari RootzFest/HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup in Negril, organized by the Ministries of Justice and Industry, Investment & Commerce. It was hosted by the Beckley Foundation – an international organization founded by the Countess of Weymss, Amanda Feilding in 1998 to provide a rigorous review of global drug policies and develop a scientific evidence base on which to build alternative policies. For the last 17 years the Beckley Foundation has brought together leading international experts to discuss the complex and taboo issues surrounding cannabis policy and to explore new regulatory models to protect health and reduce the disastrous collateral harms caused by prohibition.

beckley logoHaving built an excellent reputation for information it has shared via conferences, expert studies and publication of scientific papers, the Beckley Foundation was a natural choice to help Jamaica establish its cannabis industry, especially given the fact that founder Amanda Feilding maintains a home in Portland, Jamaica. The two-day conference onJamaica’s Regulated Cannabis Industry: First Steps’ heard leaders and high-level officials of the Jamaican Government, the Attorney General’s Office and the Drug Abuse Council, as well as medical marijuana scientists who all made presentations on the important steps necessary for development of the blossoming industry, including the legal and financial implications and guidelines.

The detailed information shared by them showed the intense care with which all aspects of developing the industry are being considered. I can only share excerpts of the main presentations, but a full publication of all speeches with photographs and slides will be published by the Beckley Foundation shortly.

Beckley Conference Day 1Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding explained the legal pathway and guidelines that Jamaica undertook to reach the final revision of the law while keeping it within international boundaries. Minister of Industry, Commerce & Investment Anthony Hylton gave a positive outlook on Jamaica’s opportunities. Dr. Kathy-Ann Brown, Deputy Director in the Attorney General’s Office, represented by explained the legal and financial restrictions within which the industry must operate to comply with international laws.

The Director of the Scientific Research Council, Dr. Winston Davidson, explained the caution with which Jamaica will test, approve and track the production of Jamaica’s medical marijuana plants. Professor Wayne McLaughlin of the University of the West Indies, explained the clinical and medical research the University has been engaged in. Dr. Andre Gordon, Chairman of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, described the process of registration and licensing that would be undertaken by his inter-governmental committee.Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeil spoke of the benefits possible to the industry, while Diane Edwards, President of JAMPRO, described the cultural and wellness tourism opportunities presented by the ganja industry. Stephen Wedderburn, Chief Technical Director of the Ministry of Industry, gave support to the presentation by Minister Anthony Hylton.

iyahV1Representing the RASTA community, Westmoreland Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association Chairman Ras Iyah-V praised the Sacramental Rights given under the revised Dangerous Drugs law that had made the RootzFest a unique and historic event.

“We as grass roots people, we didn’t have any legal avenue. We had to smuggle, because we know the use of the herb and we knew that people wanted the plant, whether to use it medicinally or recreationally. So for the time being here in Jamaica – again I give thanks for the Amendment, because it enables I&I Rastafari to move more freer than we used to, and at the same time to look at the potential of the industry in terms of its support for grass-roots people.

“I have said on many occasions that I will neither stand, sit nor lie down and watch this industry be taken over by rich people or foreign investors. If we are to develop this industry, it MUST benefit Rastafari and it MUST benefit grass-roots people, because these are the people who have borne the brunt of the persecution. It’s we who when everyone was going left, right and center, I and I were the ones who kept going.

Rastafari.jpg“The big question – how do we develop an industry here in a way that we can market our products internationally. From my analysis of the situation, I know that the US Government is using State laws as a guise to develop their cannabis industry and at the same time to fight against Third World countries’ development. I don’t think the States could have been doing what they want if the Federal Government was not in league with it.

“I say, the Government of Jamaica has a responsibility to align themselves with other countries here in the Caribbean and Latin America – there are countries that are against this big stick that America has over everyone’s heads, that you can do what I say but not what I do. I think we have a duty and responsibility to align ourselves with these countries, because unity is strength, and as such – whether as a regional bloc or from the point of view that we are thinking similarly as countries – to make sure that we become strengthened in such a way that we have a say on the international political scene. Otherwise we will always have to succumb to this big stick that America has over our heads.”

iyahV3Endorsing Ras Iyah-V, Senator Golding Minister of Justice, explained fully the decision of the Jamaican Government to grant sacramental rights to the Rastafari community. Addressing the topic specifically, he said:

“The Rastafarian people have suffered tremendously over many, many years in this country,” he said, “by actions taken against them and many of those actions related to ganja, so that was a burning issue that required reform. We felt that it was clearly unconstitutional for the law to prohibit the use of a sacrament by the Rastafarian people because the Charter of Rights in our Constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression.

“So that was one element of the reform. The Rastafarian community – for the first time their religion was acknowledged in a public statute in Jamaica and their right to possess ganja is now acknowledged in the law. There are provisions for the designation of religious spaces as areas where the prohibition or the restrictions on ganja use do not apply, there is provision for designation of lands for cultivation for sacramental purposes, and exempt events which are events primarily for the purpose of observing or celebrating the Rastafarian faith.

golding3“We are trying to approach this in a creative and responsible way. The law has tried to be holistic. I think our work in this area has been acknowledged around the world as being of significance and I just hope that we can get the balance that’s inherent in this exercise right. I am sure that errors will be made but on the whole I think it presents a tremendous opportunity for Jamaica and the world to arrive at a new and more humane way of regarding this plant, ganja.”

Amanda Feilding2In her presentation, Conference host Amanda Feilding congratulated Jamaica for the pioneering step it has taken towards ganja legalization.

“It is wonderful,” she said “that Jamaica has now not only decriminalised cannabis, eliminating previous convictions for possession, but has also fully acknowledged the religious rights of the Rastafarians, thus becoming the first state to properly recognise the religious use of cannabis.

“On the global scene I think we have finally reached a ‘tipping point’. The ‘intellectual’ battle against the ‘War on Drugs’ has, for the most part, been won. Most intelligent people realize that it is impossible to eradicate a market through prohibition. Where there is a demand, there will always be a way to fill it. However, that is merely the ‘intellectual’ battle, the ‘battle on the ground’ has only just begun, and that is where Jamaica is now leading the way. There is no doubt that the ‘War on Drugs’ approach to the control of psychoactive substances has been a disaster, with catastrophic consequences at every level. I cannot think of another civil decision that has caused so much global suffering.

“Prohibition of psychoactive substances has created a vast criminal market, run by individuals, often acting with a ruthlessness which shakes the fabric of civilised society. It would have been much better if these substances had remained as an integral part of the social fabric, controlled by social pressure, with the purpose of minimising harms and optimising benefits.”

sela4Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding said that developments in the American states such as Colorado “… presented a window of opportunity to do some of the things that we wanted to do for many years and had not really felt that we could, because of the adverse international impact or reaction that we would have suffered.” He spoke of the law’s changes making ganja smoking a ticketable offense without prosecution, the expunging of records for ganja convictions for small personal amounts, and the freedom to grow 5 plants for personal use.

He also repeated his commitment to the existing ganja farming industry. “The challenge for Jamaica in developing a regulated cannabis industry is how to reconcile two objectives which are not necessarily fully aligned — the first objective is the policy of the Government to ensure that the regulated lawful industry that would emerge is to be an inclusive industry that allows small farmers, rural communities, persons who have been growing ganja for years and have suffered the brunt of that — because it’s been an illegal activity and there have been significant efforts by the state to eliminate that – those persons if they want to participate can do so. That’s the fundamental as an objective.

rootzfestExplaining that Jamaica has been adventurous in framing its Ganja legislation, Senator Golding said that the three Conventions that make up the international drug treaty system, the UN Single Convention of 1961 and two other subsequent conventions, requires the Cannabis Licensing Authority in designing the regulatory system to do so in a way that is compliant with Jamaica’s international obligations.

“I do think that in the design of the framework for Jamaica,” he said, “we need to push the envelope somewhat, in order to ensure that the principal objective of inclusion is not sacrificed on the alter of rigid and strict interpretation of the treaties. The United States itself has propounded that the treaties allow flexibility and I think Jamaica accepts the approach of flexibility in interpreting those treaties and so I will be expecting that the regulations will be designed in a way that does enable small farmers who want to come on board to do so.”

For RASTA, the Beckley Conference was a fitting partner event, providing a scientific, intellectual and academic foundation to underscore the physical manifestation of the revised Jamaican drug laws that was taking place a short distance away on the beautiful Negril beach. The speeches provided a full explanation of all aspects comprising the structure and development of the Jamaican ganja industry, establishing a good framework for unity between the Jamaican farms, businesses and scientific laboratories necessary for success. RASTA must and will keep an eye on all developments.

marley

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah

Rastafari RootzFest – Shining Example of RASTA UNITY

‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in UNITY.” PSALM 133

rootzfestThis 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.

DSC03082Most 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.

logoApplying 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.

villageFIRST 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.

DSC03157RASTA 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.

DSC03094ORGANIZERS   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.

Prof. Charles Nesson & Ras Iyah-V

Prof. Charles Nesson & Ras Iyah-V

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.

RootzFest2

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah

ALL PHOTOS: (c) Fern Nesson

“RASTAFARI & THE ARTS” – Book Review

rastafari & the artsRASTAFARI AND THE ARTS is without reservation, the most thorough look at RASTAFARI of all the books I have read so far – and I have read many. As a writer myself of one of these many books – albeit the first one written by a practicing member of the faith – and as a RASTA for over 40 years, I feel eminently qualified to make such a sweeping commendation. It is truthfully a real pleasure to read, full of information that is both delightful and welcome because it touches areas of Rastafari often unrevealed by other studies of the topic.

Author Darren J. Middleton, a Professor of Religion in The John V. Rich Honours College of Texas Christian University, has produced a book that ploughs new ground in the academic fields of Rastafari by looking at the movement through its artistic creative expressions and in particular, an eclectic choice of RASTA artists through whom he manages to present a deeper and intellectually richer harvest of facts, opinions and scrutiny of the world’s newest religion.

However, it has been a little difficult for me to write a review of the book simply because I am featured in it and readers of my review may consider my praise of the book self-serving. While it’s an honour to be gathered and praised in such esteemed company, to give the book and those Professor Middleton has selected to illustrate it full credit, my inclusion would have resulted in an extremely critical assessment of the book if I was not completely happy with its contents. So while it is an unusual practice for someone mentioned in a book to write a review, an independent read of its contents will certainly find it worthy of my praise. I can only ask to be forgiven, therefore, for any pride I may exhibit in reporting on the other artists with whom I keep company in this excellent book.

Prof. Middleton’s opening statement confirms that “… Rasta and its adherents have transitioned from outcasts to culture bearers… and Rastafari represents one of the twenty-first century’s most vibrant durable and pervasive religions…” His book is for undergraduate students, he explains, those with little awareness of Rastafari beyond the stereotypes of Marley and ganja, and he hopes to break down these stereotypes by illustrating the movement’s artistic diversity not just in music but in literature film and art.  It’s an excellent objective which he accomplishes well.


jah loveEARLY INTEREST IN MUSIC
       He admits early that his curiosity about and interest in Rastafari began with music, and this is where he book gives the most attention. In fact, he devotes an Appendix to “Dr. M’s Rasta Riddims Playlist” a list of 250 songs that he offers to students to get to know Rastafari better and to introduce listeners to several dimensions of Rastafari religious life. Emphasizing how Rastafari arts are ‘the primary mechanism for the faith’s transmission”, he looks at the arts both from insiders and outsiders views, including films and artworks made about Rastafari by non-members inspired by Rastafari.

BORTHER MANMiddleton sees literary art as an informative source for learning about Rastafari and he comments on the books of Roger Mais (“Brother Man”) and Orlando Patterson (“Children of Sisyphus”) set in the early years of the Rastafari movement, comparing them with present-day works such as my own novel “Joseph – A Rasta Reggae Fable” (including a Q&A with me about my literary inspiration through my Rastafari spirituality) and the works of Jean Gouldbourne, Masani Montague and N.D. Williams.

Middleton gives due homage and praise to the founding stars of reggae, but ventures off the beaten path with interviews with almost-unknown-but-deserves-to-be-known singer Asante Amen, and India’s premier sound system Reggae Rajahs. He specially devotes space in the music arts for poetry, singling out Black British poet Benjamin Zephiniah with both an introduction to and explanation of his poetic works and history, and also a lengthy interview with him.

awake zionFILMS ON RASTA       The chapter on film references some well known documentaries about Rastafari such as Oliver Hill’s “Coping With Babylon”, Monica Haim’s ‘Awake Zion” exploring Rastafari’s Jewish links, the recent “Marley” documentary, and James Ewart’s “Ras Tafari”, a collection of interviews with well-known Rastas (incuding myself). Middleton also comments on Bianca Nyavingi Brynda’s “Roots Daughters” that explores the feminine side of Rastafari’s history and introduces readers to “The Emperor’s Birthday” a 1992 documentary of a Rastafari pilgrimage to Ethiopia to celebrate the special occasion, that gives an inside view of Sheshemane and its residents.

Professor Middleton gives a look at the spread of Rastafari to Africa to fulfill Garvey’s repatriation dream in a chapter featuring interviews with Ghana’s Blakk Rasta musician and radio presenter, then takes a look at Rastafari’s spread to Japan – just one non-Black country where Rastafari has taken root. The spread has not been without its negatives and one which Middleton deplores is the commodification of the movement in hundreds of products that exploit Rastafari’s colours, icons and philosophy purely for material purpose. The irony is not lost on how Babylon seems to be winning the commercial game as usual.

faculty_lg_middletonRASTAFARI AND THE ARTS is a varied buffet of information brought together by a master story-teller with a fountain of research and and deep heartfelt appreciation for the topic. It is not Middleton’s first writing on Rastafari, as he has published numerous international articles and academic papers on the religion and how it’s cultural expressions have strengthened its acceptance and growth. The book is a textured addition to the library of academic studies on Rastafari, with a fresh perspective that is both an asset and a new direction. Praise and RASpect are due to the author.

RASTAFARI & THE ARTS – Published: Routledge, New York  2015

WIPE THE RECORDS!


thirt logo 3Two weeks ago some concerned friends came together to draft a petition to the Prime Minister stating the terms under which we would like to see ganja legalized. Calling ourselves the JAMAICAN PEOPLE’S CANNABIS DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL, we began our Petition with a demand that government WIPE THE RECORDS of all persons convicted for personal use of ganja, the Petition included proposals for licensing of 4 categories of ganja producers and the setting up of a Ganja Council headed by Certified Accountants to handle the establishment of ganja businesses and their taxation, leaving producers free to sell their products where legal in Jamaica or abroad.

Following this, the Government-led ‘Ganja Future Growers and Producers’ organization issued invitations to a “Jamaica Cannabis Conference” under the theme: ‘Wake Up Jamaica… Our Opportunities Are Slipping Away” sponsored by the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Task Force and the University of the West Indies.”

ganjaWHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?      What is really holding things up and preventing decriminalization? The matter has already been brought to Parliament by MP Raymond Price; Science and Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell is the senior PNP politician in charge, and the Minister of Justice Mark Golding is also very actively involved in all the conferences held so far — though notably absent is the Minister of Agriculture, which is surprising as tegalization concerns FARMERS. Even more surprising is that ganja legalization is headquartered at the UWI – hardly a place that has devoted attention to ganja issues, ganja farmers or experts on growing varied strains of ganja.

The JPCDC is looking closely at government’s proposals for development of a ganja industry, especially as the initiative is addressed to FUTURE farmers, not necessarily existing growers. We note also the heavy emphasis on presentations dealing with production of non-THC ganja and hemp, which are not illegal. I am not the only person wondering if decriminalization will only provide opportunities for Jamaican white-collar businessmen to partner profitably with international organizations for production of medical marijuana, as several Jamaican businessmen have announced hemp-related, non-THC products ready for production and sale to international partners.

ganja1RASTA RECOMMENDATIONS       We would love to hear that new strains of Sensimilia have been developed to replace that famous strain that was wiped out in the 70s when Jamaica enthusiastically waged the US ‘war against drugs’ with helicopters and spraying across the island. And we are glad to see that on  the RASTA side, there is strong representation.  The final document contains presentations by the Westmoreland Ganja Farmers Association, the Rastafari Youth Initiative Council and the Rastafari Millenium Council has submitted a good, strong document expressing in detail the rights and benefits that RASTA should receive under decriminalization and/or legalization. In all this, we all want to know and approve details of who will run the island’s ganja business, and how.

The conference title “Wake Up Jamaica – Our opportunities are slipping away” was first voiced by eminent Harvard Professor Charles Nesson, whose longstanding connection with Jamaica, as well as his longstanding advocacy for ganja legalization in his home country USA, has inspired him to personally finance several trips to Jamaica to participate in and encourage Jamaica’s legalization campaign. While the JPCDC agrees with Prof. Nesson that Jamaica must act swiftly in the face of efforts by several other nations, we feel Jamaica still has the advantage of its world-famous reputation for producing the world’s best ganja, as well as being a world-famous vacation destination, both of which will undoubtedly be our greatest advantages.

 NOT TOO LATE     ganja2We may be late, but we are definitely still in the running. Now let’s wait and see what the Government does as a result of this conference. In the meantime, the JPCDC can be happy that the Declaration issued by the conference has included the JPCDC’s primary demand to WIPE THE RECORDS. This is an achievement after only two weeks of activism and we thank all the 250 persons who signed the Petition, a wide cross section of Jamaicans at home and abroad, as well as several international supporters — especially media. Not all our recommendations were accepted, so we will continue to press for them, especially the  setting up of a Cannabis Council staffed by Certified Accountants to establish ganja farmers’ business and supervise the payment of taxes to government.

FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE JAMAICAN’S PEOPLE’S CANNABIS DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL.

marijuana-field

FULL LEGALIZATION- Legalization now for medical, recreational, sacramental use, including the purchase.

APPROVE and LICENSE MARIJUANA PROCESSORS- “Marijuana processor” is a person, or persons, licensed to process marijuana into useable marijuana and marijuana-infused products. It would also license the processor to package, label and sell product at wholesale to marijuana retailers.

APPROVE and LICENSE MARIJUANA PRODUCERS- “Marijuana producer” is a person, or persons, licensed to produce and sell marijuana at wholesale to marijuana processors and other marijuana producers

APPROVE and LICENSE MARIJUANA RETAILERS- “Marijuana retailer” is a person, or persons, licensed to sell useable marijuana and marijuana-infused products in a retail outlet, including sales of a pound or less by street vendors.

APPROVE and LICENSE HOSPITALS, PHARMACIES, and their PHYSICIANS to administer or dispense useable marijuana for the intended use in diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in individuals or animals.

APPROVE the deposit of Marijuana profits at local banks.

APPROVE a NON GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY- The Agency will consist of 14 Certified Public Accountants to serve as the People’s representatives, with one representative elected from each parish, by their parish.  Elected representatives are limited to serving five (5) terms, each term consisting of four (4) years. Three members shall hold senior positions, and all shall be elected by the Board itself. All License fees to be established and voted on by the Cannabis Board.

These are our recommendations as plain, ordinary Jamaicans, not ganja farmers, but people who have always advocated GANJA FOR THE HEALING OF THE JAMAICAN NATION!

marley

GANJA – The People’s Heritage

 

coptics

Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church members

In  one of those discussions that happen when good friends get together, the topic rolled around to RASTA business, or the lack of it. My recent article on the Coptics had got a lot of attention, first from those who remembered that brave group of ganja warriors, and then from people who had never heard of their noble adventures 40 years ago to liberate the herb and make it a major source of Jamaica’s income.

The conversation turned to the current activity by government to legalize ganja (or is it just decriminalize medicinal ganja?) and we realized that none of us were happy with the proposals being put forward in the ongoing meetings being held or the committees being set up. Why? Because it turns out that none of us agree that Government should be in charge of ganja business.

None of us like the fact that the committee organized by Government proposes that all ganja farmers will sell their ganja to government, who will then handle retail sales and exports. But why? If ganja is to be sold as legally as bananas, why must Government control all sales? Why is it not possible for ganja farmers to pay Government for a license to grow and then pay taxes, just as cigarette manufacturers do? Why should we hand over our ganja to government, especially to committees of people who never carried the social and legal burden of keeping the ganja flame alight, but who were part of the system of brutality, imprisonment, social and job ostracism that we ganja growers and users have suffered all these years?

marijuana-fieldWHY NOT?       For instance, if I develop a special strain of ganja and I have a buyer in a country where ganja is legal such as Colorado, Ecuador or Holland, why would I not be able to sell direct to them after paying government for my license and the relevant taxes? For sure, I would be reluctant to let anyone take my ganja from me, price and sell my valuable product.

We are specially concerned that the legalization of ganja is being organized by people who used to persecute us for using, growing, selling ganja, who now present themselves to us as our saviours. We are uncomfortable at the fact that none of us were called to the table for the first-ever meeting on legalization.

So we all gave the matter some thought and decided to create a Petition to state our position to Government. We want to keep ganja in the hands of the people of Jamaica, not the politicians. Instead of parish committees being set up along the order of political party groups, we want to see Certified Accountants being appointed to head Cannabis Councils in each Parish. These accountants would handle ganja as a business, license producers as individuals and companies, and supervise the payment of taxes in the same way that all Jamaican companies are licensed and pay taxes. Ganja producers would then be as free to run their business as all other Jamaican farmers.

Coral Gardens Survivor

Coral Gardens Survivor featured in movie “Rockers”, died on “BAD Friday”

BROKEN PROMISES       You see, we don’t trust Government to fulfill its promises to RASTA. Look how long ago the Prime Minister of this Government promised to set up a Committee to oversee and pay reparations to the survivors of the brutal and unjust Coral Gardens massacre. This was an attempt to wipe out RASTA from Jamaica, for which there has been no apology or retribution, despite many appeals, marches in the hot sun and annual commemorations. One of the most prominent Coral Gardens survivors died on Good ‘BAD’ Friday, a sad event that served to remind RASTA of the empty promise made by PM Portia Simpson-Miller when RASTA embraced her at a 2013 UWI conference before she set off to attend the 50th anniversary meeting of the African Union in Ethiopia – RASTA homeland!!!

pinnacleLook at what has happened with Pinnacle where, after brave and outspoken efforts to persuade Government to correct the injustice done to Leonard Howell by restoring to RASTA the lands which were confiscated and the first RASTA village destroyed, there is only an empty silence. Ignoring the corruption so clearly evident in the fact that the Minister of Culture is common-law wife of the current owner of Pinnacle and her common-law brother-in-law is vice-chairman of the national heritage committee under which the matter falls, the PM simply moved the matter to a committee chaired by three leading members of the PNP.

With no further discussion, this committee moved the matter to the Ministry of Lands, giving us hope that the Ministry would trace the Pinnacle land titles dating from Howell to the present owner. Instead, all that the Minister of Lands (another very senior PNP executive) has done is to announce that Government has agreed to purchase six lots of land, as proposed by the previous JLP government. No word about research into the Pinnacle titles, and no further action to remove either the Minister of Culture or her common-law brother-in-law from their supervisory positions on this important RASTA matter.  (The matter has not been helped by the ongoing battle by some misguided individuals claiming, with no authority, to be RASTA ‘leaders’.)

So we RASTA are not confident that legalization of our Green Gold – that we have shed our red blood for! – by Government will have any greater sympathy for, or responsibility to, RASTA . We have suffered enough, and long enough. Governments, on both sides of the fence, have shown they are not to be trusted where RASTA is concerned. We cannot leave this important and valuable resource in the hands of the same Government that has persecuted us for ganja all these years. They have not even showed good faith with a promise to wipe the records of those who have suffered imprisonment and hold ‘records’ for personal use of the sacred herb. That would be a sign that they overstand the heart of the matter, but they don’t.   So we are posting our petition to the Prime Minister, and we ask you to sign it.

powerPEOPLE POWER        As you think about it, here’s some information I found in this week’s Guardian about how the people of Iceland recently took power from the rulers and into their own hands.

One of the demands during the protests that followed – and that resulted in getting rid of the government, the central bank manager and the head of the financial authority – was that we would get to rewrite our constitution. “We” meaning the 99%, not the politicians who had failed us. Another demand was that we should have real democratic tools, such as being able to call directly for a national referendum and dissolve parliament.

“As an activist, web developer and poet, I helped create a political movement from the various grassroots movements in the wake of the crisis. We had no leaders, but rotating spokespeople; we did not define ourselves as left or right but around an agenda based on democratic reform, transparency and bailing out the people, not the banks.

“We vowed that no one should remain in parliament longer then eight years and our movement would dissolve if our goals had not been achieved within eight years. We had no money, no experts; we were just ordinary people who’d had enough and who needed to have power both within the system and outside it.

“Our constitution has been rewritten by the people for the people. A constitution is such an important measure of what sort of society people want to live in. It is the social agreement. The foundation for the constitution was created by 1,000 people randomly selected from the national registry. We elected 25 people to put that vision into words. The new constitution is now in the parliament. We are strong, the power is ours: we are many, they are few. We are living in times of crisis. Let’s embrace this time for it is the only time real changes are possible by the masses.”

Jamaica can learn a lot from Iceland.

JAMAICAN PEOPLES CANNABIS COUNCIL Petition  Click on link to sign.

http://www.change.org/petitions/prime-minister-hon-portia-simpson-miller-license-and-approve-these-steps-for-legalization-of-marijuana?share_id=ooBRacPJVO&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

 

jah love

 

What’s Going On?

WHAT’S GOING ON? Richie Havens soul-stirring rendition of “What’s Going On?” – a late-1960s song echoing the cry for Black human rights that evolved out of the US Civil Rights movement , a song that bookmarked a time of social and humanitarian consciousness among thinking people around the world. A FB Friend sent a link to the song with a LIVE-ication to the hundreds of young Nigerian girls kidnapped by Muslim fanatics and still not yet found.

protest1

Weeping Nigerian mothers demonstrate in Abuja.

This shocking event and the continuing national, international and racial pain it is causing, has made me take a serious look at my Motherland AFRICA, the country to which I wish to return one day and live. In every corner of the Continent I look, there are conflicts so brutal and so serious and so seemingly without solutions, that I have to pause for a moment and say: Hey AFRICA – WHAT’S GOING ON?????

Take for instance, the NIGERIAN STUDENTS story.  ASSOCIATED PRESS tells us: “The number of kidnapped schoolgirls missing in Nigeria has been revised to 276, up by more than 30 from a previous estimate, the police said late Thursday, adding that the actual number abducted by Islamic extremists on April 14 was more than 300.

The police commissioner of Borno State, Tanko Lawan, said the number of students who had escaped also had risen, to 53. Commissioner Lawan said that the figures kept increasing because students from other schools were gathered into one school for final exams last month after all schools in Borno State were shut because of attacks by Islamic extremists, complicating the compilation of an accurate list of those who were abducted. Hundreds of women protested in at least three cities this week to express their outrage that the girls had not been found.”

A big part of the problem in Nigeria began when the British Colonial government of former times decided to join the Muslim North and the Christian South — two different states ethnically and culturally —  into one nation for their convenient administration. Then again, the oil wealth is not evenly distributed, so Boko Haram is not the only problem President Goodluck (?) Jonathan has to solve, to prove his parents named him well. KERRY

SUDAN – ANOTHER MAJOR AFRICAN PROBLEM        Nigeria is not the only state with major ethnic troubles. In SUDAN, the independence of the newly-created South Sudan nation did not solve the decades-long Sudan problem, and the South’s oil reserves were certain to cause envy and lead to conflicts. Secretary of State John Kerry is on the ground, trying to make Peace.

“Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that he had secured a commitment from Salva Kiir, South Sudan’s president, to open talks with his rebel opponent as early as next week. The talks, which would take place in Addis Ababa under the auspices of Ethiopia’s prime minister, represent the Obama administration’s latest bid to halt the fighting that has killed thousands of people, displaced more than a million and is ripping apart a nation whose independence was championed by the United States.

Mr. Kerry said that Riek Machar, the rebel leader, had previously signaled to Ethiopia’s prime minister that he was also prepared to attend. In a call Friday night, Mr. Kerry also urged Mr. Machar to participate in the meeting, The talks would focus on implementing the cease-fire that was agreed to by the two sides in January but was widely ignored, as well as on the formation of a possible transitional government. Given the bitter violence, the disruption of aid deliveries and fear of widespread famine, it is far from clear that the diplomatic push will be sufficient to reverse South Sudan’s downward spiral.“If both sides do not take steps in order to reduce or end the violence, they literally put their entire country in danger,” Mr. Kerry said. “And they will completely destroy what they are fighting to inherit.”

‘… WHAT THEY ARE FIGHTING TO INHERIT.” Ah yes. It’s all about the wealth. ETHIOPIAN STUDENTS

BIG PROBLEMS IN ETHIOPIA      As Kerry heads to Addis Ababa to hold talks on Sudan, ETHIOPIA has its own problems, and this looks even more serious.

At least nine students have died during days of protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia state, the government has said. However, a witness told the BBC that 47 were killed by the security forces. She said the protests in Ambo, 125km (80 miles) west of Addis Ababa began last Friday over plans to expand the capital into Oromia state. The government did not say how most of the deaths had been caused but the Ambo resident said she had seen the army firing live ammunition.

The student protestors are from Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, the Oromo, numbering around 27 million people. Oromia is the country’s largest region, completely surrounding the capital Addis Ababa, although the city is itself part of the Amhara region. The protesters believe they face losing their regional and cultural identity if plans to extend Addis Ababa’s administrative control into parts of Oromia get the go-ahead. Some have also raised fears of the potential for land grabs.

The so called “master-plan” for Addis Ababa is currently out for public consultation and the government says people are being given opportunities to raise their concerns. Officials say the plan has been well publicised and will bring city services to poor rural areas. The protestors claim they merely wanted to raise questions about the plan – but were answered with violence and intimidation. africa

AFRICA ON MY MIND       As I read all these stories, I worry seriously about Africa. These situations are raging all over the Continent. Kenya is unsafe, the Congo may never be fully healed after Belgium’s rape. From Egypt to Lybia, Northern Africa is in disarray and under military control by unpopular leaders. The deadly Ebola Virus has re-appeared in the West and is spreading fast. And we have not yet found KONY!!! rebel-salute-650px

I ask myself whether I&I in the Diaspora are able to do anything to change any of these situations, or the MANY other problems all over the Continent caused by ethnic and tribal wars. I realize it’s only possible if a whole-scale migration and repatriation of our African-loving Western tribes determined to seriously find ways to inspire and lead a Continent-wide change from the violent wars that seek solutions in impossible ways? As RASTA, this is what we claim as our commitment, goal, destiny!

RASTA AS LEADERS?       Can RASTA settlers – and those native Africans who are following the RASTA pathway – live a lifestyle of social harmony in such perfection as to inspire and teach others to follow? It is clear RASTA is going to have to do that, set the example, inspire and lead the way forward. It is RASTA that has the vision of a reborn, rejuvenated AFRICA. That RASTA VISION has been inspiring hundreds and thousands of people around the world who love AFRICA. RASTA did it with RASTA music – reggae.

As RASTA did it for the world, so RASTA can do it for AFRICA. We must work harder and find many more ways to show AFRICA that VISION, find many more ideas to bring forward that VISION FOR AFRICA that was inspired in RASTA by I&I devotion to H.I.M, Emperor Haile Selassie I, the Divine Man and Example. This is the Testament, the Promise, the Goal!!!

RASTAFARI TV coming on stream soon with multiple access options. I look forward to the launch of this excellent new international media which can be put to use for this important purpose.  May many more branches spring from I&I RASTA Roots!

rastafari tv

 RASTA PEACE & LOVE!

REFERENCES – READ MORE: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/02/kidnapped-nigeria-school-girls-boko-haram-education NYTIMES: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/03/world/africa/kerry-in-south-sudan-to-seek-an-end-to-fighting.html BBC WORLD NEWS: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27251331 SEE ALSO: http://somalilandpress.com/ethiopia-40-oromo-students-killed-protests-kerry-visits-50492