“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

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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

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

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.

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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!!!

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 BLESSINGS & LOVE

 

Of Beaches, Farmers & Swans

 

burwood beach

Burwood Beach

TO SWIM ON OUR OWN BEACHES     The activist campaign being waged by Jamaicans to save the beaches where Jamaicans who are not tourists can swim, won a victory this week when the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) announced it would be upgrading Burwood Beach in Trelawny.

      Burwood Is one of the few beaches now remaining around the island where Jamaicans have free access to the white sands and beautiful Caribbean sea, as the hunger for tourism development has led to the disappearance of more and more public beaches. In recent years disputes with persons who claimed ownership of Burwood Beach, as well as lack of action by the Trelawny Parish Council, left the beach an unsupervised, barren space for grateful locals to access the sea for various forms of relaxation, so the TEF announcement that it will upgrade the beach with sanitary and parking facilities, gazeebos and play areas was very welcome. Best of all, the TEF upgrade will not include either a fence or an entry fee, so the beach will  remain FREE for all.

      With SAVE OUR BEACHES activists still fighting to save Winnifred Beach in Portland and Little Dunns River in Ocho Rios from threatened upgrades by the Urban Deveopment Corporation (UDC) that will include fences and fees, the promised action by TEF sets a precedent I hope will be copied by the UDC.

ganja

GANJA GROWERS UNITE          As I write this column, a preparatory meeting of Jamaica’s ganja growers is taking place in Kingston to formalize the Ganja Future Growers & Producers Association (GFGPA). I am not at the meeting, but have received both an invitation and a copy of the Draft Proposal for setting up the organization. According to it,the formation of this organization has been led by the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Task Force, the National Alliance for the Legalization of Ganja, the Ganja Law Reform Coalition as partners and Community Consultants Ltd. as the Project Manager.

Prof. Archibald McDonald, Paul Burke, Delano Sievwright, Paul Chant

Prof. Archibald McDonald, Paul Burke, Delano Sievwright, Paul Chang

       As someone who has been part of organizations campaigning for legalization and decriminalization of ganja since the 1970s, the names of the persons associated with each of these organizations are unfamilar to me, apart from Paul Chang who came on board the Legalize Ganja committees in the 1980s when activists like attorneys Dennis Forsythe and the late Sandra Alcott were among our bold and outspoken ganja warriors. These days the campaign is headed by Paul Burke, one of the most senior and important members of the People’s National Party organization.

       Among other names and faces in the forefront of the ganja growers is another leading politician, Delano Sievwright of the Jamaica Labour Party. Utter respectability of the organization is assured by its host, Prof. Archibald McDonald,  the head of the University of the West Indies.

WHGFA2       Where, you may ask,, is RASTA in all this? So far, the lone Rasta whose name pops up is attorney Miguel Lorne (who seems to pop up in everything these days). He not only is a member of one of the aforementioned organizations, but recently set up a Western Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association (WHGFA) in Negril in association with Ras Iyah V – one of the leading Nyabinghi Rastafari – attended by a large number of Rastas. Presumably, or hopefully, several meetings were held prior to this announcement to organize Rastafari ganja growers into a strong association to campaign for RASTA Ganja Rights.

rasta3       For after all, was it not RASTA who has suffered for decades for promoting what these nice gray-haired gentlemen are now intending to legalize and commercialize? Surely there is a detailed document, a Position Paper, an Economic Blueprint, a Future Development Plan by and from RASTA that will be accepted as the foundation of the industry RASTA created, established and suffered imprisonment, brutality and worse for. I am really hoping this is so, but I’ve heard of none so far. Perhaps such documents will be introduced today.

       The proposal to establish the GFGPA describes a ‘National Council’ of 60 members very similar to the organization of a political party. The island will be divided into 4 ‘Chapters’, each of which will elect a President, VP, and Management committee of between 15-20 persons and send 4 members to the National Council. Composing this National Council, the founding organizations will have 12 seats  and their membership will never be renewed and reviewed as will membership by other organizations.

marleyONLY 7 RASTA MEMBERS       The Jamaica Agricultural Society will have 5 members. (Is this assuming that members of the JAS are ganja farmers?) Though listed separately, the small business community will have a total of 12 Council members (Micro, small medium enterprise – 5, agro producers – 3, and Small business – 2 members). Dividing it up still further, “Women Owners” will have 2 members. Out of 60 members on the National Council for legalization, growing, producing and earning from the Rasta Sacrament Ganja, RASTA will have only SEVEN members.

       I am hoping the discussion today and tomorrow will see the inequality in the proposal and adjust these numbers to make Rasta have a larger representation out of the 60 members.  I am also concerned that the Coalition requires all members to sign a document promising not to plant or grow ganja until the Government legalizes or decriminalizes it. Surely it is RASTA that will be restricted by this promise, as few of the other organizations have been growing ganja as RASTA has.  On top of that, the Coalition has invited the Police Force to patrol the meeting to ensure that no one smokes ganja in or near the building.   As I said, I am not at the meeting, but I know its outcome will be well-documented because it will undoubtedly form the basis of the next Jamaican election campaign. Watching and listening, with interest.

howell posterPINNACLE        Like a swan gliding smoothly across the surface while paddling furiously underwater, the Occupy Pinnacle Movement continues to display a calm exterior while battling to keep hold of the reins of the situation they birthed. In a strong letter to the Group’s FB page titled “Crabs Inna Barrel”, son Monty Howell laments the bitter disputes that have ravaged the group’s Facebook page, as well as the lack of political experience of the organizers now trapped in the strategic chess game being played by government. Having appointed three of the PNP’s most loyal and faithful members to handle the matter, the government has placed the matter in a procedural limbo, allegedly awaiting discovery of a clear paper trail from Leonard Howell‘s land purchase to Richard Lake’s title before taking any further action.

pinnacle 2       Meanwhile, the nexus of the RASTA activists claim for all 500 acres of Pinnacle rests on all involved agreeing about whether the fight is for ownership of the land by descendants of Leonard Howell, or ownership of the land as a heritage for the RASTA Nation at large. If the former is the case, then Howell’s descendants  insist they be allowed to continue fighting the battle without help from concerned (or misguided) Rasta activists of all stripes. If the latter, then the claim must be made for RASTA as an ‘indigenous’ national movement with a history deserving of being memorialized and replicated according to internationally accepted positions on Indigenous Cultural Heritage.The conflict between both sides must be welcome news for the developers, still assured that nothing will move their chief asset (and the obstacle to possible satisfactory resolution), the Minister of Youth & Culture.

       I am not part of the OCCUPY PINNACLE organization, have attended no meetings nor marched in the streets. As a journalist, I always give support as best I can for all good RASTA works, and OCCUPY PINNACLE has noble objectives that deserve my media support. However, experience has taught me that RASTA business is best approached from a distant perspective by ones such as I, until called for specific purpose. Thus, I wait with interest the outcome of this struggle now taking place, while always eager to update my readers on any news and information I receive and can share.

fairfield house july 23 2013

RGC – Fairfield House, May 23, 2013

RASTA IN ENGLAND       Sending BigUps and BLESSINGS to Ras Tony Tafari Thomas and Ras Robbie Shilliam, founders of the Rastafari Global Council (RGC) & Rastafari Council of Great Britain (RCGB) who were chief activists in preventing the sale of the Emperor’s House at Bath and converting it into a Rastafari HQ.

       The RCG has been offeirng a 12-week Rastafari Community Leadership Training Programme as one of several initiatives to organize and educate Rastafari in Britain to fully participate in and benefit from living in Britain and participating in political decision-making. Their FB page is a fountain of information and discussion on Rasta and African affairs, and is well worth a visit. Unfortunately, the group is not accepting more members on its page, as the Administrators keep a tight rein on posts to avoid sabotage and fifth columnists,while filling the page with positive proposals and knowledge.

       I sincerely hope the RGC truly becomes a Global Council for Rastafari. We need such strong examples and leadership, as Rastafari continues to grow as a strong international fellowship of humanity.

SABBATH BLESSINGS & LOVE

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