REMEMBER THE COPTICS? As 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. What 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)
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. ‘
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.
60 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.”
SEAGA 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.
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.
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