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.

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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!!!

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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