Hailed by many worldwide as the founding father of Rastafari, and vilified by history as a mad man, Leonard Percival Holwell’s contribution to the development of Jamaican culture cannot be denied.
Born in Clarendon, Jamaica on June 16th 1898, Howell was blessed with parents who instilled a fiery sense of independence in their son. Successful farmers they were, Thomas and Clementina graced their son with opportunities that would enhance his intellectual and social capabilities.
By his early twenties, the spurt of the Pan-African movement enticed the youth to find his way by ship to New York City, and to search through its boroughs to discover the epicenter of the black civil rights movement, Harlem.
But it was his humble rural upbringing that became the catalyst which created history.
Howell arrived in New York to find an intensity of Bigotry, Racism, and social oppression much more than he had imagined. It was after one such personal encounter that he dedicated his life to fight against racial hatred and social oppression.
Within months after his decision, Howell plunged himself into preaching his visionary message across America. The power of his word drew invitations from dignitaries across the world including Europe, UK and the Motherland Africa.
By the late 1920’s his message had reached the ears of eminent scholars such as W.E.B. Dubios, Heads of States such as Beniot Sylvain Of Ethiopia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Bishop Johnson Of Nigeria, and Jomo Kenyatta amongst others.
In 1932 Howell returned to Jamaica with an urge to share his wealth of knowledge with his kinsman.
He was pleased to find on his arrival, that the message of his majesty’s crowning as Ras Tafari had already been embedded by Marcus Garvey and his Pan-African movement - The UNIA.
He set about spreading his message throughout the shanty towns and tenement yards which were scattered on the outskirts of Kingston. By word of mouth his message reached thousands more in other despondent communities throughout Jamaica, fevering a movement that was still yet to take its full form.
Howell’s fundamental philosophy was not much different from the Pan African scope of the Marcus Garvey led UNIA. But his intense focus on social and economic empowerment through self sufficiency soon became a problem, not only for the Jamaican government, but also for UNIA founder Marcus Garvey.
Garvey advised Howell at one point to take a much more passive approach in disseminating his message and systematic re-education of the mentally enslaved lower social strata. His decision to stand his ground soon led to rift between the two that sadly was never mended.
His concept of the black God and ultimate supremacy of Africa slowly began to become an item of growing concern amongst the socialites and heads of state in Jamaica. But it was not until his land purchase of over 500 acres in Sligoville, St. Catherine, was Leonard Howell blacklisted by the Jamaican society, becoming the country’s most hated and vilified character in history.
This purchase of land which he named the Pinnacle ignited within Jamaica a mini-exodus. Thousands of despondent members of Jamaica’s lower class moved to Howell’s new nation.
It was the birth place and the epicenter of the Rastafarian movement.
For many it was a promised land. An African village in Jamaica empowered and preserved by self sufficiency, re-education, and healthy living by consuming organic plants and vegetables. The experimentation of naturalism led to the development of a myriad of herbal root concoctions such as tonics, and medicines that are still produced today.
Unique creative art forms emerged during this period of Black Renaissance. The grassroots poetry movement known as Dub Poetry, Intuitive Art Masters, and world renowned musicians were spawned and inspired by The Pinnacle.
This was the place where the Rastafarian mantra of “oneness” was conceived; whilst Howell designed the divine structure and principles of what is now known today as the “Nyabinghi Order”.
The Jamaican Secret Service working under the auspices of the British MI5, began compiling a dossier on Leonard Howell after his landmark case against the Jamaica Government on behalf of the newly formed Rastafarian movement to establish an independent nation within the island.
He was tried and charged on a one count of sedition and sentenced to twenty four months in prison.
During this time The Pinnacle sustained and mushroomed and on his release in 1936, Howell was secretly considered the biggest enemy of the State.
By the late 1930’s Howell was labeled by the middle class and upper crust as one of Jamaica’s most dangerous social influences, and the evident fact of the growing impact on the lower class did not help his reputation.
His intense hard lined allegiance to Haile Selassie led to Local government officials and the monarch having concerns in regards to his “implicit allegiance to a foreign King”, as recorded in a report by a member of the Jamaica Secret Service.
His condemnation of the Christian Church led to thoughts of insurrection and images of revolt.
It came to a boiling point in 1954 with one of the first joint police/military operations in Jamaica. Under orders from Prime Minister Bustamante on special advisement from the Monarch, a battalion of soldiers, police and select members of the Jamaica Secret Service executed a pre-emptive raid on The Pinnacle and destroyed the village, farmers, homes, and schools that had been constructed, leaving thousands homeless.
Many Refugees of The Pinnacle found shelter in Coral Gardens, another Rasta Village that had sprung up in the early 40’s and that too found itself a victim of social persecution and destruction which led to a number of deaths in 1960.
Shortly after the raid on Coral Gardens, The Pinnacle was re-established but again fell prey to an onslaught of raids and unjustified curfews, that led to hundreds of male Rastafarians being locked up and lost in the Grit of the colonial prison system.
The few who escaped found refuge in the back-o-wall shanty towns and tenement yards of the garrison ghettos of Kingston City. Other missionaries of the movement, such a Mortimer Planno and Ras Sam Brown continued spreading the word of Rastafari amongst Jamaica’s downtrodden.
These disciples carried with them the seeds of creativity and spiritual passion that has kept the movement alive until today. It was with these seeds and essence of creativity from which the musical art form known as reggae was spawned.
In the mid 70’s a group of Rastafarians returned to occupy a small portion of land belonging to The Pinnacle, and helped support and provide for the aged Howell who died in an infirmary in 1981, labeled a mad man.
In his lifetime Howell had been arrested, incarcerated and was sent to Jamaica's Mental Institution over (50) fifty times.
The Jamaican government has confiscated millions of dollars from Howell and frozen The Pinnacle’s bank accounts for nearly half a century under the clause that it was money derived from ganja production.
At today’s economic standards, these funds have escalated to tens of millions of dollars that could be used to re-establish The Pinnacle and further aid the mission of Rastafari, whose Mantra “One God, One Aim, One Destiny” became the war cry for a movement that has gathered millions of members from around the world, of all races, establishing itself as one of Jamaica’s strongest and most recognized cultural identities.
Look around you.
The myriad of people, who now sport “dreadlocks”, is atonement to the influence of Rastafari globally.
Listen with your ears.
You will hear in almost every Hiphop beat, a taste of Dancehall as the sub-cultures of the movement founded by Leonard Howell nearly a century ago continues to take root.
Love him or hate him, Leonard Howell is The Father and founder of one of the world fastest growing spiritual sub-cultures, the movement called Rastafari.
Its a fact few remember, and one we should never forget.
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