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According to his biographer Hélène Lee, Howell was born in an Anglican family.
Born in May Crawle River, Jamaica, Howell left the country as a youth, traveling amongst other places to New York, and returned in 1932.
His preaching asserted that Haile Selassie was the "Messiah returned to earth," and he published a book called The Promise Key.
Over the following years, Howell came into conflict with all the establishment authorities in Jamaica: the planters, the trade unions, established churches, police and colonial authorities, and he was allegedly arrested more than 50 times. He formed a town or commune called Pinnacle in Saint Catherine Parish that became famous as a place for Rastafarians.
Nevertheless, this movement prospered, and today the Rastafari faith exists worldwide.
Unlike many Rastas Howell never wore dreadlocks.
Leonard Howell died in Kingston, Jamaica.
LOUIS EA MOYST
IF one accepts the philosophical properties of Rastafari, then one must accept its philosopher and the origin of philosophy. There are many who speak of Rastafari and its philosophy without ever bothering to recognise the dread philosopher, Leonard P Howell. Many adherents to the Rastafari movement are so lost in the Bible that they are not aware of this philosopher and the origins of the philosophy. However, the Rastafari Centralisation Organisation and a few others have been, since lately, expressing new-found appreciation and honour to this great personality. I say great because Howell's contribution to Jamaica and world history is of no minor importance.
A few years ago, I was distributing fliers at a football match regarding an Emancipation Day celebrating the life and times of LP Howell. As I gave one youth, who claims Rastafari, he looked up and said, "A wha dis? Di man no have di fullness?" I patiently replied, "You are looking at the fullness." It seems to me that there is a problem in this country, across the board, in having Jamaicans celebrating Jamaica and things Jamaican. It appears that "the absentee" mentality has not left us even after Emancipation and Independence. I wonder, if Time magazine and the BBC did not accord Bob Marley with those accolades at the turn of this new era, I am not sure if those billboards and radio recognitions in this country would have been in place. It is full time we begin to learn more about ourselves and celebrate our history and culture.
Howell's moment of enlightenment came in the early 1930s. Evidence of this is present in the 1934 treatise he presented to the court in Morant Bay 1934. According to Howell, the emergence of the doctrine provides Rastafari with a basis to distinguish between falsehood and the truth. Recognising the wretchedness of the immediate history and the condition of the 1930s, he preached a doctrine that went beyond the quest for miraculous solution. In recognising this wretchedness of the ex-slaves' existence, he instructed that solution to the black man's problem has to come from the black man himself. It was on this basis that he extended his moment of enlightenment to others in his rural meeting in St Thomas, from east to west. The peasants, primarily, expressed the desire for this transformation. It was with this dread philosophy that Howell presented to them as an instrument to debrief the ex-slaves from their wretched existence. This "dreadful" freedom was embraced by Rastafarians to
confront his meaningless existence. The dread philosophy exposed the loss created by recent slave history and highlights the "nothingness" with regards to being a member of colonial Jamaica and the British Commonwealth.
By 1934 the "dread" thinking became a way of life, at least in St Thomas. It generated a mood to return to the past or to the source to redefine the present. The dread philosophy encouraged black man's awareness of self and his recognition of his authenticity as an equal participant in this global community. When the "dread" transformation of the peasants began to mushroom, Howell was arrested on a charge of sedition. He was tried and thrown into prison for doing the right thing.
While in prison the movement grew leaps and bounds. On his return, he led the establishment of the Ethiopian Salvation Society. The latter was the economic and benevolent framework within which the movement would develop programmes of self-reliance leading to self-responsibility. It was not about esteem and miracles; it was about consciousness of self and the operationalisation of this consciousness into productive endeavours.
SEDITION was a charge developed by white supremacy to protect its legitimacy. It was during my recent research and study of South Africa that I grasped the full power and meaning of this legal instrument. This law was often backed up by state terrorism in the real sense against Rastafarians. Yes, the evidence of state sponsored terrorism against Rastafari in this country is glaring.
It began in 1934, continued throughout the forties and came to a high point in 1954 with the raid that destroyed Pinnacle and during and after the Coral Gardens incident in the early 1960s. Some speak of the "Back-o-wall" experience and constant harassment of Rastas up to the 1970s when this approach receded. What emerged as a street movement in St Thomas in the early thirties has grown into a movement that is universal. Many in this country celebrate Rasta. Many locals and foreigners write about the subject and fail to recognise or fail to give proper recognition to this great contribution and significant person.
On June 16, we marked another anniversary of Howell's birth. On this occasion, tribute is paid to this son of Jamaica from Crooked River, Clarendon. He was arrested, abused, vilified and discarded but these obstacles did not stop the movement from its basic course. We have not begun to examine the relevance and power or worth of this idea, this movement and the man as they relate to the history of Jamaica and the world. There is the history of Ethiopia, and the myths and history surrounding the Bible and, yes, there is the history of Howell and Jamaica. They are most important pillars in understanding and developing an appreciation for Rastafari. There are so many prophets today, so many high priests and messengers all declaring power unto themselves as if they are the centre of this idea and movement. It would be unfortunate for some whites to give recognition to this man we followed with his pictures on the billboards and salutations over the radio. Now more than ever, we should be thinking and celebrating things Jamaican.
On Saturday, June 16, some members of the Rastafarian community, led by Jah Lion from St Catherine, celebrated Howell's anniversary at Pinnacle, Sligoville. When I stood on Pinnacle, I understood why Howell went there. Indeed, the "bird that flies highest sees the farthest".