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Seaga advised spliff, no chillum, at Marley's funeral

Published:Monday | June 13, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Rita Marley, widow of reggae superstar Bob Marley, and her two sons, Ziggy (left) and Stephen, attend Marley's funeral in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 21, 1981.
Outside the National Arena at Bob Marley's official funeral service on May 21, 1981.
Bob Marley ready to take a draw.
Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange leans towards former Prime Minister Edward Seaga as they converse at the University of Technology, Jamaica, on Wednesday, June 1, at the 2016 Joan Duncan Memorial Lecture.

Bob Marley's funeral on May 21, 1981, was a massive affair. On the 30th anniversary, Richard Williams, writing in The Guardian, said Rita Marley placed a stalk of marijuana in the Tuff Gong's casket at the end of the funeral. Marijuana was also on sale outside the National Arena, where Marley' body was transported to for the state funeral which followed a service at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity on Maxfield Avenue, St Andrew.

Marley's use of marijuana was well known. The title track of the 1978 album Kaya, among his songs which mention smoking, including the lines "I feel so high I even touch the sky / Above the falling rain".

On Wednesday, June 1, a few days after the 35th anniversary of Marley's funeral, a story was told about ganja and the official ceremony. Speaking at the University of Technology, Jamaica, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, minister of culture, gender affairs, entertainment andsports, recalled how then Prime Minister Edward Seaga dealt with concerns about marijuana use at the National Arena ahead of the service.

Eventually, Seaga's advice was to ask that the brethren be advised to not to carry chillum pipes, but a spliff would be OK. However, the Rastafari went a step further and posted 'No Smoking' signs, which were respected.

Grange, speaking at the 2016 Joan Duncan Memorial Lecture, said Seaga "is the only prime minister to have given an entertainer an official funeral". Grange was heavily involved in the organisation of the funeral. The said that there were people who felt the National Arena was not an appropriate place for the event. However, Seaga insisted that "that is what Marley must get, a big official funeral".




However, a day before the services, Grange got a call from someone she did not name, who said that only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church service would be held. The feeling was that marijuana smoking at the National Arena could not be controlled.

Grange called Seaga, who also spoke at the lecture, and related what had been said. Seaga's response was to "tell them (the brethren) no bring no chillum pipe. Tell them to just bring a spliff".

The brethren were duly advised and they assured the funeral organisers there would be no smoking at the National Arena and they would put up 'No Smoking' signs. This was done and a potentially inflammatory situation was avoided.