At The Pinnacle of a crisis
Published: Sunday | September 27, 2009
Yasus Afari - File
Though the Rastafarian community has no land title for The Pinnacle, because of their historical and cultural connection to the site.
People who have never stopped to read the history of Rastafarianism in Jamaica would not know that near Sligoville, St Catherine, there is a community called The Pinnacle, "the site of the first Rastafarian village, a self-sufficient community of Rastafarians established in the 1930s by Leonard P. Howell, universally recognised as one of the, if not the primary, founders of the Rastafari Faith".
In his book, Overstanding Rastafari - Jamaica's Gift to the World, Yasus Afari says, at the beginning of the 1930s, "the streets of Jamaica (Kingston and St Catherine in particular) were energised by the inspired preaching and teachings of the Honourable Leonard Howell, one of the earliest Rastafarian pioneers".
For various reasons, Rastafarians were not readily embraced. Yet, the faith spread outside of The Pinnacle, and Rastafarian communities were set up across the country; but the tension also heightened.
The original Rasta camps were also regularly raided and dislocated by the police "as the governing class and conservative sectors of the Jamaican society became alarmed by the grossly misunderstood Rastafarians".
In the 1940s and 1950s, there was much antagonism by the then governments towards Howell, which resulted in him being thrown off the land.
This animosity involving the wider society and the Rastafarians culminated in bloodshed in 1963, in Coral Gardens, St James, when some Rastafarians and other civilians were involved in disturbances.
The Jamaica Defence Force was called in and, "consequently, many Rastafarians were killed, beaten, intimidated brutally, trimmed, ridiculed, harassed and arrested", Afari says.
"This unfortunate and brutal episode represented the most horrific experience of the Rastafarians in Jamaica," adds Afari.
Despite the removal of Howell, "the lobbying and advocacy for the restoration of Pinnacle, as a self-sufficient communal space", has been going on with the Rastafarian community continuing to keep physical and cultural connections there, including community celebrations and Nyahbinghi ceremonies.
After Howell died in 1981, there was a lull in the call for legal possession and/or ownership of the property by the Rastafarians.
Official lobbying by the Rastafarian community to the Government of Jamaica began in 1997, through the advocacy of Rastafarian community activists, especially Jah Lloyd, from the Nyahbinghi Order of Spanish Town, to then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson's Committee on National Symbols and National Observances.
No headway was made, and Jah Lloyd subsequently died. Since then, Ras Lion and Ras Howie Wright have been the leading activists on behalf of the Rastafarian community as it relates to the status of The Pinnacle.
On November 9, 2002, St Jago Hills Development Company Limited was registered as the proprietor of the land.
In 2006, it took legal action against Katherine Howell (Leonard's daughter) and Ras Howie Wright for recovery of possession of the premises in the St Catherine Resident Magistrate's Court. That matter is still not settled.
In 2007, The Ethio-Africa Diaspora Union Millennium Council was established by the major Rastafari Mansions and organisations in Jamaica, as an umbrella Rastafari organisation to "organise and centralise the aims, objectives and representation of the Rastafari community".
Ras Howie Wright, acting chairman, says, "The Millennium Council has been mandated by the organised Rastafari communities we represent, to represent and advance the rights and interests of the Rastafari community, in regard to Pinnacle."
He says, "Follow-up meetings were had with former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, wherein she had instructed the relevant authorities to give her a report. This was interrupted by the general elections in 2007."
The People's National Party, led by Simpson Miller, lost the elections, and the efforts were delayed once again.
In December 2007, the Millennium Council invited the Tourism Product Development Company Limited "to assess the property for its heritage tourism potential, with a view to the Rastafari community, in agreement with the registered landowner, restoring the site and using it also as a means of economic sustainability of the community".
The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), in 2008, inspected the site, and according to Ras Howie, "the JNHT conducted its own site visit and analysis of the site, without the input of the Millennium Council".
Then, in a letter dated April 20, 2009, to Ras Howie, the JHNT expressed its intention to declare The Pinnacle a national monument.
An enclosed notice states that objections should be made in writing or in person within 28 days of the publication of the letter of intent.
Since one of the objectives of the Millennium Council is to get legal ownership of 'The Pinnacle', it is in total disagreement with the proposed declaration and has written to the JNHT outlining the various reasons for its objection.
In a letter dated May 21, 2009, to the JNHT, Ras Howie Wright says, inter alia, "The Millennium Council therefore recognises that:
"The Rastafari Community has clear and indisputable heritage rights to this property and any such development should be fully owned and/or managed under the community's cultural protocols.
"It is the immense cultural and intellectual property value of the Rastafari culture and the attendant traffic and development that will necessarily emerge at Pinnacle that will require ownership of a significant acreage and access by the Rastafari community.
"If the Government truly intends to assist the community by this declaration, then as suggested in our Pinnacle Project Proposal, we suggest fifty (50) acres as a suitable size for the development of a Rastafari village/heritage site at Pinnacle.
"This would allow for there to be sufficient space to develop a Rastafari village/heritage site, for the economic sustainability of the community, as well as maintain the sacred sites at Pinnacle, for continued community cultural and spiritual observances, events and celebrations.
"The Government of Jamaica and the registered landowner ought to appreciate the import of an appropriate land settlement, in the interest and for the benefit of the Rastafari community, for historical and cultural reconciliation, as central to the imperatives of advancing Jamaica's societal and cultural goals."
A copy of the objection letter was sent to Public Defender Earl Witter, who has since written to the JHNT arguing that a public inquiry should be held to determine the correct status of Pinnacle.
In response to the Millennium Council's objection, a meeting was held on May 27 between the JNHT and Ras Howie Wright.
The JNHT has since written to the Millennium Council noting its many concerns.
In a letter dated June 17, 2009, to Ras Howie Wright, Lisa Grant, JNHT legal officer, says, among other things, "As discussed in the meeting of May 27, the issues of declaration and acquisition are distinct and are pursued independently of each other.
"The process of declaration rests with the JNHT while land acquisition rests with the National Land Agency. The declaration offers legal recognition and protection to the site thereby prohibiting any development which would prejudice the historical integrity of the site.
"As it stands, the site can be put to any use the present owner desires, and this shall be the case until the site is either declared or acquired.
"The declaration does not confer any proprietary rights over the site which is declared, therefore, it can neither compromise the right of the Rastafari community to use the land ... nor can it facilitate said uses as these would be proprietary rights related to ownership or legal occupation. It would only do so where such use adversely affects the integrity of the site."
Thus, the JNHT at this time is not seeking to acquire of the property, but is moving to protect the remnants of the original Rastafarian settlement from further destruction. So, as it relates to the Rastafarians' request for land to develop a heritage site, things are not looking bright. And with court action already pending against two of the stakeholders the efforts of the Millennium Council would seem to be an uphill struggle to The Pinnacle.
Yet, Marcus Goffe, a member of the Rastafarian community and legal adviser to the Millennium Council, said all was not lost because, based on international precedents, the community has a legitimate claim to The Pinnacle. He cited the case of two Maroon communities in Suriname which took a similar land-claim case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to get legal ownership of lands to which they are historically connected. The court subsequently ruled in their favour.
Goffe said, "It is recognised internationally that if you don't empower those communities to maintain their connection to their land, what you actually do is to contribute to the disintegration and extinction of their community."
Though the Rastafarian community has no land title for The Pinnacle, because of their historical and cultural connection to the site, they believe the government should let go, and let Jah.