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Rastafarians face eviction from Pinnacle

Published:Wednesday | January 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

JAMAICAN-BORN Leonard Howell joined Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association after he migrated to the United States at a young age. He had some differences with fellow Garveyites, but like Garvey in 1928, Howell was deported to Jamaica in 1932.

In 1933, Howell began preaching about the rise and importance of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie I, ne Ras Tafari Makkonnen, widely regarded the 'Black Messiah'. His messages brought him some amount of popularity, and he was to become the first leader of the Ras Tafari movement, the 'first Rasta' some writers put it.

The authorities, however, did not like Howell's messages, which were regarded seditious. He was charged and imprisoned, but upon his return from prison in 1940, he set up the first Rastafari village on 400 acres of land at Sligoville, St Catherine. The village came to be known as The Pinnacle.

In 1941, government forces swooped down on The Pinnacle and arrested many of his followers, but not Howell, who later turned himself in. He was once again imprisoned for sedition, for two years. In 1943, after he was released, he returned to Pinnacle, where the residents thrived for almost 10 years. However, in 1954, the authorities completely destroyed the settlement.

Despite the removal of Howell, Yasus Afari says, in his book, Overstanding Rastafari - Jamaica's Gift to the World, "the lobbying and advocacy for the restoration of Pinnacle, as a self-sufficient communal space", has been going on within the Rastafarian community continuing to keep physical and cultural connections there, including community celebrations and Nyahbinghi ceremonies.

post-howell era

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. However, no headway was made, and Jah Lloyd subsequently died.

On November 9, 2002, St Jago Hills Development Company Limited (SJHDC) was registered as the proprietor of the land. On October 12, 2006, in the St Catherine Resident Magistrate's Court, in Spanish Town, SJHDC took legal action for recovery of possession of Lot 198 at Pinnacle from the Rastafari Nation Pinnacle Foundation, the First Order of the Nyahbinghi Theocracy, the Leonard P. Howell Foundation, Ras Howie Wright and Catherine Howell, one of Leonard Howell's children.

On November 13, 2013, Resident Magistrate Vashti Chatoor ruled that Lot 198 at Pinnacle legally belongs to St Jago Hills Development Company Limited. That was the end of a five-year court battle in which the interests of the Leonard Howell family and the Rastafari community were represented by attorney-at-law Barry Frankson.

One of the challenges of the case was that neither Leonard Howell's name nor the name of his organisation, the Ethiopian Salvation Society, appears in the chain of titles. The argument thus advanced by the community was one of "adverse possession based on over 50 years of quiet, undisturbed and undisputed possession of Pinnacle by the Howell family and the Rastafari community".

cultural rights

The community maintained that although they have no land title for The Pinnacle, they have historical and cultural connections to the site. But, according to the court's ruling, St Jago Hills Development Company Limited has a legal title to the property.

Consequently, the court has ordered the Rastafari community to vacate Lot 198 at Pinnacle where the Rastafari Tabernacle is located by Thursday, when the Rastafarian community will be staging a mass rally in Emancipation Park, Half-Way Tree.