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Rasta fighting to preserve Pinnacle's heritage

Published:Sunday | February 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A section of the ruins of Leonard P. Howell's great house at The Pinnacle in St Catherine. The first Rastafarian village, established by Leonard P. Howell, was completely destroyed by the local militia in 1953.-Photos by Paul H. Williams
Michael Matthews has been associated with The Pinnacle since he was a child. Last Friday, he was cooking 'sip' for the gathering at The Pinnacle, where the Rastafari community is maintaining a presence to protect Rastafari heritage, and Leonard P. Howell's legacy.

Paul H. Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer

After years of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica lobbying with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) for national monument status for The Pinnacle, located at Sligoville, St Catherine, only one lot was declared in September last year after the close of legal arguments in the St Catherine Resident Magistrate's Court.

Pinnacle is the first Rastafarian village in Jamaica and was set up by Leonard P. Howell in 1940. The declaration of only Lot 199 for national monument protection, however, is a drop in the bucket for the Rastafarian community as they want ownership and protection of six lots, the entire property, preferably.

On November 13, 2013, Resident Magistrate Vashti Chatoor ruled that Lot 199 at Pinnacle legally belongs to St Jago Hills Development Company Limited. It consists of the ruins of the cut-stone great house where Leonard Howell lived and the ruins of a water tank which was part of Howell's community at Pinnacle. It does not include the Nyahbinghi Tabernacle at Pinnacle.

Private properties may be declared national monuments.


Prior to the JNHT's declaration, the Rastafarian community said six lots, including the bakery, grave sites, and other sites of historical value at Pinnacle, were identified as suitable for national monument protection. The JNHT, the Rastafari community claimed, agreed to declare those six lots as national monuments. However, after the 2012 change of government, the JNHT board also changed, and the JNHT declared only one lot for national monument protection.

The JNHT falls under the culture portfolio.

The JNHT's declaration of Lot 199 as a national monument does not change the ownership of the land at Pinnacle or the rights of St Jago Hills Development Company over Pinnacle. It, however, prevents St Jago Hills Development Company from disturbing or destroying the protected national monuments.

"We, therefore, need to have those additional lots urgently declared by JNHT as national monuments to prevent the St Jago Hills Development Company from further construction and destruction of Rastafari heritage," a legal spokesman for the Rastafari community told The Sunday Gleaner.

A housing development has already been built up by the paper title owners at Pinnacle. The ongoing construction, the Rastafarians said, threatens the graves of many Howellites, including the wife of Leonard Howell, as well as the homes of many surviving Howellite families and ultimately original ancestral home of the Rastafari community.


A Rastafari tabernacle built many years ago at Pinnacle, the venue for annual celebrations in honour of Leonard P. Howell, is also in jeopardy of being lost forever. The Rastafari community is, therefore, seeking ownership and control over the undeveloped lands of Pinnacle, while reserving the right to pursue reclamation of the entire property through litigation if necessary.

The Rastafari community said in the 1990s, it had approached then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson with hopes of a government acquisition of the lands at Pinnacle for and on behalf of the Rastafari community. Yet, despite several discussions over several years with several successive governments, they are saying no land at Pinnacle has been acquired for and on behalf of the Rastafari community. Despite the JNHT's declaration, they say, the Government has not made any move to acquire the lands.

About a month ago, the community met with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and, last Tuesday, there was a march to the Office of the Prime Minister to deliver letters outlining the issues to the prime minister and other members of parliament. The community met with a committee set up by the prime minister.

After that meeting, Dahlia Harris, principal director of culture in the Ministry of Youth and Culture, said dialogue would continue "in an atmosphere of mutual respect for the rights, interests, and concerns of all the stakeholders".

Said Harris in a statement: "The dialogue on the issues related to Pinnacle is being coordinated by the committee established by the prime minister, which includes Ambassador Burchell Whiteman, Professor Rupert Lewis, and Judith Wedderburn."

She added: "The Ministry of Youth and Culture, which has portfolio responsibility for all cultural issues, as well as the agencies of the ministry, will continue to carry out the roles of facilitator of, and participants in, the discussions."

Harris said the developers were sensitive to the cultural issues related to the significance of Pinnacle to the Rastafari faith and were open to negotiations regarding further development/construction, and that there would be no construction on the five lots adjoining the great house.

"Further inclusive dialogue is to take place regarding the use of the site of the great house at Pinnacle, which has been designated by the JNHT as a national heritage site (and) further research, in consultation with the Millennium Council of Rastafari, the Leonard P. Howell Foundation and the Rastafari Youth Initiative will be undertaken to determine the existence of other sacred sites with a view to preventing any possible desecration," she said.

Harris added: "Further meetings are to be scheduled to continue the discussions with a view to arriving at the amicable resolution of the issues."