On June 16, 1898, Leonard P. Howell also known as “The Gong” was born in Clarendon, Jamaica. Yes, Leonard P. Howell, not Bob Marley, is the real Gong of Rasta. A lot of so-called Rastas might have just learned something new.
At an early age, Howell migrated to the United States, where he joined Marcus Garvey‘s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
It did not take long for Howell, who was an intelligent scholar to become one of the top lieutenants in Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. With their mission to unite and empower Black people across the globe; Howell, Garvey and the UNIA were constantly under the radar of the US authorities. Confidential FBI documents showed that J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI was determined to bring down Marcus Garvey and the UNIA.
Marcus Garvey was eventually arrested and charged for various crimes, the most serious being mail fraud.
In 1928, Garvey was deported back to Jamaica and Howell was deported four years later in 1932.
On his return to Jamaica, Howell combined the teachings of Marcus Garvey with the Garvey prophecy that Black people should “look to the east for the crowning of a Black king.” He saw the crowning of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia as the fulfillment of the Garvey prophecy. Howell saw Selassie as the great Black Messiah and he established the King of Kings Mission out of respect for Selassie, and appointed himself Selassie’s representative in Jamaica.
In 1933, Howell started The Rastafari Movement. The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the title (Ras) and first name (Tafari Makonnen) of Haile Selassie I before his coronation. In Amharic, Ras means “head” and is an Ethiopian title equivalent to prince or chief, while the personal given name Tafari means one who is revered.
The Rastafari preaching of Howell was considered by mainstream Jamaica and the authorities to be anti-church and anti-Government. Howell’s teaching of Black unity, Black empowerment and Black resistance against oppression did not sit well with a colonial Jamaica, still under British rule at the time. Howell would later be arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced for inciting rebellion against the Government.
The arrest did nothing to weaken Howell’s fight for the liberation of his people from what he considered to be colonial oppression. Upon his release from prison in 1940, he set up the first Rastafarian village in Jamaica on 400 acres of land at Sligoville, St Catherine. The idea for the Rasta village came directly from the teachings of Marcus Garvey when he said that Blacks should live at least ten miles from the city.
The Rasta settlement was called The Pinnacle because of its high hilltop elevation.
The Rastas became self-sufficient living off the land and nature. Howell’s influence spread outside of The Pinnacle, and Rastafarian communities were set up across the country. The original Rasta communities were regularly raided and dislocated by the police as conservative Jamaica could not stand the idea of Black people worshipping a Black God, living away from Babylon and not being dependent on the Babylon system for anything.
In 1941, government forces swooped down on Pinnacle and arrested many Rastas. Howell fled, but he was eventually arrested, and on August 20, he was tried again for organizing rebellion against the Government. This time he was sentenced to two years in prison but again upon his release he went right back to Pinnacle.
For almost a decade after Howell’s return, Pinnacle and other Rasta communities flourished as the Rastas were left alone to carry on their lives.
Trading and farming were their major sources of income, of which they earned decent and comfortable living. The population also boomed as people saw Pinnacle as a place where they could go to prosper on their own. This did not sit well with the powers that be as too many people were being influenced by the Rasta movement.
The so-called upper-class or uptown people of Jamaica saw the Rasta movement as a threat that was freeing the people minds and bringing them closer to nature and away from the system. As a result, in 1954, government militia invaded Pinnacle and completely destroyed the village.
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Again, the Rastas would move back to Pinnacle and start the rebuilding process, more determined than ever not to give in to Babylon.
Failing to break the Rasta resolve, the authorities decided to turn up their violence against Rastas a few notches.
In 1963, the Government of Jamaica waged an all-out war against Rastas. After a conflict between some Rastas and people of the society in Coral Gardens, St James; the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) was called in. Many Rastas were killed, beaten, brutally trimmed, ridiculed, harassed and arrested.
Even this extreme brutality did not break the spirit of the Rastas and could not shut down the Rasta communities.
With the Rasta movement now growing outside of Jamaica and into other Caribbean islands, Western Governments grew afraid as it gave them memories of the Jamaican Maroon uprisings as well as the Haitian Revolution of 1804. Secluded uprisings like those in Haiti and Jamaica were bad for Babylon but a worldwide Rasta uprising would be a complete calamity for the Babylon system.
An international Rasta movement in its Percival Howell form could not be allowed to flourish by any means. But how do you stop a movement that could not be beaten into submission? You don’t. You become a part of the movement and change the movement completely but let those that would benefit from the movement believe it is still a movement in their interest. That was exactly the tactic Babylon use in their attempt at destroying the roots of Rasta.
Marcus Garvey and Leonard Howell were teachers and preachers. Babylon framed and labeled them as insane criminals. They convinced the new Rastas that the teaching of Marcus Garvey was not to be told, it was to be sold. Rasta and Reggae became married and the Rasta Movement has never been the same since.
Today most people claiming to be Rasta do not even know who Leonard Percival Howell is. If you ask a “Rasta” about Gong, they will tell you of Tuff Gong and Junior Gong, referring to Bob Marley and Damian Marley, respectively. The original Gong, Leonard Percival Howell, might as well have not existed in most modern day Rastas eyes. Although it does not rival the natural, spiritual, intellectual and human resources stolen from Africa, The Gong is definitely one of the stolen legacies of our time.
“One Love” is no longer a Marcus Garvey’s motto promoting Black love. It has become a chant for Blacks when begging for crumbs off the white man’s table. One love is now a pacifier use by whites to calm Blacks when an innocent Black boy is gunned down in the streets by a white assailant. One Love is now a kumbaya song, a love your enemy song, a false sense of human togetherness song.
Today, Rastas no longer dream of communities like Pinnacle away from Babylon, instead they want to slave for Babylon so they can have a mansion right in the middle of Babylon like 56 Hope road.
Today Rastas still sing of Ethiopia and Africa but as Damian Marley says, they only want to go back if there is a:
Ghana like California with Sunset Boulevard
Johannesburg would be Miami
Somalia like New York
With the most pretty light
The nuffest pretty car
Every New Year the African Times Square lock-off
Imagine Lagos like Las Vegas
The Ballers dem a Ball
Angola like Atlanta
A pure plane take off
Bush Gardens inna Mali
Chicago inna Chad
Magic Kingdom inna Egypt
Philadelphia like Sudan
The Congo like Colorado
Fort Knox inna Gabon
People living in Morocco like the state of Oregon
Algeria warmer than Arizona bring your sun lotion
Early morning class of Yoga on the beach in Senegal
Real Rastas know, however, that Garvey’s dream for Africa was bigger than the glitz and glamour of Babylon.
“They’re thinking in terms of dreadnaughts, battleships, airplanes and submarines. You know what we’re thinking about? That is our own private business.” – Marcus Garvey
Leonard Percival Howell died in 1981 at age 82. 1981 was also the year Bob Marley died. Coincidentally, it is Bob Marley who is celebrated every year, not the root, not the real Gong. This is not by coincidence, it is by design. Like there are many ways to skin a cat, there are many ways to kill a revolution. Today the Rasta revolution has become a commercial cesspool.
Still Real Rasta is not dead. In a place called Bull Bay which is approximately ten miles from Kingston, Jamaica; there is a Rasta community called Bob Hill which is very much like Pinnacle. One day this little Bobo Hill will become Bobo Mountains, Earth, Seas and Heavens.
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