Greetings in the name of His & Her Imperial Majesties Qedamawi Haile Sellassie I & Itege Menen Asfaw,
I welcome you all to yet another post here on Ras Tafari Renaissance! Today, we acknowledge the birth as a memorial to whom is known as the “First Rasta.” Leonard Percival Howell, known to the world or those who knew him personally one of the first proclaimers of Ras Tafari or Christ in His Kingly Character.
Born June 16, 1898, in May Crawle River village, Jamaica; the oldest of ten, to Clarence Theophilus & Clementina; a cultivator and a agricultural laborer, respectively. Howell’s story can seriously help many people from around understand the movement of Ras Tafari, more precisely. This instance being one that is very much overlooked more times than not. Howell reportedly left Jamaica early in his youth, traveling to many places gaining an understanding that few of his birthplace and few ever, gain in a lifetime. Like many in Jamaica at that time, the people found themselves because of historical disposition, in adherence to many Anglican principles. Howell and his family being in that number, but unawares of the desires and destiny to be set in motion.
Howell’s exposure became more grandeur when he began to work as a seaman as part of a Jamaican contingent sent to Panama, during World War I (WWI). Howell then found himself traveling from time-to-time between Jamaica, Panama, the United States (New York City, specifically) utilizing his knowledge and skillset to further his endeavors in agricultural cultivation and distribution. Howell also made subtle trips to Europe and among other places, as well.
These experiences then began to expose him other schools of thought while congregating with other people from other walks of life. Howell is suspected to have been exposed to the philosophies and opinions of Marcus Mosiah Garvey while traveling to and fro, in between the Americas. Communism, Marxism, Pan-Africanism, these are just some of the schools of thought that Howell was expected to have been exposed to while on his travels, according documenter Helene Lee and others. Howell also married a woman named Tyneth. Upon his return to Jamaica in whelms of the rising of a young king to the status Emperor of an empire in Africa, Howell had been inspired to take action on the influences he’d been experiencing for some time. When Howell returned to Jamaica in 1932, two years after Haile Selassie I was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, he began holding public meetings, fusing all that he’d learned abroad with local ideas. His worldliness and gifts as a speaker not only attracted Jamaica’s underclass, they gained him the attention of local authorities.
During his time in New York, he joined fellow Jamaican, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded in 1914. But, while Howell was clearly influenced by Garvey’s thinking, so much so that Garvey is often mistakenly identified as the founder of Ras Tafari; it is fairly unknown that Howell had a mixed relationship with Garvey, a Roman Catholic Christian, who later criticized Emperor Haile Sellassie I & the Ras Tafari movement in a negative light. A criticism which earned him a stern rebuttal by the Dr. Melaku E. Bayen, who lead the movement also in Harlem and other parts of the US, which would become the Ethiopian World Federation, Inc., founded in NYC in 1937.Howell’s first public articulation of the divinity of Haile Selassie occurred in January 1933. This first open deification, which proclaimed the Emperor of Ethiopia to be the incarnation of God, took place at “Redemption Ground” in Kingston but was not successful in gaining converts.
Among his followers, Howell preferred being called Gangunguru Maragh or G.G. Maragh to distinguish his ritual, mystical personality from his secular identity. Howell’s ritual name is thought to be a combination of three Hindi words – gyan (wisdom), gun (virtue or talent), and guru (teacher). In Hindi, Maragh means “great kings” or “king of kings.” Howell used this name as a pseudonym when he published The Promised Key.
Even amidst many struggles with the Jamaican government Howell started and establishment which was dubbed “Pinnacle.” But, for his teachings of black power and denunciation of colonial rule, for created the first Rastafarian village in Jamaica at Sligoville, St. Catherine in 1940. The settlement called “Pinnacle” due to its high hilltop elevation and was symbolically located in the first free village established to house former slaves in Jamaica. Pinnacle was one of the country’s first self-sustaining communities, which was intended outcome all the while. Its community members were able to meet their needs without dependence on outside resources. Some refer to Pinnacle as a commune, in which Howell’s form of socialism was practiced. After Pinnacle’s foundation, other similar Rastafarian communities were established across the country. Pinnacle was especially known for the cultivation of cannabis (marijuana) that has religious significance for Rastafarians.
In efforts to shut down Howell and his followers, police raided Howell’s community of Pinnacle multiple times and labeled the community a “communist experiment” in 1941. Just one year after the creation of the settlement, government forces infiltrated and arrested many of Howell’s followers. After escaping immediate arrest, Howell was eventually arrested and tried once again for sedition and consequently was faced with two more years behind bars. Upon his release in 1943, he returned to Pinnacle once again. Howell hired guards and brought in watch dogs to protect Pinnacle from future attacks.
The police raided Pinnacle several more times in the 1950s. In 1954, militia invaded the community and almost completely destroyed the village. Even after this mass destruction, settlers returned, though the settlement was never restored to its previous thriving state. During a final raid in 1958, the police cleared out the remaining residents completely. Despite its ultimate destruction, the impact of the settlement made it legendary among other settlements around the country, who were observed to have been “miniature Pinnacles.”
Howell still to this day doesn’t receive the just do of recognition he earned as one of the most prolific peoples of African descent in the Western Hemisphere & that must change.