As a filmmaker, activist, and self-described “rebel soul seeker,” Donisha Prendergast is one of the more multifaceted voices to emerge from Jamaica’s young creative class. She is also Bob Marley’s eldest granddaughter; her parents are Sharon Marley, Bob’s daughter and an original member of the Melody Makers, and Peter Prendergast. Living between Toronto and Kingston, Prendergast’s personal story first came to light in Stuart Samuels’ 2011 documentary, “RasTa: A Soul’s Journey,” which explored her calling to the Rastafarian faith as a young woman. She’s set to direct her first feature film next year, and alongside her production partner Mykal Cushnie, she founded The Homework Center (THC), a foundation aimed at creating safe spaces and classrooms for children and adults throughout Jamaica.
Her most immediate focus, at the moment, is Pinnacle, Jamaica’s first self-sustaining village for members of the Rastafari faith, a movement whose followers believe in the divinity of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, promote pride in African heritage, and advocate social justice and sustainable living. Pinnacle was founded by Leonard P. Howell in 1940 in Sligoville, St. Catherine, as a safe haven for Rastas who were perceived as social outcasts and threats. Under Howell’s leadership, the 500-acre Pinnacle was transformed into one of the largest economically independent communities in Jamaica, where farmers grew organic produce such as fruits, vegetables, and ganja, as well as produced herbal medicines and tonics. Many skilled craftsmen and women lived and worked there under a shared faith and value system.
Over the years, Pinnacle endured countless raids and police and government-backed harassment. It was eventually wiped out in 1958, with official reasons stating that Howell had allegedly neglected to register the property in his name. A community of some 3,000 Rastas were permanently displaced, Howell was imprisoned, and the dream of Pinnacle became a snapshot frozen in time.
Though the majority of the property has since fallen under the management of the St. Jago Hills Development Company, a housing development association based in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Prendergast is in talks with Jamaica’s Minister of Justice, Mark Golding, to secure land in other parishes as restitution. Construction of new residencies on the original Pinnacle property, though, has already begun to pose a severe threat to preservation. It’s not even just about land: in addition to securing the 500 acres that Prendergast feels is rightfully owed, Pinnacle represents a community-oriented ideal of self-sufficiency for the Rastafari community at large. Here, Prendergast speaks about the best hopes for revitalizing the original vision and mission behind Pinnacle.
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The African Heritage Foundation’s Audio Reggae News Letter ” Pumping” will feature the life and work of Bro Leonard Howell the originator of Pinnacle , in honor of the 50th anniversary of the visit of Emperor Haile Selassie to Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica and Haiti in its upcoming editions. This production will be done in two parts and will contain interviews with a daughter of Leonard Howell, a young Rastafari brother who presently occupies (lives) a space at pinnacle, an elder Howellite and much more. Make sure and get your copy of Pumping with hostess Melisa Levi …