In 1981 Leonard Percival (The Gong) Howell passed from this life and entered the ancestral realm. This was incidently the same year that Robert “Bob (Tuff Gong)” Marley entered the ancestral realm. There was however a great difference between the passing of these two Rasses. Whilst Bob Marley received worldwide acclaim, Leonard Howell’s passing did not register anywhere, except amongst his family and friends.
You may ask why is this of any importance?
Well, as has become clear and becomes clearer each day, Leonard Howell is undoubtedly the catalyst which brought the Rastafari movement into existence.
Monty Howell, Chairman, Leonard P. Howell Foundation writes, “I have this hunch that in The First Rasta, Lee, 2003, may have been on the hunt for the source of Bob Marley’s music when she encountered Leonard P. Howell.” (Howell, 2012)
This I found interesting, as when I read The First Rasta, I was concerned that this was not a book about Rastafari, as much as it was a book about what Ms Lee believed Rastafari should be. However as Howell goes on to say, “This book is very strong in providing personal details on Howell, his life at home and some influence(s)(sic) abroad that may have influenced Howell development of his Ethiopianist perspectives, … his mission to St. Thomas and exodus to (sic) Pinnacle.” (Howell, 2012)
So whatever Ms Lee’s reasons for writing the book and the documentary it inspired, we do have some decent material on Leonard Howell in the public domain. This is not to say that Rastafari thinkers have not written or spoken about The Gong. Ras Miguel Lorne who appears in the documentary “The First Rasta” has been instrumental in publishing the works of Leonard Howell. One such publication is The Promised Key. In this small book we get a sense of this great mans thinking. Before we quote the book, it is necessary to contextualise it.
Howell is deported from the USA in 1932. Once in Jamaica he is arrested and charged with sedition for utterances he is said to have made in a speech December 1933. his words were his accusers claimed, “…intending to excite hatred and contempt for His Majesty the King (George) and those responsible for the Government of this Island.” (Introduction to The Promised Key page vii)
History tells us that the conditions for Afrikans in the West Indies were akin to slavery. On most islands these people, who were the majority had no voting rights and no rights in terms of labour law. Many having worked abroad and having served in the armed forces during the Great War (WWI), were not content to continue being abused by the “ruling classes”, made up of the whites and nearly whites. So there ensued strikes and civil unrest as more and more Afrikan’s began to agitated for union representation and voting rights. The rulers accused them of being communists.
Howell had, before settling in the USA, been a seafaring man travelling all over the globe meeting various people both on board ship and at ports where the ship docked. Therefore the conclusions he came to regarding the Emperor did not happen overnight. It is clear that he knew of Ras Tafari long before the coronation.
Howell says in his book with regard to the “Ethiopian Continent”, “Today she and her children have no power in her own land, nor abroad. All that Ethiopians have to do now, is build anew. Get out a new dictionary and a new bible, and a new Board of Education and Money Mint. The outfit shall be called Black Supremacy; signed by his and her Majesty Ras Tafari and Queen Omega The King of Kings, head of this world.” (Howell, page 25 para 5)
The Promised Key – Leonard P Howell
Monty Howell also writes
“The earlier studies on Rastafari neglected or provided limited information on the founding thinker of the idea that Rastafari is Messiah returned to earth. Howell has been characterised as a violent person, a ganja farmer and the “first preacher” of Rastafari.” (Howell, 2012)
“… Howell is one of the finest organic scholars in the history of Jamaica and the most influential advocate of black consciousness among the lower classes: the cane cutters, the cane loaders, the unemployed, and the marginalized. Today, what began as a rural-based politic-religious movement, has proliferated ‘fragments’ of a new philosophy all over the world.
In concluding, it is important for the clear illustration of the contribution of Howell and early Rastafari in the Jamaican and global society. Some studies have illustrated the influence of Rastafari in the politics of the 1960’s and 1970’s in Jamaica and also its political influence in the Eastern Caribbean in the 1970’s as well as its expansion into the United States of America, then to England and finally to its homeland Africa. It is also important to note the progressive influence of the Rastafari inspired music from Peter Tosh and Bob Marley among African Liberation movements and fighters in Southern Africa during the 1970’s.” (Howell, 2012)
In order for us to fully evaluate the birth and growth of the movement in this dispensation, we must begin to be more truthful with ourselves about the founders, about the global spread and about the future. We must concern ourselves with who is a Rasta, who is a sympathiser and who is a waggonist. As we move ever further into the “21st” Century, the necessity to examine our journey critically and with deep honesty becomes increasingly clearer. Without this analysis we are in danger of losing hold of a great gift and allowing it to become the plaything of others, something it was never intended to be.
I pray that we will not continue to be found wanting in this race for human recognition and true emancipation.
Excerpts taken from:
HOWELL RASTAFARI AND JAMAICA (28th August 2012)
Leonard P. Howell Foundation
accessed by Ras Story –
You are invited to view The First Rasta here.