Jamaica in the 1930’s was, thus, an environment which was not conducive to radical religious teachings and anti-establishment philosophies, such as that already being espoused by Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Incidentally, Howell met Garvey while in Harlem and had become a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) while in the United States.
His Majesty Ras Tafari is the head over all man for He is the Supreme God. His body is the fullness of Him that filleth all in one. Now my dear people let This be our goal. Forward to the King of Kings must Be the cry of our social hope
So, despite being in a space hostile to revolutionary ideologies, Howell in Jamaica in the 1930’s was determined to establish an organisation and a community of believers in a philosophy which espoused the Divinity (Ivinity) of Ras Tafari, Haile Selassie I and which sought to provide a black counter socio-religious philosophy to that of the established Church and the structure of colonial Jamaica.
His campaign to sensitize the masses to the divinity of Haile Selassie I as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, started in Kingston but was initially met with little success. He moved to St. Thomas in April 1933, a parish with a strong anti-colonial heritage, to spread his doctrine. On April 18, 1933 he delivered a speech at Trinityville described as being filled with “words of a seditious nature” before a meeting of some two hundred persons. It was at this time that Howell started to gain the attention of the Police who began to attend his meetings. Indeed, a corporal in attendance at the Trinityville speech made the following record:
I heard Leonard Howell, the speaker, said to the hearers: “The Lion of Judah has broken the chain, and we of the black race are now free. George the Fifth is no more King. George the Fifth has sent his third son down to Africa in 1928 to bow down to our new king Ras Tafair. Ras Tafair is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Black people must not look to George the Fifth as their King anymore – Ras Tafair is their king…”
This correlates to Howell’s later writing of the significance of this interaction between the Duke of Gloucester and the Emperor in The Promised Key. In a chapter entitled “The Mystery Country” Howell wrote:
The Duke fell down bending on knees before His Majesty Ras Tafari the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and spoke in a loud tone of voice and said, “Master, Master my father has sent me to represent him sir. He is unable to come and he said that he will serve you to the end Master
Howell further explained that the gift that was brought by the Duke of Gloucester to Haile Selassie was a “Sceptre of gold twenty seven inches long of which had been taken from the hands of Ethiopia some thousand years ago”. The presentation by Gloucester, Howell suggested, was the fulfilment of biblical prophecy in particular Psalms 72: 9-11 which reads:
“..they that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him, and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshih and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Sheba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him.” Howell also made reference to Genesis 49:10 which reads “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
Howell’s philosophy soon put him in trouble with the law. On January 1, 1934, Howell and Robert Hinds, one of his loyal followers, were arrested and charged with two counts of sedition each, arising out of speeches made on December 10, and 21 at Seaforth District and Chapel Hill in Port Morant. Both men were tried and found guilty and Howell received a sentence of two years.
After his incarceration, in a bid to establish a community of believers and a space where he could put to practice the way of life espoused in his teachings, Howell sought land which he could occupy and be far removed from the tentacles of the Police force, which had destroyed previous Rastafarian settlements. Oral accounts indicate that Howell bought a 500 acre property in Sligoville, St. Catherine from a Mr. Albert Chang in 1940. The property was later named Pinnacle. It is reported that he was able to buy this property from profits made from a bakery he operated in Kingston.
Chevannes cites an informant who reported that the bakery was run in an unusual manner but one which complemented Howells ‘criticism of colonialism’ as “when a poor man go there and buy a piece of bread you get a little sugar free and a little cornmeal” Chevannes’ informant also revealed that at Pinnacle marijuana was grown on such as scale as to render Howell the first ganja farmer: “Anywhere through the island a man want ganja fi buy is right here him come….He carry the best herbs.”
Ganja was thus grown as Howell’s main cash crop and it served to satisfy growing demand for the weed in Kingston.
It is important to note that ganja was not only produced for sale, but was used by the Rastafarians as a sacrament and is still an important component of their religious rituals.
But ganja was not the only cash crop that the self-sufficient commune grew. Pinnacle was the source of food in times of shortage and drought and it was reported that Pinnacle supplied the Government prison with food on occasions. Items such as gungo peas, cow peas, read peas, sweet potato, yam and coco were cultivated along with livestock including fowls, cows, goats and beast of burden. Interestingly, Chevannes noted, however, that pigs, ducks and pigeons were taboo in the settlement. Food was also stockpiled for emergencies and in case of natural disaster.
Chevannes provided a glimpse of life at Pinnacle. The children at Pinnacle attended an infant school within the community before venturing out to school in nearby communities and there was a practice of communal labour. He further described the space as follows:
On the edge of a small pond used for watering and livestock, the community lived in tenement flats, every three or four of which were separated by lanes with given names (e.g., Corn Lane)….On Sundays it was customary for Howellites who owned goats to slaughter and sell them to members who did not. And after the Sunday dinner they would gather in the parade, dancing and singing to the rhythms of the baandu and funde, the two kumina drums.
Leonard Howell died in February 1981. He is buried at Dovecot Memorial Park in the parish of St. Catherine. Bob Marley also died the same year and both men had the same nickname "The Gong".