Letters

The Bahamian Rastafarian community is paying lip service to the constitution  

Dear Editor,

I suspect that the matter pertaining to the Bahamian Rastafarian community in Nassau filing a constitutional challenge to sections 22, 23 and 24 of the Dangerous Drugs Act is sub judice. My main issue is not with that particular matter, per se.

As stated in this space on several occasions, my issue with recreational and sacramental use of marijuana is that it is a violation of the biblical injunction against becoming inebriated, owing to the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — a highly intoxicant compound found in the cannabis plant. But that is a discussion for another day.

Suffice to say, Rastafari adherents look not only to the Ethiopian Bible for religious and practical guidance, but also to the 14th Century Ethiopian text called the Kebra Nagast; the Holy Piby, the Royal Parchment of Black Supremacy and the Wisdom of Haile Selassie I.

Rastafari adherents also routinely read The Promised Key, a highly inflammatory tract written by Gong Guru Maragh in 1935. Gong Guru Maragh was the pseudonym used by Leonard P. Howell, a Jamaican Garveyite who established Rastafari in 1932 or thereabouts in Jamaica, after his alleged deportation from the United States.

Being raised in the Anglican faith, Howell would follow the example of Nation of Islam icon Malcolm X in repudiating the faith of his parents. Malcolm X’s father was a Baptist preacher.

Rastafari came into existence two years after the coronation of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I on November 2, 1930 at Saint George’s Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ras Tafari’s coronation came six months after the untimely demise of Empress Zewditu — daughter of Emperor Menelik II, who claimed to have been a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Menelik II’s defeat of the Italians in the First Italo-Ethiopian War in 1896 raised his profile in the international community, at a time when Europe was deeply engaged in the so-called Scramble for Africa. Howell was not only a Pan-Africanist, but also was anti-colonial, anti-western civilization and racist as well. Perhaps the allegation of Howell being a racist is unfounded. However, his racially inflammatory comments within the pages of The Promised Key certainly raise the question of his views of White people.

Discrimination has no leg to stand on in the Bahamian constitution. Yet in the chapter titled government in The Promised Key, interracial marriage or miscegenation is prohibited: “Man and women can marry right in school if you are of a respectable proportion of dignity. Black must not marry White nor White Black, race enmity.”

Moreover, throughout The Promised Key the term “Black Supremacy” is often used, reflecting the racial undercurrent within its pages: “ Black Supremacy has taken charge of White Supremacy by King Alpha and Queen Omega the King of Kings. Instead of saying civilization hereafter we all shall say Black Supremacy.” That quote is taken from the same chapter as the first one.

Moreover, Howell also takes to task college educated Jamaicans, calling them “college hogs and dogs” and “professional swine”.

In a chapter titled How to Fast, Howell spoke about overcoming “White bondage and filth”. In a chapter titled The Rapers, Howell mentions how miscegenation between White slaveholders and Black slave women brought about the “third class people,” presumably mulattoes.

If the Aryan Brotherhood or the Proud Boys use the term White Supremacy, it would undoubtedly conjure up thoughts of virulent racism and racial bigotry. Yet Howell uses the opposite term routinely throughout the pages of The Promised Key and is hailed as a hero among Rastafari adherents. I believe it was famed Jamaican Rasta poet Matabaruka who had lobbied the Jamaican government to confer national hero status to the deceased Rasta pioneer.

Howell apologists might point to the fact that the Rastafari pioneer was a typical man, who lived in the Jim Crow United States and in Colonial British Jamaica, where he encountered virulent racism. However, the tit-for-tat racism in The Promised Key was not responsible for the dismantling of Jim Crow in the United States. It was the civil rights movement, headed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition — a tradition Howell fought hard to dismantle in Jamaica.

Howell’s approach would’ve led to a racial war, in which Black people in Western countries would’ve been wiped out of existence.

In light of the foregoing quotes from The Promised Key, I am of the view that the Bahamian Rastafarian community is paying lip-service to the constitution, while attempting to use it as a means to an end to legalize sacramental and recreational marijuana.

Before Bahamian Rastas can talk about discrimination, they must first disavow and condemn the virulent racist comments uttered by their movement’s founder in the pages of their religious text.

Kevin Evans

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