Pinnacle: the truth about the matter
IN recent weeks we have observed new developments relating to Pinnacle, especially the "reoccupy Pinnacle" campaign. We have seen private citizens being disrespected by those along this path. These events remind me of the rumours of ships coming and also of the coffin and crow moving about Kingston looking for 'Mr Brown'.
I make these points because everything about the campaign is fraudulent. There has been no Rastafari settlement in Pinnacle since 1954. Clearly, there is no right to Rastafarians claiming Pinnacle lands. The results of a recent court case about 'eviction from Pinnacle' may have confused many. Pinnacle was bought under the auspices of the Ethiopian Salvation Society (ESS) — formed on January 11, 1939 — in 1940. In 1945, the bailiff, accompanied by police officers "armed to the teeth", removed the residents from Pinnacle off the land due to incomplete payment for the property. In 1954, the police destroyed Pinnacle and scattered the seeds of the early Rastafari movement. How could the police have destroyed homes and broken up the commune if it was owned by the ESS? Leonard Howell lived from 1956 to the time of his passing at Tredegar Park. Did he ever take anyone to court in order to reclaim Pinnacle?
In 1940, the commissioner of police spoke about the "unsettled labour conditions" in eastern St Thomas and that Howell was a threat to order in the parish. The colonial government abused wartime powers and passed a law that prevented Howell and the ESS from holding public or private meetings in St Thomas.
According to the "Rules of the Ethiopian Salvation Society" it was designed to be a "friendly benevolent society" with the aim to assist its members in times of hardship, to transact legitimate business on behalf of the organisation, and most importantly "this society aims at the inculcation of the principles of self-help and good citizenship". It was against this background that Pinnacle was purchased to build an "industrial mission".
In November 1940 a newspaper interviewer went to Pinnacle. He observed the setting and interviewed Howell, whom he described as a "strong disciplinarian" and a "dapper", and that he was like an "absolute monarch" over 700 men and women "forming a socialist colony". The interviewer stated that "Pinnacle is the dream of an imaginative man who has the will to impose it on numerous people", and that one should not attack the totalitarian rule of Howell because "he must either rule or not". The writer described the ESS as a business organisation. He observed the agricultural production, the craft industry, and that "they owned' a bakery and dozens of handcarts in Kingston.
Pinnacle was a place and a concept for industry and self-reliance. By and large, the early Rastafarians were characterised by self-help and industry; a vast majority were self-employed in a range of areas. In spite of this creative direction there were forces that were working against Howell and Pinnacle. After the publication of that November interview, the newspaper published "Plight of Ras Tafarians at Camp Pinnacle" (December 22, 1940), describing major health problems at the commune. The article was informed by the parish council that living conditions at the camp were intolerable. It noted also that Howell was enforcing discipline in the form of floggings. Pinnacle was now under the microscope of the police, who described it as a "sanctuary for criminals". There was a call to "break up" Pinnacle by an inspector of police at Spanish Town (dated June 8, 1941). In responding to this call, the solicitor general informed the police and cautioned the use of force, but did not support the call for destroying Pinnacle in the same manner that "King's House" — Howell's first headquarters at Harbour Head Road in Port Morant — was destroyed.
The story of the Rastafarians becoming a menace to the community at Sligoville was cooked up to make way for the first major police raid on Pinnacle. According to the newspaper report "Police raid Pinnacle, Ras Tafari den, seize seventy, but miss chief" (July 14, 1941), shortly before 4:00am, a strong contingent of police "surprised' the residents of Pinnacle. It was reported that a party of 153 police and "their officers motored out of Kingston in high-powered cars... with a full supply of rifles". Another article, "Cult leader held by police" (July 26, 1941) tells the story of the midnight arrest of Howell by the police. It was his first arrest as leader of the commune. At his trial at Spanish Town, in August 1941, he defined and described Pinnacle and he tried to extricate himself from a charge of assault. He was sent to prison for two years. When he returned two years after, the south St Catherine School Board passed a resolution, dated February 24, 1944, calling on the Colonial Secretary to take repressive measures against the community at Pinnacle. The colonial secretary, in a letter (April 17, 1944), told the school board: "If, as I believe, Pinnacle belongs to or is leased by Howell or his organisation, the Government can take no steps to break up the settlement.... As long as Howell's followers observed the law they are entitled to lie unmolested the way they live". Howell was again arrested in 1944 and his reputation was further tarnished.
In October 1945 two important articles regarding the "real estate crisis" at Pinnacle were published in the newspaper. In "Leonard P Howell leaves Pinnacle on court order: Shepherd leads flock from Kingdom" (October 12, 1945), the reports states that a bailiff, "protected by a police Inspector and 13 men armed to the teeth", served a writ to vacate the Pinnacle because Howell failed to meet his contractual obligations. According to the article, Howell bought the land in a public auction, paid a part of the money, but was unable to pay the rest of the money. The other article, "Jamaica's great Ras Tafarite kingdom comes to an end" (October 14, 1945), tells the story of the bailiff from Messrs Lake and Nunes legal firm serving the paper at 8:00 am. He was accompanied also by newspaper reporters, who described the setting from Howell's plea to the 'exodus' from Pinnacle led by a strong young lady known as Pearl. They left in what appeared to have been a rehearsed march, but returned after the bailiff and reporters departed. It was reported that the bailiff declared that the "Ras Tafarite kingdom comes to an end".
The second eviction from Pinnacle occurred in 1954 in a major raid by the police. Pinnacle was destroyed and many persons including children were arrested. According to newspaper report, over eight tons of ganja was confiscated and 140 Rastas taken into custody. Howell lived, from 1956 to his death, at Tredegar Park. There he made no effort to regain Pinnacle. Howell, a man of extraordinary intellectual qualities, would not allow the police to evict him from his property and took it sitting.
There is no claim that any Rastafari group can make on Pinnacle lands. The negotiation for a national heritage site is accepted in general and no confrontation is required. Those people demonstrating would not be supported by Leonard P Howell. I cannot understand how the court could accept a case without a sound basis. It is good to see young Rasta demonstrating, but they must do it for the right cause. This demonstrations and activism are reminiscent of those who have been waiting for the ship that will never come. How can people who should be leading a new morality be moved by lies and anecdotal positions on a land they never knew? It is so good to see that the Howell family members have separated themselves form the most recent activism on Pinnacle. Those who are misleading the flock are dangerous self-seekers making claims on matters they have no knowledge about. The current owners of Pinnacle need to negotiate with the Government, and no one else, regarding Pinnacle as a national heritage site.