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Rastas must speak with one voice over Pinnacle — Lorne

BY KARYL WALKER Editor - Crime/Court Desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 02, 2014    

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ATTORNEY-at-law Miguel Lorne is sounding a clarion call for Rastafarians to speak with one voice on the troubling issue surrounding a national monument at Pinnacle in the St Jago Hills of St Catherine.

Lorne, who is representing the Rastafari Nation Pinnacle Foundation, the Leonard Howell Foundation, and Ras Howie and Catherine Howell in a case which will be called up in the Court of Appeal tomorrow, told the Jamaica Observer that in order to bolster the cause of preserving the birthplace of the Rastafari faith, rastas must avoid sending mixed signals.

The site was occupied by Leonard Howell, who is the founder of the faith. Howell went against the grain of the colonial order in the 1930s after he began calling for black Jamaicans to stop paying taxes to the colonial government and desist from worshipping a white God in favour of the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, whom he said was the Black Messiah.

He was sent to prison for two years, after being found guilty of sedition for his views, in the Morant Bay Resident Magistrate's Court.

Howell was also committed to the asylum for his stance.

"We must now come together and unite around a single cause and not send mixed signals about our goal. There is a time to burn a lion fire and a time to burn an intellectual and diplomatic fire. Now is the time for us to be intellectual and unite behind Monty Howell, who is the head of the Leonard Howell Foundation," Lorne said.

His call came hours after a visit to the site last Friday by St Jago Hills Development Limited, the St Jago Hills Citizens' Association, a committee established by the Office of the Prime Minister to discuss issues of concern to Rastafari, and the Ministry of Youth & Culture and its agency, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT).

Ownership of the land has been a bone of contention between the St Jago Hills Development Limited and the descendants of Leonard Howell.

Howell's descendants, through the Leonard Howell Foundation, lost a court case in the Spanish Town Resident Magistrate's Court after the developers brought a claim for recovery of possession of the property from them.

The court ruled that the defendants have not established that they are the fee simple owners of the property, either by way of prescriptive right or adverse possession.

The foundation was not able to produce any proof of ownership of the land during the first trial, but the Sunday Observer contacted Monty Howell, who said he had found a colonial report and a solicitor general's report that stated that the land was owned by Leonard Howell, who purchased from one Albert Chang, who is now deceased.

"Pinnacle belongs to, or is leased by Howell or his organisation. The Government can take no steps to break up the settlement of his followers upon that property, even though their habits and customs do not conform to those usually adhered to in civilised communties," the document states.

It is expected that the documents will be produced by Lorne when the court hears the appeal from the defendants tomorrow.

The JNHT in September last year declared a quarter acre plot a national monument and there are plans to halt development on another five lots.

Rastafarians have been agitating in recent times for the site to be occupied by them and declared a no-build zone. They have also complained that the burial site of Howell's wife, Teneth Howell and other sacred sites, were being desecrated by developers.

On Wednesday, the Rastafari Millennium Council, the Leonard Howell Foundation and the Rastafari Youth Initiative attended a meeting at the Ministry of Youth and Culture to air their grouses.

The agitators claimed that they had knowledge of the location of the burial site and a visit to Pinnacle was arranged to locate the burial site of the wife of Leonard Howell, and take immediate steps to protect the location and begin the archaeological process to identify the remains.

However, when the other stakeholders visited the site, the Rastafarians did not show.

A news release from the ministry on Friday bemoaned the absence of the Rastafarians.

"Unfortunately, the site visit was not attended by members of the Rastafari community who informed the meeting on 28 January, 2014 that they had knowledge of the location of the burial site, raised concerns that the final resting place of Mrs Howell and other members of Rastafari was being disturbed, and requested the site visit," the release stated.

Present at the site on Friday was Richard Lake, head of St Jago Hills Development Ltd. According to Lake, his company acquired the contentious property in 1989.

He produced a document which suggested that the property was owned by various persons since 1932.

The document stated that Chang had bought the property in 1939 and sold it to Reginald Fletcher, Edward Hanna and Henry Douglas in 1947.

According to Howell's son, his father moved to Pinnacle in 1940 and was the legitimate owner of the property.

He said that the documents to prove ownership of the land were either destroyed or taken by the police when they raided the site, which was a frequent occurrence during the days of colonialism.

"There was systematic destruction of literature since 1933. Basically, every time there is a raid they would destroy his papers because they thought it was seditious. Up to the 1940s when he moved to Pinnacle, he told us that he bought the land from Albert Chang, who was the previous owner," Howell said.

During the colonial era, black Jamaicans were at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, and it was uncommon for a black man to own land.

Howell claims that his father was targeted by the authorities who thought it presumptuous for Howell to own such a large expanse which he said stretched from Sligoville Road to the Rio Cobre near Tredegar Park.

"No black person in Jamaica owned property, nothing compared to Pinnacle. They tried everything to chase my father off that land. I remember my father complaining about personal papers that they took with other papers they thought were seditious, " he said.

See related story: Leonard Howell and the struggles that he fought

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