by Howard Campbell
[SOUTH FLORIDA] – Not many schoolchildren were aware about Rasta and black conscious leaders in the post-colonial Jamaica era Priest Douglas Smith and Ras I Jabulani Tafari grew up in.
Though there have been attempts by the Jamaican government to introduce the history and message of people like Marcus Garvey in schools, the average Jamaican teenager is in the dark about Rasta’s contribution to their country.
Smith and Tafari look to change that with their book, Rastafari in The 20th Century: What Life Has Taught I & I. It was launched November 20 at the Miami Book Fair, at Miami-Dade College.
Tafari says they wanted to shed new light on pioneers like Alexander Bedward, Leonard Howell and Mortimo Planno, who played pivotal roles in spreading the message of black awareness and Rasta.
“In many ways, Bedward is the forerunner of Rastafari. When you look at the history of Bedward in terms of supporting the rights of black people against the colonial society, so much so that they put him in the asylum and then they put him in prison,” he reasoned.
Bedward was the self-styled leader of the Jamaica Native Free Baptist Church in August Town, a hilly region above Kingston, Jamaica’s capital.
On Christmas Eve, 1920, he drew thousands of persons to Kingston, claiming he would fly in a flaming chariot like Elijah from the Old Testament.
The following year, Bedward was arrested for sedition and sent to an asylum in Kingston where he died in 1930.
Howell is considered the first Rasta, though he did not have locks. He operated Pinnacle, a thriving compound for Rastas in St. Catherine parish during the 1940s; at the time, there was widespread discrimination against them.
Howell died in 1981.
Planno was a mentor to Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. An inspirational figure, he is seen standing by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I as the monarch descended the airplane for his state visit to Jamaica in April, 1966.
Planno died in 2006.
Smith and Tafari, who are longtime residents of South Florida, also salute the female’s impact on the Rastafarian movement in their 232-page book. There are dossiers on “empresses” like journalist/film-maker Barbara Blake-Hannah and nutritionist Minnie Phillips.
They plan to release four volumes of ‘Rastafari in The 20th Century’.