The Garvey movement, or Garveyism, has its roots in Ethiopianism, and the Pan Afrikan movement that evolved from it. Garvey’s objective was to organize Afrikan people worldwide into an organization that would inculcate in them racial consciousness and pride, and a greater Pan Afrikan identity that could be directed toward the creation of global Black power, that then would be instrumental in creating a modern industrial (United States of) Afrika.
Garvey was born in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica in 1887. Of maroon heritage, Garvey grew up having pride in his familial background. His family lived comfortably, his father being a mason who had a large library, and it is here that Garvey developed his love of reading and history. He knew of the exploits of Sam Sharp and Paul Bogle, and he grew up in a nation that witnessed the sociopolitical work of the Bedwardites. After traveling to Central America, England, and America, reading and observing the position of Black people everywhere he went, by 1918, Garvey was a well-schooled Afrikanist, who had developed philosophies and opinions that synthesized the best in Black thought. The ideas and efforts of Duse Mohammed Ali, Booker T. Washington, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Martin Delany, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, and Hubert Harrison were all given expression in the person of Marcus Mosiah Garvey. By 1920, he had amassed a movement that had millions of followers worldwide. This was a threat to white world hegemony and through the combined efforts of the American and British governments, the Garvey movement was sabotaged. After being wrongfully convicted of fraud, and serving two years in prison, he was deported, and as a result the movement struggled. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, although the UNIA and ACL was just a shadow of its former self, Garvey would, nonetheless, continue to fight for the dignity of Afrikan people.
In 1930, in his capacity as president general of the UNIA and ACL, Garvey sent a cable to His Imperial Majesty (HIM) Haile Selassie I that read: “Greetings from Ethiopians of [the] Western World. May your reign be peaceful, prosperous, progressive. Long live your Majesty.”44 The communiqué was printed in the New York-based Negro World newspaper on November 8, 1930. On that same day, Garvey published an article in his Jamaican periodical, The Blackman. In the article, Garvey expressed concern for the attempts by Europeans to separate Ethiopia from the rest of Africa, European attendance at the coronation and its impact, the coronation as a symbol of Black pride, and most important, Garvey’s expression of hope for a reign based on modernity45 within the framework of Pan Afrikan solidarity.46
Garvey’s interpretation of the coronation of Ras Tafari was primarily of secular significance. He saw in Selassie an Afrikan head of state, who could be a major player in his Pan Afrikan objectives. (Garvey wanted to build a secular state not a theocratic one.) Garvey never accepted the idea that Selassie was God and when he later criticizes him for fleeing the country during the Italian invasion, he is not criticizing a God but a man. On the other hand, Howell preached that Black people’s only true king was Emperor Haile Selassie I. Moreover, the Howellites, as early Rastafari were often called, interpreted the coronation as primarily spiritual. To them, Haile Selassie was God, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Thus, the coronation would have an even greater importance to Rastafari than to Garveyites. It was Haile Selassie’s apotheosis. Garvey and Howell both reinterpreted the Bible, noting its Eurocentric biases, as well as acknowledging the crucial role Afrika and Afrikans played in biblical history and the development of Judeo-Christian thought. For Garvey, God was Black but not a living man, especially one that he grew critical of. Although Garvey reinterpreted the Bible, his faith in Christianity remained unshaken nevertheless. Howell was more critical of the Bible, and some of his interpretation went further than Garvey was willing to go; consequently, Garvey found many of Howell’s doctrines offensive to his own Christian beliefs. His attitude and perception of the Emperor put him at odds with Howell,47 whose teachings he disapproved of. In fact, Garvey refused to allow Howell to sell the Emperor’s pictures in the UNIA headquarters in Edelweiss Park. 48
In addition, Garveyites accused Howell of “a number of disreputable practices,” including being an Obeahman. Most of these accusations are thought to relate directly to a “tearoom” that Howell opened on 136th Street where he is reported to have been selling ganja-bhang, a Hindu intoxicating tonic made with ganga.49 In 1932, Garvey in an editorial in his New Jamaican entitled, "The Dangerous Weed," expresses his views on the use of ganga. He states: “Ganja is a dangerous weed…. The smoking of it does a great deal of harm or injury to the smoker; we understand it has the same effect on the subject as opium has….That our people are being destroyed by the use of ganja there is absolutely no doubt….Between ganja and fanatical religion, we are developing a large population of half-crazy people who may not only injure themselves but injure us. Some will do it in the name of the "Lord" and others may do it under the influence of the evil weed.” This editorial was a veiled attack against the Howellites. Garvey’s position clearly brought him into conflict with those who advocated the use of ganga—and the Howellites, in particular, saw it as a sacrament; it was fundamental to their practices. Garvey, conversely saw it as un-Christian and a hindrance to racial development. By 1934, he viewed Howell and his followers as a dangerous cult. Garvey had an additional bone to pick with the Howellites. He had been critical of revivalist practices and this first incarnation of Rastafari was composed of a potpourri of groups, with some engaging in Afrikan-inspired, and as we shall see, Indian-inspired practices. Hinds’ headquarters, called the King of Kings Mission, was organized along the lines of a revival group. To Garvey these practices were un-Christian and reeked of revivalism, even Obeah.
Thus, while it was true that Garvey’s utterance contributed to the rise of Rastafari, the two movements remained separate and distinct. Whereas Garvey’s emphasis is sociopolitical and economic, and the Howellites included these aspects in their livity, but the latter incorporated a religious/spiritual dimension absent from Garveyism. However, as an organization the UNIA did address religion when in the early 1920s, it formed a relationship with the African Orthodox Church (AOC), which was created in Chicago in 1921 independent of the UNIA. The AOC’s bishop, George Alexander McGuire, would become the bishop of the UNIA and ACL. This relationship however, proved to be short-lived. We will conclude with the observation that though today, through the canonization of Marcus Garvey by Reggae music, nurtured and popularized by Rastafarian artists, that Garvey has been redeemed and his early relationship with Rastafari has been forgotten. Moreover, his status as a prophet of Rastafari has been cemented. But of course, as this paper has demonstrated, the relationship between Garvey and the early Rastafari was uneven at best.
44 Cited in Robert Hill, ed., Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, vol. 7: November 1927 - August 1940 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 442.
45 Garvey wanted to use westernized Afrikans and their training to the advantage of the UNIA, especially in regards to building a modern Afrika; while Rastafarians advocated a radical break from Western thought and traditions, and this included an anti-modernity outlook.
46 Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, William David Spencer, and Adrian Anthony McFarlane, editor, Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari
Reader (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), pp. 145-158.
47 Supposedly, Howell began as a Garveyite. Whether or not this is true, Howell sympathized with Garvey and Garveyism, and was a Pan Afrikanist.
48 Robert Hill, “Leonard P. Howell and Millenarian Visions in Early Rastafari,” Jamaica Journal 16, 1 (1983): 24-39.
49 Vincent E. Burgess, Indian Influences on Rastafarianism (Ohio, Ohio University Press, 2007), https://kb.osu.edu/
dspace/bitstream/handle/1811/28443/Vincent_Burgess-Senior_Thesis.pdf;sequence’1, p. 26.
50 Marcus Garvey, Editorial, “The Dangerous Weed,” New Jamaican, August 13th, 1932.
51 The Jamaican Times, interview with Garvey, August 25th, 1934 edition.
52 When Garvey decided in 1924 to relocate UNIA headquarters to the West Indies, McGuire left the UNIA and began to devote himself to the development and extension of his church. Soon Endich Theological Seminary was founded, as well as an order of deaconesses, and the Negro Churchman magazine began publication with McGuire as its editor.
In the early 1930s, Jamaica had a number of religious and political movements in the air. Bedwardism is essentially gone, but there were some stragglers. Although the UNIA and ACL is waning, Garvey is still relevant, as he is actively fighting for the rights of Afrikan Jamaicans. In addition, Rogers’ AACC is still present as the Hamatic Church, but again, it never really gained much traction. These movements, however, were not mutually exclusive. For example, there were members of the Hamatic Church that were Garveyites. It was not uncommon for one to be a Garveyite as well as a Bedwardite. A case in point is Hinds. Hinds, a Bedwardite and a Garveyite, was among those arrested on Bedward’s 1921 march against oppression and his call for spiritual reform. Like Bedward and Garvey, Hinds had the ability to attract a large following. Consequently, he was the most successful of all early Rastafari leaders, having the largest number of followers; he led an organization of more than eight hundred, and his turnout at functions was a couple of hundred.53 He, nonetheless, would soon become one of Howell’s lieutenants.
The first of 11 children, Leonard Percival Howell was born June 16, 1898, in Crooked River,54 Clarendon, Jamaica. In 1912, at age 14, Howell went to live with relatives in New York. (There is no record of him in New York until much later, however.) Next, he traveled to Panama, perhaps looking to join other Afrikan Caribbean workers in the Canal Zone. Nevertheless, the canal having been completed in 1914 meant that work would be scarce. In 1916, Howell joined the British West India Regiment (BWIR). He never went to the front—records are once again strangely absent. Later, Howell says he was a cook on an American warship, from which he disembarked in New York in 1918, two weeks before the end of the war. For the next 6 years, he traveled the world on five different ships always returning to New York as his homeport, before applying for U.S. Citizenship in 1924.
In 1932, Howell returns to Jamaica,55 where he soon meets and befriends Pettersburgh.56 (Early Rastafari referred to him as Valentine. His middle name was Balintine.) After reading both works, this author can say with certainty that The Promise Key is an edited and better-written version of The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy. The Promise Key is much shorter, and the long obscure abbreviations, the stream-of-consciousness language, and the repetitiveness, which characterized Pettersburgh’s work, are gone. Most significantly, the coronation that Pettersburgh foretold had come about in the person of Haile Selassie I. And whereas in The Royal Parchment, the author identifies “King Alpha and Queen Omega” with himself and his wife Queen Lula May, in The Promise Key, Howell identifies them as Emperor Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen Astaw. This was the crucial change made by Howell, and the wellspring of Rastafari. In essence, by Howell synergizing Ethiopianism, Garveyism, Garvey’s pronouncement, the ideas of the AACC, the Piby, and The Royal Parchment, he developed the foundation for Rastafari.
The incubation period of the movement occurred in the slums of Kingston between 1932 and 1933. In 1933, Howell began to preach that the Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (Ras Tafari) was the Messiah, and that Black people were the chosen ones, who would soon be repatriated to Ethiopia. Soon a solid nucleus of followers was established in Kingston from ex-Bedwardites, splintered cells of old Garveyites, and members of the Hamatic church. The most outspoken of the leaders of this new movement, Howell’s ideas upset the colonial authorities and in 1934, he and Hinds were charged with sedition, arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to two years in prison. (Hinds only received a one-year sentence.) During Howell’s stint in prison, he put his ideas into a text called, The Promise Key. After his released in 1936, he published it and a newspaper called "The People’s Voice," which further spread his ideas.
To many, Howell is the “First Rasta”; to others, he is simply one of the first, along with Robert Hinds, Joseph Hibbert, and Archibald Dunkley. Each appeared at about the same time, and eventually started their own organization. Howell, however, would emerge as the early leader of the movement, and it is probably for the following reasons he has earned the title “First Rasta”: Howell established one of the earlier organizations in 1937 called The Ethiopian Salvation Society; he authored The Promise Key, which gave Rastafari a theology; he established six fundamental principles;57 his outspokenness led to his persecution, and like early Christian martyrdom, his persecution helped the fledgling movement to grow; lastly, Howell put his money where his mouth was.
It was in Kingston where Rastafari was born, but Howell first acquired a following in the rural parish of St. Thomas and later St. Catherine. As the movement grew so did the persistent harassment by the authorities. To avoid harassment Howell and his wife, Tyneth Bent Howell, purchased more than 500 acres of land in Sligoville, Jamaica in 1940. The land was bought in the name of The Ethiopian Salvation Society of New York and gifted to its members in Jamaica. The Howellites now had a home, Pinnacle, as it was named, and it became the epicenter of the movement, a temporary Promised Land. This Afrikan village in Jamaica empowered and preserved by self-sufficiency, would soon become, especially after the cultivation and selling of ganga, one of the most prosperous communities in the Caribbean.5859 Ganga cultivation began in 1943, and by 1950, Pinnacle was thriving. In addition, the fact that Kingston had an increasing demand for ganga created an ideal situation. After earlier raids, in 1954, a company of soldiers, police, secret service personnel under orders from Prime Minister Bustamante on special advisement from Queen Elizabeth II, executed a preemptive raid on Pinnacle and destroyed the villages, farms, schools, and homes, leaving thousands homeless. 60 This dispersal created a “Rastafarian Diaspora” with many going to Kingston, and other parts of the island.
53 Barry Chevannes, Rastafari: Roots and Ideology (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1994); idem, “Introducing the Native Religions of Jamaica,” in Barry Chevannes, Editor, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews (The Hague: Macmillan Publishers/Institute of Social Studies, 1995), p. 127.
54 Lee, p. 6.
55 According to the cite, gozion.org, Howell was convicted by the Queens County Court at Long Island City, New York, on charges of burglary, grand larceny, and receiving stolen property. He served a two to four year sentence in the state prison at Ossining (popularly known as Sing Sing prison) and was deported in November 1932. A Jamaican police report confirms the American information but Howell’s biographer and his children find the information spurious and incredulous.
56 Lee, p 46, and p. 67.
57Barrett, p. 85. Howell’s six tenets were as follows: 1) hatred for the White race, 2) the complete superiority of the Black race, 3) revenge on whites for their wickedness, 4) the negation, persecution, and humiliation of the government and legal bodies of Jamaica, 5) preparation to go back to Africa, and 6) acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie I as God incarnate and only ruler of Black people.
59 Chevannes, Barry, Editor, Rastafari and other African-Caribbean Worldviews, p. 84.
60 Barbara Blake Hannah, Pinnacle-History and Current Status: Position Paper by: Special Tasks Consultant Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth & Sports, July 23, 2008.