Pinnacle: The Lost Paradise of Rasta (Hardcover)

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Pinnacle: The Lost Paradise of Rasta By Bill "Blade" Howell, Hélène Lee (With) Cover Image
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A fascinating first-person origin story of the Rastafari ideology, culture, and philosophy, capturing a crucial and little-known chapter in Jamaican history

IN 1932, A JAMAICAN MAN NAMED LEONARD PERCIVAL HOWELL began leading nonviolent protests in Kingston, Jamaica, against British colonial rule. While history books rightly credit Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. with popularizing nonviolent protest strategies in later years, little is known about Leonard Howell and his vision of self-reliance—poor people working together to build a society of their own. When Howell first started preaching on street corners in Kingston, he was immediately perceived as "seditious," and he became a target for police harassment. Howell soon founded an organization called the Ethiopian Salvation Society. His idea was to add a religious element to Marcus Garvey's message of African independence. Although Christian values were part of his belief system, he decided to make a break from the Christian interpretation of the Bible and extend the idea of divinity to a living man, Emperor Haile Selassie I, who had been crowned king of Ethiopia in 1930.

Jamaican journalists coined a name for the group: the "Ras Tafarites," or "Rastas." Howell was arrested several times and was eventually found guilty of sedition and sentenced to prison for two years of hard labor. In 1940, Howell and his growing group of followers moved to an old estate in the parish of St. Catherine. They named their land Pinnacle, and for the next sixteen years built a self-reliant community that would ultimately give birth to the Rastafari movement.

In 1942, Leonard Howell's wife Tenneth gave birth to their second child, who they named Bill. In Pinnacle: The Lost Paradise of Rasta, Bill "Blade" Howell offers his firsthand account of this utopian community that suffered near-constant persecution from Jamaican authorities. Howell also dispels many misguided notions about the origins of Rastafari culture, including allegations of sexism and homophobia. Pinnacle was built on egalitarian principles, and steered clear of all religious dogma.

Pinnacle: The Lost Paradise of Rasta provides a crucial and highly informed new perspective on the Rastafari subculture that Bob Marley would later help to spread across the globe. The volume includes photographs and original documents related to Pinnacle.

About the Author

BILL "BLADE" HOWELL was born to Leonard Percival Howell and Tenneth Bent-Howell in 1942 at Pinnacle in Sligoville, St. Catherine, on the island of Jamaica. In 1956, Howell and his family were evicted from the land that they had been living on for over sixteen years through a series of corrupt tactics from government officials, wealthy landowners, and crooked lawyers. Howell went on to become one of the first Black art directors working in New York advertising agencies in the 1970s. He has been living in New York for over fifty years.

Hélène Lee is a French traveler, biker (Tokyo to Paris on a Yamaha dirt bike!), journalist, writer, documentary director, and translator. For decades she has been writing about African and Caribbean music for the French newspaper Libération and many magazines, along with translating books and writing several of her own. She is best known for The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism, her groundbreaking volume on the founder of the Rasta movement. That book and an award-winning documentary on the same subject have deeply impacted the understanding of reggae music and Rasta. A longtime friend of the Howell family, Lee convinced Leonard Howell’s son Bill to share his own memories of Pinnacle; this book is the only testimony ever published by a member of the original Rasta community.

Praise For…

A son of one of the founders of the Rastafarian movement tells the inside story of the utopian village his father founded and the colonial forces that ultimately destroyed it. Born and raised at Pinnacle, Howell had the unique opportunity to witness the events surrounding this first-ever Rasta community’s rise and fall. Working alongside his father’s biographer, Lee, the author offers insights into Leonard Howell (1898-1981), the man who founded the commune, and the troubled history of Pinnacle itself . . . Illustrated throughout with black-and-white photographs, this loving tribute will appeal to historians of Jamaica and the Caribbean, as well as anyone with an interest in the origins of Rastafarian culture. An instructive and enlightening book.
— Kirkus Reviews

Interwoven with the story of the commune is valuable background on Rastafarianism’s origins in Marcus Garvey’s movement for African independence, from which it broke in the early 1930s when Howell designated Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I as ‘the Living God.’
— Publishers Weekly

Pinnacle: The Lost Paradise of Rasta forces us to quickly turn the page to find out what happened next. For the story of Leonard P. Howell and Pinnacle is still one of Jamaica's greatest mysteries, shrouded in misinformation, silence, or confusion. This insider's version gains its power from the author's measured voice that speaks with love and longing of the child who saw Pinnacle as Paradise before its destruction, but also as someone now capable of sharing a mature assessment of Pinnacle's history and the Rasta movement over the years. Pinnacle is an invaluable contribution to the reclamation of a Jamaican history seen through the eyes of those who, like Bill Howell, can assert, ‘I was there.’

— Olive Senior, Poet Laureate of Jamaica, author of The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage

An incredibly fascinating read. For anyone interested in Rastafari and its origins, this is a must-read, as told by the only person who could possibly tell it—because he lived it!
— Doctor Dread, reggae producer and author of The Half That’s Never Been Told

Finally—the unwritten history appears! Replete with visual images of documents and old photographs, Bill Howell’s personal recreation of the historical time line is vivid and engaging. More than eighty years ago, his father’s moment of (self)realization and then the emerging movement of Rastafari changed life as we know it, and in ways we’re only now beginning to fully overstand.
— Bobby Sullivan, author of Revolutionary Threads: Rastafari, Social Justice, and Cooperative Economics

Pinnacle: The Lost Paradise of Rasta transformed my understanding of Rastafari, a faith and culture I have known all my life. My first thought on completing it was, Finally, an intimate, insider’s recollection and interrogation of one of the world’s great mysteries—where did Rasta come from and who or what is the source of this magnificent power, this tender but insistent force that continues to reach with open arms from Jamaica to bring unity across languages, religions, and borders, revolutionizing while one-loving the world? 

— Colin Channer, author of Console: Poem

Part historical text and part personal memoir, Bill Howell’s gripping account of life growing up in Pinnacle underscores the value of land in the creation of the Rastafari ethos of freedom and independence in colonial Jamaica. Supported by previously unpublished colonial records, his book documents the relentless campaign of harassment and extortion by authorities directed against his father, Leonard Howell, and his followers, as well as the remarkable collective solidarity and resilience demonstrated by community members in the face of these trials. This is a must-read for both specialists and general audiences interested in the origins and history of what is today a global spiritual movement.
— Jake Homiak, International Rastafari Archives Project (IRAP), National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Product Details
ISBN: 9781636141725
ISBN-10: 1636141722
Publisher: Akashic Books, Ltd.
Publication Date: August 6th, 2024
Pages: 208
Language: English