The Rise of Rastafari


In Jamaica, as elsewhere in the world, the 1930s were years of social upheaval. Labour unrest on the island culminated in the vicious suppression of striking sugar-cane workers in Westmoreland: four strikers were shot dead, and dozens rounded up and jailed, including Alexander Bustamente, the leader of the new Jamaican labour movement.

It was a perfect context for the rise of a band of islanders who divorced themselves mentally from an oppressive social system. This cult, Rastafarianism, thus became cast as a religion of the dispossessed among those who failed to acknowledge the intellectual rigor of many practitioners (the depth of Biblical and historical knowledge displayed at a Rastafarian reasoning is intense).

In the hills of eastern Jamaica, Rastafarian encampments sprang up; a life of asceticism and artistry became the armour of the religion's followers against Babylon. Leonard Howell, one of the island's chief propagators of the religion, founded the Pinnacle encampment in an abandoned estate between Kingston and Spanish Town. Howell eventually decided that it was not Haile Selassie who was Jah but himself. In 1954 he was thrown into a mental home, and Pinnacle was closed down.

The dreads, as Rastafarians became known colloquially, spilled out into the ghettoes of west Kingston. Around the time of independence in 1962, there were a number of violent incidents involving fire-arms between Rastas and the police, making headlines in the Daily Gleaner. The movement was now traveling with the speed of a bush-fire into the popular psyche of Jamaica.

In 1939, as an early convert to Rastafari, Planner had moved to Trench Town. Born in Kingston in 1920, he was one of the founder members of Kingston's first Rastafarian encampment in the Dungle. His devout studies of all matters connected with the faith, combined with his brilliant intellect, established Planner, or 'Planno', as he simply became known, as one of the elders of Rastafari.

Marley and Planno met up in Trench Town, the Rastafarian elder instructing Bob on the arcane truths of the religion. Later, Planno would be Bob's manager, coordinating their careers, arranging studio sessions, etc.