LEONARD PERCIVAL HOWELL (June 16, 1898 – February 25, 1981), also known as The Gong or G.G. Maragh (for Gong Guru). He was the first Rasta preacher alongside Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley and Robert Hinds and is known by many as The First Rasta.
He was born in Jamaica and left as a teenager to find work in the Americas. His most influential stay was in Harlem, New York, where he experienced bigotry, racism and social oppression first hand.
With the influence of the black civil rights movement, and spiritual and political guidance from Marcus Garvey and the United National IA, Powell chose to dedicate himself to a life against hatred, oppression and injustice. On committing his life to his cause, he began preaching his word across America. However, it wasn’t long before heads of states around the world began inviting him to preach his doctrine in their cities.
In 1929, He ran a “teahouse” where cannabis was smoked. He was deported from the US in 1932 and started preaching throughout Jamaica about Ras Tafari as messiah returned to earth.
After the death of his father in 1932, Powell then returned to Jamaica with the intention of sharing his message throughout the shanty towns and townships. The timing of his return coincided advantageously with the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie I in Ethiopia, solidifying Powell’s message that the Emperor was the “Messiah returned to Earth”.
He was soon arrested then released in 1936. Alexander Bustamante, a union organizer in 1939 wrote to the Governor:
“Serious trouble is brewing …owing to a mischievousness of a man named Howell, leader of this terrible thing called ‘Rastafari’. It seems to me the only proper place for this man is in the asylum. He is the greatest danger today, and I believe the police can confirm.”
In 1940, Leonard Howell setup “Pinnacle” on an old 500-acre estate, accessible by foot and hidden from the rest of the world, accommodating 1,600 self-sufficient residents. There, he set up The Pinnacle, the epicenter of the Rastafari movement, and thousands of the poorest Jamaicans flocked to his mini Rastafari nation.
Powell worked tirelessly in the community preaching his doctrine and educating Jamaicans, especially those in the lower classes, about the social and economical empowerment of self-sufficiency. This caused tensions to rise between Powell and Jamaican authorities, as well as a split between Powell and UNIA founder Marcus Garvey, who believed he should take a more passive approach to social change.
Sometime around 1935, Powell then published his doctrine in The Promise Key, which he wrote and published under the pen name, G.G. Maragh. The book caused tensions to reach a boiling point with Jamaican authorities.
In 1941, Howell was arrested for cultivating marijuana alongside yams. Seventy residents were arrested and 28 jailed under the new law; Howell was sentenced to two more years in jail. Released in 1943, he formed a corps of guardsman, some of whom grew their hair long and known as “Ethiopian warriors” or “locksman”.
Leonard Howell reformed Pinnacle in 1943. There, he set up The Pinnacle, the epicenter of the Rastafari movement, and thousands of the poorest Jamaicans flocked to his mini Rastafari nation. They were taught self-sufficiency and healthy living, which included an Ital diet, natural medicines and herbal root tonics that are still used today.
Bustamante invaded Pinnacle in 1954. The government invaded in 1958, burning all dwellings. The Police deliberately destroyed Leonard Howell’s 30 years of diaries, writings, photographs, memoirs, and letters from around the world.
Despite the attempt of the authorities to squash Howell’s work and words, their actions proved futile for an idea whose time had taken roots.
Leonard Howell died in February 1981 in Kingston, Jamaica.