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The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism Hardcover – June 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; Tra edition (June 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556524668
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556524660
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,269,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Powerful historical and social forces come together in Lib‚ration journalist Lee's extraordinarily useful book, which appeared in 1999 to acclaim. Jamaican prophet Leonard Howell's revelations in the 1920s about the symbolic portent for the African diaspora of Ras Tafari's crowning as Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia led to the birth of one of the 20th century's most enduring and influential religious awakenings. The colonial forces that ruthlessly suppressed Howell and Rastafarianism in his lifetime have also hidden much of his biography, which Lee has reconstructed through impeccable research and dogged sleuthing. Partly a record of its author's journey in search of those who knew and followed Howell, The First Rasta moves with a truth seeker's determination through the slums of Trenchtown and Jamaica's back country, revealing a dauntingly complex landscape and history in which oral history is often more reliable than the written record. Between his part in the intellectual ferment of the Harlem of Langston Hughes and Marcus Garvey, and the destruction of his religious compound in the late '50s, Howell endured lengthy stays in both prisons and mental hospitals, but emerges in these pages as confident and vindicated. Lee's passionate biography, which includes 11 b&w photos, should draw in not only for students of religion, reggae or Jamaican history but has something to offer to anyone interested in the people and ideas that continue to shape the postcolonial world.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Lee, a French journalist, draws on extensive knowledge about the Rastafarian movement made famous by Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley. Considerably less famous is Leonard Howell, the man who developed the movement, cobbling together African culture, divine adoration of Ethiopian ruler Haile Selassie, and the aspirations of African diaspora of the Americas. Lee visited the remains of the Pinnacle, the Rasta compound maintained by Howell in Jamaica in the 1940s with more than 4,000 members and an independent agricultural enterprise that produced and exported marijuana. She recaptures the history of the religion and culture, spawned from the grinding poverty and a people hungry for a god and a place of their own. Howell lived for a while in New York, crossed paths with Marcus Garvey, and eventually returned to the turbulent Jamaican political and economic environment that influenced the spread of Rastafarianism with its trademark dreadlocks, ganja, and reggae. Readers interested in Jamaican culture and the Rasta movement will appreciate this insightful look at one of the most influential mystical movements of the twentieth century. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Achis on August 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I absolutely love this book. Never really one for reading, this book has kind of enthused me to go back and actually READ some of the dozens of books I had purchased over the years but never really set down with.
As a descendant of Rastafarians (and a person whose family majority consists of Rastas, I found it very interesting, and answered some of the questions more distinctly than any of my family had in the past. Its mainly about Leonard Percival Howell, "The First Rasta", and talks mainly about his life and times, but the parts of this book that i find most interesting are the parts that deal with other figures in Rastafari culture i.e. Selassie and Marley.
As I said, I was never one for reading too much, so if this book got me re-interested in reading then there is definitely something to it. Written by the ex-wife of legend Alpha Blondy. If you're interested in the topic, not a bad place at all to start.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mike on October 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
While this book contains some good information about Rastafari and Leonard Howell, most of it is hidden under a mass of rambling nonsense, where the author writes about her personal experience in Jamaica as if it has anything to do with the life of Howell. It doesn't. And she gets many of her facts wrong, such as her claim that ganja was still legal in Jamaica in the mid-30s.

If you're interested in the life of Leonard P. Howell, read Dread History instead. If you're generally interested in Rastafari, check out Catch a Fire.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Chimonsho on March 10, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first Rasta! The subject promises readers a thrilling ride, and Lee does not disappoint. Other major figures associated with Rastafari (Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley) are well-known and documented, but Lee had to dig deep into Jamaican communities and memories for a full biography. Frequent personal anecdotes are quite relevant to research founded on oral history and the trust of informants. Lee describes Howell's path to Rastafarianism, along with plenty of Jamaican social and political history. Interestingly, Howell spent many years as a Hindu, and many more womanizing, both signaling his marked charisma. Perhaps not all details are reliable (e.g. England captured Jamaica in 1655, not 1665), but the overall patterns are clear. Rastafari responds to Afro-Jamaicans' sense of oppression and marginalization, founded in slavery and sustained through emancipation and independence. This is apparent in mainstream disapproval and longstanding conflicts with authorities, not least because marijuana use is a key sacrament. Despite many parallels with other religions of the oppressed (cf. V. Lanternari on this subject), Rastafari earns wider appeal---not always from the devout, but among hedonist lovers of ganja and reggae. All the more reason to recommend this lively book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT BOB MARLEY BUT ABOUT MY DEAR UNCLE--LEONARD PERCIVAL HOWELL-- THE FIRST RASTA AND THE FOUNDING FATHER OF RASTAFARI.
THE FRENCH WRITER--HELENE LEE IS A PERSONAL FRIEND OF MINE AND OF THE HOWELL FAMILY. THE BOOK IS WELL WRITTEN AND VERY FACTUAL. EVERY RASTAFARIAN, FOLLOWER, BELIEVER AND ESPECIALLY THE HOWELL'S SHOULD READ THIS BOOK AND VISIT PINNACLE IN JAMAICA W. I.
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