This past November I was able to attend the first High Times Cannabis Cup in Negril. Rastafarian Rootz, a festival put on for many years by the local Rasta community is a haven for the community to come together, celebrate their sacrament, and talk about the current events within the community. After Cannabis was legalized in April 2015 for sacramental purposes, the chairman of the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers, Ras Iyah V, reached out to High Times looking to bring not only economic stimulation to his parish, but further education to teach new means of growing to his farmers.
The festival took place on the beautiful seven mile beach. Inside, you were not able to find any alcohol or meat. The Rasta people believe in an Ital lifestyle, only eating the most natural foods from the earth and do not believe in poisoning their bodies with meat or alcoholic beverages. There were booths from international growers, representing the USA, Amsterdam, even Australia; however, the most interesting aspect to me was the local people and their beliefs. I spent most of my time with them trying to learn as much as I could about some of their trials as a community.
Most talked about during my first day, was the Massacre a Coral Gables, a fight that continues until this day. Benjamin “Rudolph” Franklyn had left some land for his people in order to farm the sacramental Ganja. It was raided numerous times by the Jamaican government; they would reap what they desired and chop down or burn the rest of the crop. Everything that took place would now be considered religious discrimination, but in 1963 it was just implementing the “laws”. Franklyn was shot three times defending his land and landed himself in prison for 3 months, standing up for his beliefs. The government blamed the Rasta for disturbances and they were rounded up, beat, and falsely imprisoned among other horrid things. Over 500 Rasta were assaulted and forced to shave their dreadlocks and cut their beards off. The Rasta let their hair grow and dread their whole lives as a way to show fear in Jah (their God). To this day, the community fights for an official apology and compensation for the atrocity. Listening to the living relatives retell the story was one of the most moving experiences one could have.
“The drummers chant and the herb is brought out, everyone is dressed in traditional garments.”
Calling the drummers of Jar, the blessing of the sacramental herb begins. The shaman fire tinder ignites the flames, chants, dances around, and blesses the fire as the flames grow. The drummers chant and the herb is brought out, everyone is dressed in traditional garments. The Ganja is set ablaze. The sweet fragrance consumes the air; a familiar chant is spoken as everyone is welcomed to join the procession dancing. The song has been passed down from generation. Run come Rally, from traditional African cultures. Praise for Emperor Haile Selassie (the man revered as the returned messiah) praising Jah.
As darkness creeps over the festival, many more speakers step to the stand spreading their praises and knowledge. Section 7C2 says when ganja is carried for sacramental use, the charge of possession does not apply. One brethren, on his way to the ceremony, is carrying a little less than a pound of herb, he is stopped by police. When he states his rights the police say, I know nothing of this I just know if you have more than two ounces I am supposed to lock you up. This man gets arrested, jailed and has to fight the courts for his legal religious rights. When it comes to Ganja, even after being legalized, the followers of Rastafarianism still have a long way to go before they can practice their sacrament freely.