The 2023 Summer Institute took place from 28th July to 4th Aug. SOSACRU faculty included Ras Jahlani Niaah, Ras Wayne Rose, Bro Jakes, Mama Wolete, Sister Coleen and Ras Robbie. Students from Johns Hopkins University, Howard University and Morehouse University gathered with Dr Sybil Roberts from American University, and Makalya Alicea from Baltimore’s farming and land trust community, joining faculty in an intense and exhilarating trod through Jamaica’s rich Rastafari culture.
Funding was received from Howard, Morehouse, the Center for Africana Studies as well as the Center for Social Concern and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Hopkins. Sister Kali-Ahset Amen liaised with Howard and Morehouse to fund their students.
The group arrived at Pitfour just as the Nyahbinghi community were heading into their sixth light of ises and chanting, which had begun on the 131st Earthstrong of Emperor Haile Selassie I (23rd July 1892) and was to conclude on the 1st August – Emancipation Day.
Students enjoyed a hearty ital meal and then, in the tabernacle, Ras Iyah-V and Ras IvI Tafari explained to the group the significance of Emperor Haile Selassie I to the Rastafari movement and the meanings of Nyahbinghi.
With Ras IvI leading the way, students experienced the word sound power of the harps and chanting of the Nyahbinghi ritual. This was a memorable and intense induction into Rastafari for students, some of whom had never left the USA.
Beginning the summer institute on sacred grounds and with an iritical experience set the context for the activities that were to follow over the next strong.
Rastafari Indigenous Village
The morning of the 29th. Students needed some rejuvination, and they got it! Down the hill from Pitfour to the Rastafari Indigenous Village. One short wade across River Jordon!
At the village, students listened to master drum maker King Toto describe his calling and his craft. Faculty even bought some of the King’s harps!
Students learned from Firstman the indigenous philosophy of Rastafari and the innovative reasoning behind placing the gold at the top of the trypic of Ethiopian colors to represent the sun.
Rastafari villagers performed for the visitors on both Nyahbinghi and Kumina harps.
After visiting the village in the morning, the group travelled to Kingston and settled into accomodation at the University of West Indies (UWI). There, Mama Wolete provided a reasoning for students that illuminated the radical message of Nyahbinghi they had heard the night before.
From their new UWI base, the group spent the next few days travelled far and wide.
School of Vision
First up, on 30th August, an invigorating and majestic climb up the blue mountains to the School of Vision. And it sure was some climb to the mountaintop community. Just ask Mama Wolete, Sister Sybil, Ras Jahlani, and Bro Jakes!
Priest Dermot Fagan met the group and provided a reasoning on the vision that led to the building of the School of Vision, including a stark warning on the oppressive potentials of the quickly evolving information technology world.
Priest Fagan also discussed with Bro Jakes and Ras Jalahni the interpretative frameworks that have allowed Rastafari to retrieve the African genesis of the Bible story and find in Revelations the prophetic vision of Emperor Haile Selassie I as this era’s redeemer.
After visiting the beautiful tabernacle and the richly-stocked gift store, the group descended the mountain for some well earned rest and relaxation.
Students and faculty spent the evening of the 30th August rocking to the sounds of Empress Sativa and other roots reggae artsts at the Rastafari-run Dub Club. There, Ras Jalanai found a spot, and settled into sipping the chalice and catching the bass frequency.
On the next day, 31st August, the group travelled to the hills of St Catherine to visit Pinnacle, the legendary and sacred site of the first Rastafari commune set up by Leonard P. Howell in 1940. Bro Jakes and Ras Jahlani gave a reasoning, situating Pinnacle in its anti-colonial context and detailing the teachings of Leonard Howell on Haile Selassie I and Ethiopia.
By early afternoon the group were travelling down from the mountains, through Spanish Town, into Clarendon Parish and, near Palmers Cross, the group arrived at Peacemakers.
The journey from Pinnacle to Peacemakers is full of historical meaning. After Pinnacle was disbanded in the 1950s due to intense police pressure, Claudius Henry and Edna Fischer picked up the Ethiopic banner with their African Reform Church. In 1966, Henry and Fischer set up a new Rastafari commune – the International Peacemakers.
Priest Mewya (Bro Dougie) recounted to the group how the Peacemakers built a school, church, community center, bakery, and farm. After Edna Fischer was brutally murdered, the commune fell into disrepair for some time. But recently, the group learned, the community has regrouped and is seeking to rebuild.
By this point, it had been a few intense days for the group – plenty of travel, and much iritical learning. Still, the group had many more miles to cover in the days ahead..
Source Farm, St Thomas
On 1st August, the group travelled to a parish befitting the commemoration of Emancipation Day. St Thomas is famous for Paul Bogle’s Morant Bay Uprising, as well as for Kumina – the African tradition of ancestor worship and community healing brought by “recaptives” after emancipation. The group’s destination this morning was Source Farm – an intentional community focused on sustainable farming. After a well-received breakfast, Sister Nicola Shirley-Phillips explained to the group how people are the most important infrastructure in any development project.
The Source Farm trip was of special interest to our Baltimore farmer and community land trust representative – Sister Makalya.
On the way back to Kingston, the group stopped off for some afternoon rest and relaxation at Jamnesia
While at the camp, Bro Jakes reasoned with world-famous musician, actor and surfer, Billy Mystic, on the Rastafari trod.
After days of intense travelling it was time to sit still, unpack and reflect on the experiences so far.
University of West Indies Seminars
On the 2nd August, the group largely stayed at the UWI compound. To aid in their process of reflection, the students were blessed to have three Rastafari sistren who reasoned on the Omega principle in Rastafari: Sister Mitzie Williams, Mama Wolete, and Dr Imani Tafari-Ama.
Students then unpacked their many experiences. Some of their personal testimonies are at the bottom of this page. A quick group quiz was followed by a student and faculty picture.
Bob Marley Museum
The 3rd August was a rest day. But the students didn’t want to sit still! Instead, they decided to take a trip to the Bob Marley Museum, with faculty accompanying them. Students learned the history of the historic Hope Road home of Bob Marley and the hard work done by Rita Marley to preserve this global heritage site.
At the museum, the group was lucky enough to witness the legendary skills of Bongo Herman.
Then, on that night, the group gathered for a final ital dinner at Kamila’s Kitchen, a Rastafari-run restaurant nestled in the hills above Kingston. Celebrating a succesful and memorable experience, the students gave thanks to the faculty – those present and those who could not make the trip.
In the middle of the trip, students were told to think of one question coming out of their experience that they really wanted to find an answer to. Near the end of the trip, students were told to record their own answer to that question.
John (Binghi John)
Catch Kimarley on CVM’s Sunrise, talking about his newest comic book in his “Chad” chronicles.