cover image THE FIRST RASTA: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism

THE FIRST RASTA: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism

Helene Lee, Hilhne Lee, , edited and with an intro. by Stephen Davis, trans. from the French by Lily Dav. Lawrence Hill, $26.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-1-55652-466-0

Powerful historical and social forces come together in Libération 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. (July 15)