EDITOR, The Tribune
This month of December marks the 39th anniversary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s International Year of the Child Bob Marley benefit concert at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre. Tuff Gong, as the Jamaican reggae artiste was nicknamed after Gong Guru Maragh, better known as Leonard Percival Howell, was invited by International Year of the Child Commission members the late Beryl Hanna, Rubie Nottage and Telzena Coakley.
Amid concerns that Marley and the Wailers would use their massive platform to proselytise Bahamians to their Rastafarian faith, Marley said he would be ‘‘giving a regular concert” and that he had “no intention of teaching concert-goers about the Rastafarian faith.’’ Marley also unapologetically stated to the press that he ‘‘smoked marijuana because it is a herb like banana.’’
Despite the noble goal of commission members, the Bob Marley concert encountered stiff opposition from then Bahamas Christian Council President Rev Dr Philip Rahming and prominent Baptist clergyman Simeon Hall, who, in an ironic twist of history, heads the Free National Movement (FNM) administration’s cannabis commission.
Hall, I believe, is now a proponent of medical marijuana. His position regarding the recreational use of the drug is unknown to the writer. However, who would’ve thought that 39 years ago a prominent member of the Christian community would one day be batting for marijuana? Hall has already demonstrated his willingness to buck the evangelical status quo by overtly championing the cause of web shop gaming. Hall’s main bone of contention with Marley was his massive influence in potentially promoting the Rastafarian faith along with its dreadlocks hairstyle to thousands of Bahamians.
A reported 6,000 Bahamians attended the concert at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre. While the concert would be the only time Marley would perform in The Bahamas, he lived in Nassau during the month of December in 1976 in a house owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. Blackwell played a massive role in giving the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff and other Jamaican reggae artistes an international platform to promote their craft.
The Marley family had fled Jamaica in December 1976 after a gang of nefarious thugs, who were rumoured to have been connected to the opposition Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), had attempted to assassinate Bob and Rita Marley at their Hope Road mansion in Kingston. The JLP was reportedly incensed that Marley had agreed to perform at the Smile Jamaica Concert. The opposition viewed this kind gesture by the Wailers as an endorsement of the People’s National Party administration of then Prime Minister Michael Manley.
Despite the assurance by Marley, Hall had legitimate reasons to be concerned about the dreadlocks hairstyle. The hairstyle, along with marijuana, was sacramentalise in the 1950s by second generation Rastafarian members of the Youth Black Faith.
The issue of ganja is what many Bahamians in 1979 feared about the Marley event. The Bahamas in the 1970s was an immensely conservative country. Marley once said that ‘‘when you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.’’ He also famously stated that ‘‘herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.’’ With the last quote, Marley obviously had Revelation 22:2 in mind, although one is hard-pressed to find an unequivocal reference to the cannabis plant in the text.
Marley, along with Peter Tosh and Bunny “Wailer” Livingston, had joined the Rasta sect in the early 1960s and had probably started smoking marijuana around the same time. I think it was Rasta historian Helene Lee who stated that the late Rastafarian elder Planno Mortimer had played a pivotal role in converting Marley to the religion. When the Wailers came to The Bahamas in 1979, the Rasta population was minimal at best. Today, Rastas still comprise a very small fraction of the population. That said, there are 10,000 adherents of the sect, according to an Ethiopian Africa Black International Congress representative in July 11 edition of The Tribune.
How many Bahamians embraced Rastafari due to Marley’s influence will never be known this side of eternity. However, to deny that individuals were influenced by him would be naïve, as the many Rasta and Marley paraphernalia worn by Bahamians throughout the 1980s have amply demonstrated. In closing, it wouldn’t be farfetched to state that thousands of Bahamians today smoke marijuana. Subsequent to Marley’s concert, many started using the plant, although Bahamian historians would tell you that the major issue that The Bahamas faced during the early 1980s was the cocaine drug trade, which nearly wiped out an entire generation and brought international shame and condemnation to this country.
Bahamians were so preoccupied with the cocaine drug, that they paid very little attention to marijuana. I believe Tuff Gong served as an impetus for The Bahamas’ love affair with the ganja plant. Marley’s role in this regard cannot be overstated.
December 16, 2018