The Trench Town Rock Experience :: Chalice on Fire II

Chalice on Fire II, Man Smoking a Bong Pipe

Chalice on Fire II

Errol McKinson

Oil on canvas 24 x 24

The typical gathering of the people of Trench Town to hang out and smoke herb tenement yard style.

As many of you know, Jamaica is a beautiful little country that's rich in history, but how did it become so synonymous with cannabis culture? If you're curious how cannabis came to be so prevalent and well-known in Jamaica, we thought we'd share a little research we dug up on the topic that may enlighten you.

Jamaica was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1494 by conquering the native Taíno people, who were the island's inhabitants. It was not colonized by the British government until about 1655, by which point a majority of the Taíno population had succumb to disease, famine, or forced labor.

From 1655 until the mid-1800’s, the British shipped slaves from West Africa to toil the land and harvest the coveted sugar plantations. By 1810, Britain had abolished slavery, but it continued in Jamaica until the African slaves rebelled and burned the plantations of white slave owners. Emancipation was finally granted in 1838.

After the rebellions, plantation owners had to seek new workers to till their fields and began to import indentured servants from East India. It was these East Indian laborers who brought over the first seedlings of cannabis indicathat sparked a movement.

India’s influence on cannabis in Jamaica is also evident in common phrasing. “Ganja,” the preferred moniker for cannabis, is a Hindi word passed down from Sanskrit – “gāñjā” means “hemp” or “hemp resin.”

Cannabis quickly became a mainstay in Jamaica, particularly among the lower, working classes of society. It was common in the rural countryside and in the poor, black districts of larger towns. Despite this widespread usage, the Jamaican government quickly outlawed the herb with the Ganja Law of 1913, led by plantation owners who tried to ply workers with rum (which they could profit from), but in spite of these efforts, the love of the leaf was growing.

The Birth of Rastafarian Culture

Ganja was firmly rooted in society by the 1920’s, which is when the black religious consciousness movement known as “Rastafari” came to the islands. Rastafari was a religion created in Ethiopia by Haile Selassie I, known as the Emperor of Ethiopia. In Amharic, one of the languages of Ethiopia, “Ras” means “head” and “Tafari” is a term meaning “revered one.”

The emergence of Rastafarian culture cemented the culture of cannabis in Jamaica. Rastafarians regularly use cannabis spiritually during ceremonies as a meditation aid. During “reasoning” sessions, Rastas gather to smoke the “holy herb” and discuss moral quandaries while passing the ganja clockwise around the circle. In times of war, the passing of the ganja is done counterclockwise to connect with “Jah,” the singular God that Rastas worship. Stay Tuned...



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