How Cannabis Became a Major Part of the Jamaican Culture

This is a story of how cannabis became a big part of the Jamaican culture, and how the two influenced the world.

Jamaica is a small island nation located in the Caribbean Sea right underneath Cuba. It is a charming little place filled with welcoming people, beautiful beaches and, more importantly, some of the best weed in the world.

But don’t call it weed in front of any Jamaicans, as they’ll correct you with their preferred term for cannabis—ganja.

Jamaica is the go-to destination for many people that are looking for a place where they can relax, spend time high up in the mountains and go down to the beach all in the same day.

However, Jamaica holds something even more unique that you won’t find anywhere else in the world:

A one-of-a-kind religion that has spread like a wildfire across the world and gained many supporters in the most various places.

Return to the Promised Land

History of Jamaica is quite extensive. It starts with the Arawak and Taíno indigenous people, which settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC.

Early in the 16th century, Jamaica was discovered by the Spanish, and it became a colony of the Spanish crown.

However, the Spanish were forcibly evicted by the English in the 1655 Invasion of Jamaica.

At that time, the slave trade was starting to ramp up, and Jamaica was a good spot for ships to make a break on their way to North America from either Africa or South America.

Fast forward to today, and over 92% of the population in Jamaica is now black. At the time the English arrived there were still Taino people found on the island.

Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the UK in 1962.

Afrocentrism as a defining culture

The Rastafari movement began among Jamaicans of African descent which rejected the British imperial culture which was dominating Jamaica in the previous centuries.

Their teachings stem from the great Jamaican leader and motivator of masses, Maces Garvey.

Garvey took it upon himself to educate the Africans around the world of their history and heritage waiting for them in Africa. Thus the Afrocentrism was born as a movement.

This propelled the Jamaican culture into a culture of praising Africa as the Motherland, and better yet “the promised land”.

Over the years, many Rastafari members called for the resettlement of Africa, and Ethiopia in particular, which they saw as their rightful homeland.

But why? Why Ethiopia of all places?

Ethiopia definitely wasn’t a major part of the Atlantic slave trade which brought most of the black people to Jamaica.

However, Ethiopia had something that the Jamaicans so long wanted: Zion, The Promised Land.

It was also the only place in the world where a black man was a king. A real, bona fide, crown-on-the-head king.

Who was Haile Selassie?

The term “Rastafari” derives from the pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie. It was coined by putting together the term “Ras” (duke or prince) with “Tafari Makonnen”, which was his birth name.

But, who was Haile Selassie? How did this mystery aristocrat from the remote African country get such a huge fan base in Jamaica?

Marcus Garvey said in 1920, “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand” and Jamaicans saw the rise of Haile Selassie to power as that day.

Many influential Rastas equated blackness with the African continent and thus endorsed a form of Pan-Africanism.

The first three decades of the Rastafari (1930s to end of 1950s) movement placed a lot of emphasis on the repatriation of Ethiopia. In the 1960s the idea of returning to Africa took a turn towards the metaphorical sense.

The famine of 1973. in Ethiopia only reinstated that idea furthermore. This lead to Haile Selassie’s eventual removal from the throne in 1974, and his death a year later at the age of 83, following a coup d’état.

The movement goes worldwide

By the time the ‘60s ended, and the ’70s rolled around the corner, the Rastafari movement went global.

The combination of a very liberal religion closely tied to Christianity, quality music that called for a rebellion, ganja and a newfound hairstyle took the world by surprise.

And, of course, one polarizing personality and the band behind him also had a major part in spreading the word of Jah:

Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Bob Marley and his dreadlocks had such a profound effect on his listeners that people started blatantly copying his style of music and dressing. They still do, to this day.

This brought to a huge increase of people mainstreaming the Rastafari religion, which more and more started being closely tied to reggae music and smoking marijuana, which was a common part of the Rastafari ceremonial traditions.

The fight against Babylon

Reggae music has several recurring themes: Praise Jah, the Fall of Babylon, the return to Zion and the Judgement day.

The Rasta’s refer to the authorities that rule the world as Babylon.

Rastas believe that humanity will enter a “new age” once Babylon has been destroyed, and those who supported Babylon will be denied access to paradise.

The most popular recurring theme is the fight against Babylon, with just about any reggae musician and group mentioning it in their songs:

Bob Marley: Babylon your throne gone down, gone down

Jah Warrior: All of you shall witness the day Babylon shall fall

Yami Bolo: Babylon is out of control, in a gangsta role

The theme of Babylon falling, or being against the people stretched out to the New Wave of reggae as well, with foreign bands aiding in the fight against Babylon.

Slightly Stoopid: Babylon is falling down, everybody losing control

Thievery Corporation: Babylon falling, falling, falling down

A major reason why the fight against Babylon or the future fall of Babylon is so often mentioned is the Jamaican opposition towards institutions.

But, Rastas and Jamaica are not opposed to all types of institutions. Just those that forbid you from practicing religion and traditions.

Seeing how cannabis was a big part of Jamaican culture and Rastafari religion, it was increasingly becoming a problem in the US where reggae was gaining in popularity by the day.

Combine that with the already powerful anti-war hippie sentiment spreading through the United States, and you get the #1 enemy of weed—the federal authorities in America.

Given its illegal status all over the world at the time, cannabis had lots of supporters but not very many of them would dare go against the US federal government.

In short, “the fight against Babylon” represents the Jamaican way of opposing the conflicting institutions that are simply put—acting out of pocket and carelessly towards the people and the environment.

Bob Marley’s untimely departure

The anti-cannabis sentiment was very clear in the US, and the US was known for pushing its agenda onto smaller countries. There are even theories that Bob Marley was poisoned and killed for the cause of stopping the spread of marijuana.

Bob’s fight against Babylon almost came to an end in 1976 when seven men with guns raided Marley’s house in a robbery and shot him in his chest and arm.

Once the assailants were caught, one of them admitted during the trial that the job was done for the CIA in exchange for cocaine and guns.

In an interview for Channel 9 television, Bob Marley gave one of the more legendary statements ever regarding money and his view on richness.

Sadly, his life didn’t last forever. It ended a year after that interview.

He died of melanoma (a form of cancer) early in his life, aged 36 in 1981. The melanoma started underneath his toenail, and very quickly spread onto his heart and lungs.

Conspiracy theories about his death started circulating quickly, and the prevalent theory is that the CIA gifted him a pair of shoes infected with malignant cancer cells, which he later contracted by trying them on.

Bob Marley’s imprint on the world will be forever. He first gave a voice to a community that now has representatives all over the world.

He also pushed for the legalization of the cannabis plant which is now happening in the US. One could say that he lost the battle, but ultimately won the war.

Cannabis in Rastafari religion

First of all, you may have wondered why this paragraph isn’t named “Cannabis in Rastafarianism”, and you’d be right to ask so.

It is not commonly known that Rastafari believers are critical against the “isms” (which they see as a typical part of “Babylon” culture), as they thoroughly dislike being labeled themselves.

The rise of reggae brought to a rise in popularity of ganja as well across the world. Cannabis most likely came to Jamaica around 1800s from Africa or South/Central America.

Rastas use ganja for spiritual and ceremonial purposes, and they call it various names: callie, herb, grass, and the holy plant.

They argue that the use of ganja was written in the Bible, which Rastafari heavily leans on. The references to cannabis were made in the Bible:

Psalm 104:14: He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth.

Genesis 3.18: It will produce weeds and thorns, and you will have to eat wild plants.

Proverbs 15:17: Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.

At the early days of 1941, Leonard P. Howell set up a Rasta community of sixteen hundred Rasta’s high up in the mountains. This community was later named Pinnacle.

It was at this point that Howell and the community discovered the properties of ganja that helped their reasoning process, and started growing it as a cash crop.

Once ganja became popular among Rastas abroad, they adopted this new tradition.

The use of cannabis for religious purposes has not been accepted anywhere else especially since many countries had prohibition laws. This has brought big problems to the Rasta’s who are passionate users.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Rastas all over the world were being persecuted, and no fights in court so far have ended in a win for the Rastafari religion and the right to consume a plant for traditional and ceremonial purposes.

The biggest Rastafari populations at that time were found in Jamaica, UK, USA, and South Africa.

Today, cannabis is legal in many places across North and South America. Cannabis took over most of Jamaica as its national crop, and cannabis tourism today is huge in Jamaica.

It would seem that all that struggle for freedom and the fight against Babylon have finally paid off, as Jamaica is definitely on the bucket list for many people to visit!

Lamb’s Bread cannabis strain

Lamb’s Bread, or Lamb’s Breath as the Dutch sometimes call it, is an authentic Jamaican (landrace) strain.

It was rumored to be the favorite strain of the abovementioned reggae star, Bob Marley.

This strain is a pure Sativa, which is traditionally grown on the slopes of the Blue Mountains, on the East part of the island.

Lamb’s Bread smells very earthy and woody since it is mostly grown in soil. If you plan on growing it, stick the plants straight in the ground, don’t even bother with a pot.

The plants usually tend to grow very tall, easily over 3 meters if they are properly fed and topped. Feel free to cut away at the branches as they’ll quickly turn into double colas from the places you topped.

The flowering time of this strain is known to be very long, as Jamaica is right in the center of the Equatorial belt. Winters are warm in Jamaica, which means this strain can end in late November, and even in early December.

Lamb’s Bread is a THC-potent strain that averages around 14% THC and a low CBD content. Just like most other Sativa’s it makes the user happy and uplifted.

So next time you’re in Jamaica, follow the steps of Uncle Bob and light up some Lamb’s Bread.

Categories Culture

1 thought on “How Cannabis Became a Major Part of the Jamaican Culture”

  1. Great article Alex. Leonard Howell was introduced to cannabis by the Indian indentured servants who came to replenish plantation labour force once slavery was abolished. They had carried the practice of smoking the herb it with them.


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