Smoking the Holy Weed – A visit to Jamaica’s School of Vision Rastafarian Community by Karol Kozlowski

A short Route taxi ride from New Kingston takes me to Papine.  There, I catch another taxi up into the Blue Mountains. I am lucky and the driver knows the place I am heading to. He drops me at the outskirts of Irish Town and explains that I have to walk down the road and take a path through a wooden gate on the left side. It isn’t possible to reach the Rastafarian community by car. Instead, you have to trek for 30-45 minutes from the road-side along a mountain path. A beaten-earth trail leads through lush coffee plantations and I look out towards the hazy mountains as I walk along.  

Banana Plantation at sunset, Blue Mountains, Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica

My arrival at the School of Vision Community is marked by a cluster of brightly painted houses in the signature Rasta colours of green, gold and red – the colours of the Ethiopian flag.  Beyond, I find a small temple with a tin roof surrounded by a marijuana garden. There are breath-taking views down towards Kingston at the base of the mountains. The people of the Community are friendly, but feel slightly distant. It is Friday afternoon. I will stay for two nights in a simple guest house here so that I can participate in the Sabbath ceremony.  The Rasta Camp is open to visitors and anyone can join their church services. 

Mural paintings at Rastafarian Community, Blue Mountains, Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica

The School of Vision Community’s ultimate goal is to create a fully self-sustainable village cut off from the rest of the civilization once the new world order that they anticipate comes into being. The Community believe this will be initiated by micro-biochips implanted under the skin of every person in the world. They refer to this impregnation as the Biblical “Mark of the Beast”. 

The Community is made up from a group of families, roughly 150 people in total. They are practitioners of the Rastafari religion. Rastafarianism originated among impoverished Afro-Jamaican communities in 1930s Jamaica. Its Afrocentric ideology was mostly a reaction against Jamaica’s then-dominant British colonial culture. Rasta beliefs are based on a specific interpretation of the Bible. They believe in a single God, referred to as Jah, an abbreviation of Jehovah.  Rastafarians recognise Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, as the Second Coming of Christ and thus Jah incarnate. Rastafari focuses attention on the African diaspora, which it believes is oppressed within Western society which Rastas call “Babylon”.  

Rastas live naturally and adhere to a largely organic, “ital” diet.  Rasta men typically wear their hair in dreadlocks, styled as a lion’s mane as an expression of their naturalness and in recognition of Haile Selassie who was formally known as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. 

On Saturday morning around 9am I head to the temple. Following convention, I take off my shoes to go inside. The weekly ceremony or “grounding” starts with reading the Bible. Rasta men read verses from the Holy Book punctuating their readings with shouts of “Jah Rastafari”! After the readings, the priest gives his speech and interpretation of the verses. 

Rasta Man dancing and praying during weekly Sabbath Celebration, School of Vision Temple, Rastafarian Community, Blue Mountains, Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica

A small incense fire is burning at the edge of the temple. It is already warm inside the building, but a fresh mountain breeze wafts in and refreshes the air.  The ceremony lasts for hours.  In breaks, the Rastas smoke cannabis pipes and spliffs.  Cannabis is seen as giving wisdom and is considered the equivalent of taking the sacrament to the Rastafari.   

The mood changes as the syncopated rhythm of drumming starts. People become more alive. They dance, swaying as they sing.  Some go into a trance. Men and children play drums together. Women shake rattles as they dance to the beat.  Together, the worshippers perform traditional Rastafari songs like “Rivers of Babylon”. It is sunset by the time that everything comes to an end.  

After dark I eat an Ital meal of rice and vegetables. Afterwards tired after the whole day of intense photographing I am ready to sleep. I feel inspired and filled with positive energy. When falling asleep I still hear in my head the drumming and singing. What a colourful day!

About the Photographer:  Karol Kozlowski is a Polish photographer specialising in architecture, landscape and documentary/street photography. As a fluent Polish, English and Spanish speaker Karol likes to explore countries where he is able to interact with locals. He has lived in Poland, Spain, Scotland and Brazil and his plan is to live in many more countries so that he can spend more time on crafting the images that truly represent the spirits of these places.

His work has featured in the publications of National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, DK Eyewitness, Voyage, Pascal, Petit Fute, Lanndo, Los Angeles Times, Alfa Romeo and Siemens.

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