Rasta “Cane to Cannabis”
Ras Richie and Empress Tia welcome visitors to Ras Freeman in Antigua. They’ll show you love and show you around these hilltop former plantation fields that were once worked by slaves to grow sugarcane. Today, they grow mangoes, pineapples, melons, papaya, onions, squash and a lot of cannabis. I was in a group of the first media to visit and participate in an experience they call “cane to cannabis.”
At the top of the hill overlooking their crops, this Rasta community is building a traditional 12-sided tabernacle expertly sided with cut stones from all over the island, representing different communities and Antigua’s geological history. At the centre of the tabernacle, three or four types of drums are played for keeping the heartbeat of the community and to practice the mantra, “do good, do good, do good.” The colours represent both Rastafarian culture and Antigua cultural touchstones, the green of sugar cane which is no longer grown but is so deeply embedded in its history. The other is a shade of yellow called “pineapple N,” the colour of a slice of Antiguan black pineapple, a small, sweet pineapple available only on the island as none is exported.. “We mystically chose those two colours,” says Ras Richie.
Outside, another stage is set up in front of the ruins of a stone tower called a sugar mill. You can see the stage and the mill ruins behind Richie and Tia. Such ruins dot the Antiguan landscape as reminders of a dark past when the island was filled with sugar cane plantations. Ras Richie takes us to the ruins of the house where slaves were once chained in a basement with just three feet of headroom as punishment. He says there’s a debate about what to do with these ruins — rebuild and use it, turn it into a museum or destroy it.
The tour ends with music from the stage and bowls of rich, vegetarian soup they call “ital sauce” served in bowls and with spoons both made from the shells of fruit called calabash. There’s green banana, squash, onion, beans and other vegetables in a thick broth. Delicious carrot juice on ice is the drink of choice.