Written and sent on March 24, 2006 to be read on March 25, 2006 at the Mortimo Planno Service at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Kingston, Jamaica
It is difficult to speak of the man we commemorate today and very difficult to accept that his physical presence will no longer be with us. The emotions, the thoughts, vividly brought to mind by the untimely passing of Mortimo Planno, have yet to recede, yet to ease away. Time, in this regard, has not yet had the opportunity to work its healing prowess.
Kumi was a friend, a tutor, and a colleague in the truest sense of that term. His image of himself undoubtedly was that of The Earth Most Strangest Man: The Rastafarian – the title he used for the perceptive essay on Rastafarianism he scripted more than thirty years ago. I first met this magnificent man in Trench Town during the sixties, a tumultuous period in Kingston and post-colonial Jamaica. As I came to know him during those early years, I began to learn, from others, of his pivotal role in the public unfolding of the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica; of his critically important part in initiating the politically potent study of that movement, a study authored by the eminent scholars M.G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford; and, of his inspirational role as a Rastafarian member of the historic Government Mission to Africa, a mission sent to explore the possibilities of repatriation. In these regards, while it was Marcus Garvey, returning to Jamaica in 1927, who first linked the doctrine of racial pride, return to Africa and the instruction “look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near,” it was Mortimo Planno. with just a few others, who jump-started the very active modern pursuit of these linked goals and who willingly sacrificed a lifetime of work to do so.
Kumi accomplished much, if not all, by teaching. He was the constant teacher. His students were legion, the Bob Marleys, scufflers from the streets of West Kingston, university students from Mona and beyond, even the occasional White wanderer from afar. In fact, it was Kumi who introduced me to the diversities of Jamaican street life and influenced me in my understanding of Rastafarianism and its place in Jamaican society. For the years that followed our initial meeting, he remained, certainly in my mind, my valued guide to the inner recesses of Jamaica and, to the very last, and my steadfast friend. It was a relationship, stretched over vast distances and limited contacts but, nonetheless, a relationship I shall always cherish. For these and many other reasons, I am most grateful for the privilege of joining you, in spirit, at this tribute to his life and work.
How will Mortimo be remembered – charismatic leader, political warrior, forthright analyst, accomplished teacher, iconoclast breaching the walls of Babylon, zealot breathing Rastafarian fire and making the Movement consequential far beyond the shores of Jamaica. He will be remembered for all, of course. All were indispensable facets of the Planno identity, facets of a lion of a man firmly wedded to truth, knowledge and religious conviction.
Jamaica, perhaps because of its history of perilous challenge and difficult response, has been fortunate in nurturing a select group of individuals from all classes who earn the long-lasting admiration of the public, individuals, who more often than not, were at the cutting edge of change and social transformation. Mortimo, an archetypical product of Jamaica, will join this company. Nurtured in Jamaica under the most arduous of circumstances, he lived here, struggled mightily here and excelled in those matters that meant the most to him- the concerns of the people here. The Jamaican poet, Basil McFarlane, in his poem Ascension, illuminates another aspect of the Planno essence. The poem is as follows:
Carry me up some morning to the
Now that I have
died . . .
Here among the stone
Here upon the sterile
Here by the cacti crucified.
Therefore carry me
some morning up
To my father,
Who is all knowledge
And all strength
All wisdom and all
All there is of Truth
All greenhills: I fulfilled
Carry me up some morning
Carry me up some
morning to the
Where I shall live again
Where I have
Kumi once wrote “Man’s immortality lives in his progeny” and that “Memories! They are like echoes, always come back.” This being so, Kumi is not dead, his legions of spiritual progeny and their full memories of him preclude this.
If I were with you today, I would attempt a chant, the chant concluding the memorial service offered by Orthodox churches around the Christian world. In the Greek Orthodox Church, the chant uses one word EONIA (eh oh neé a) that means Memory Eternal, sung hauntingly three times by the officiating cleric. Although I am not a priest, if I were here I would ask permission to sing that chant. EhOhNeéA . . . EhOhNeéA . . . EhOhNeéA. Rest in peace and love, friend and brother, your memory lives forever.
Gardner Cowles Professor of Anthropology and Education,
Teachers College, Columbia University