King’s Canyon Tabernacle

(This same post was shared on my travel blog at

Into the Mountains

Every road leads to somewhere.

When Nathan and I left the monastery, I was using Google Maps on my phone to check the route to the next destination. There were 3 options, within about 5 minutes total travel time of one another, but they each went totally different directions. One started North, one started South, and one started East. As the King’s Canyon Nyahbinghi Tabernacle was basically due east of me, I chose the route that headed to the east and thus into the mountains. It looked like the most direct route to me, but I was wrong.

We began with a left turn. Having come in from the other side, this entire route was new to us. No backtracking. Forward, ever forward. This was more broken country road, but cruisable, not the bumping and grinding kind of roads you find on DNR land or in a remote part of the world. For the most part, it remained the same land that we had passed on our way in that morning: verdant, sun-drenched grasslands and rolling hills of abundant orchards and fields. A place that resembled the grasslands of Africa.

Then there was a turn in the road, and we turned Left onto a new road, this one straight into the 19th century Wild West. It was a tiny cowboy town by the name of Parkfield, complete with old time cowboy-themed BnB & restaurant. All I saw was a bunch of cowboys there in the cowboy town, with the sun getting low and the world getting orange. A one road town, but not exactly a one horse town. There were at least two horses.

The road wound through town and over a river, around more turns, and then came to a place with a “road closed ahead” sign, but not blocking the road so much that I would turn back. The road tended steeply upward from here, winding into wilderness. Despite the warning sign, I had a feeling from the Almighty that I would get through to the other side by going forward and never backward. This section of the voyage began with a harrowing journey across the mountains. Typical of my journeys. Of course, if Nathan is going to travel with his Baba, there must be moments of fear and danger, those moments when we don’t know if we’re going to make it. This is how it always is with adventures and worthy endeavors. But, in this case the Most High told me we would make it through this way alive. I never doubted it for an instant, and the feeling was true.

As the sun went slowly down on one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, the steepness of the mountains and the angle of the sun conspired to obscure the road from me. At times the sun was directly in my eyes, or at other times, the cliff was in total shadow and I could see nothing at all ahead. A narrow road here, any wrong move could put you over the edge and down in a field. This isn’t a joke or some attempt at exciting storytelling. This is the exact truth of what happened. It was at times truly dangerous and at times also frightening, but this is the stuff of life. You cannot back down from this. You must pass through successful and continue to live. That is the test of your faith in every moment of your life.

We traveled that “closed” road, with the wash-outs and the ruts, the 3 floods, the rockslides, and all of that for exactly one hour. We passed two more sets of “road closed ahead” signs, but continued on. The majority of this was bump & grind, all gravel, dirt, and rock like some of the roads in the mountains of Africa. But this was clearly California, some especially beautiful part of California, all mountains and valleys, sun, and growing things. A region seemingly devoid of people, with very little signs of their occasional presence. We did however see many different kinds of animals. Nathan tried to take some videos out the car window. In some places, there were crops, while other sections of the drive were pure wilderness.

Then, just like that, we were out of it. The road got better and we began to pass some driveways, little farmhouses in the dusk twilight. A car went past us going the other direction–the first one we’d seen since Parkfield! Finally at the end of this mystic road, we skirted around another “road closed” sign–this one facing away from us to block drivers from the other side–and then we were through the junction onto a new highway.

This town was called Parkfield Junction and it was a lot bigger than Parkfield. We stopped at a taco truck here for a moment of solace. It was time for dinner. Nathan and I had eaten at the church at lunchtime, but now it was well into the night, maybe 8 or 9pm. We sat outside in the warm night air and had a Facetime with Mama and Javan while we rested briefly from the road.

After that it was a long drive across farmlands for the next 2 hours. The first hour or more was straight, sparse, and dull, then we entered a labyrinthine grid of long farm roads with numbers like Road 80 and Road 120 instead of names. It was dark, and there was little to see. What I could see looked like a David Lynch movie, all creepy and shadowy and monotonous. Nathan was asleep now and I just listened to Nyahbinghi chants or made phone calls to other Rastaman to Bless them up on this Groundation Day.

What is Groundation Day?

Groundation Day is the day that Haile Selassie I arrived in Jamaica to confirm his inheritance. It was April 21st, 1966, making this year the 57th anniversary. Every year since the mid-2000s, I have commemorated this occasion by sitting in Nyahbinghi Ises with Ras Tafari Bredren & Sistren, or holding my own Ises in solitude. It is best to Ilahbrate it in company, but even in solitude, I would be on the phone or video chatting with my Ras Tafari brethren around the world.

Some will say this day is significant because the hero of World War 2, the victorious Ethiopian freedom-fighter monarch, leader of free Africa and elder statesman of the Free World, came to visit the far-off island of Jamaica and welcome her personally into the community of new African states. Others will say this day is significant because the Almighty God walked amongst us in the flesh, was recognized by those Ethiopians held captive in Jamaica, and–responding to their prayers, chants, letters, and personal summons–came forward to stand in their presence, displaying the stigmata of the crucifixion in His hands. Another says it is because the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of the Solomonic Dynasty came to extend his rule to the children of Israel scattered abroad, and to bring them the salvation of the Apostolic Church. There are still others with different and diverse stories about the meaning of this day, but to all it is significant. I believe in all of them.

The legends of Groundation Day are told everywhere I have traveled in the world. I have met Kenyans, and Ethiopians, Jamaicans, Ghanaians, and Gambians, and many others who know the story of the great drought that scourged Jamaica at that time, and how the coming of His Majesty’s Ethiopian Airlines plane broke the clouds and brought rain upon the thirsty Jamaican ground. This is one origin of the name “Groundation”. Another refers to His Majesty’s feet touching the ground of Jamaica. And another to the “groundings”, “grounations”, or “groundations” held by the Jamaican Ras Tafari population, gathering together to reason and pray and chant while awaiting a glimpse of the King of Kings.

For this one day only, the Ganja herb was legal throughout the island of Jamaica. For this one day, the Ethiopian flag of green, gold, and red, with lion symbol, flew over the entire island and the X-flag was diminished. On this day Haile Selassie I presented gold medallions with a lion symbol to 12 chosen men from the Ras Tafari community. In fact, the invitation to attend this ceremony was the first time Ras Tafari people had been granted the permission to enter government buildings or official proceedings, since all the way back at the time of their so-called “emancipation”. Bongo Herman told I a story about this day when I reasoned with him in February, about he and Count Ossie and others playing Nyahbinghi drums for His Majesty in several locations during his visit. This is the day when many Ras Tafari elders, including patriarch Joseph Nathaniel Hibbert, requested that His Majesty send bishops of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church to Jamaica to minister to the people called by His Majesty’s name–a request that was fulfilled just 4 years later, when many (such as Bongo Herman and Joseph Hibbert) were baptized and received into the Body of Christ.

There are many stories about this day, but I cannot hope to contain them here. Let me just say it is significant, and that every Grounation Day I have Ilahbrated has brought significant growth and learning to me personally.

Upon the Binghi Grounds

We left Orange Cove and entered a new winding mountain road into deeper and deeper territory, but these was not the same kind of road as before. More of a shire full of sleeping Hobbits, these hills were gentler, with more homes and habitations, signs of many rural agricultural people around. Before long, we saw the green, gold, and red of the Ethiopian flags and painted gate posts. We had reached the King’s Canyon Nyahbinghi Tabernacle.

I pulled the truck forward past rows of cars and parked in the only place I could find, close to the house. We got down and stretched our legs out. Then, true to his name, Nathan Nakis walked straight into a house full of children he’d never met before and made a whole group of new friends… in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, I went down to the tabernacle and introduced myself to the brethren.

There were 5 men here that I intended to rendezvous with. One was a drum maker. I’d bought a very nice Kete drum from him in 2020 or 21, and bought a ram skin from him soon after that I used to re-skin my Funde drum. We’d only communicated through Instagram in the past, but had never actually met. Another one was the founder of the tabernacle and the elder of these grounds, a man whom I’d only seen in pictures and heard by name, but had likewise not met yet. There was my long-time bredren from Seattle who now lived in New Mexico and often made the drive up to these grounds. He was another “skinhead Rasta” like me (a man who was once a skinhead but became a Rasta; no, I’m not the only one). Also expected to be there was a brother from Seattle who had been organizing Nyahbinghi Ises in our city for more than a decade and was now trodding to this tabernacle a couple of times a year. He’d told me some stories about the place and was part of the reason I decided to travel there. Then there was the elder Ras Flako of Wisemind Publications, whom I had attempted to meet in Montego Bay on our February visit to Jamaica, but we’d missed him that night.

3 of the men were already there when I arrived, and the next 2 arrived later in the night. There were introductions to be made, blessings, gifts, and pleasantries. The tabernacle, a round building of 12 poles set around an inner circle of 6 poles with a 7th center pole, was painted in the Ethiopian flag colors of green, gold, and red. Images of Emperor Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen Asfaw decorated the walls along with numerous Ethiopian banners. There were a row of heavy base drums set upon a stand, and many smaller Nyahbinghi drums around the room. Very finely made drums, and well-tuned.

I brought my own drums in for the drum-maker to inspect. I was immediately told that there was no reason to bring any drums in here, they had enough. Of course I knew that, gut I brought my drums down because I wanted him to take a look at them. He gave me some keen lessons and helped me get them into tune.

We waited for the elder to arrive, and in the meantime absorbed ourselves in reasoning. One of the things that we do at a Nyahbinghi Ises is we reason. “Reasoning” is a Ras Tafari practice of discussing one’s own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, and the reasons behind them, rather than arguing or debating with one another. We give our reasons for what we think and say and how we live. InI don’t fight or squabble, but we reason.

Typically, at a Nyahbinghi Groundation in Seattle, we would reason until the presiding elder arrived, then begin with the reading of 7 psalms (known as the Fire Key) and the lighting of the fire. After that would come the reading of 5 more psalms, along with the recitation of the Nyahbinghi Creed. From that point, the drumming and chants would begin with The Ethiopian Anthem, leading into further chants long into the night. Sometimes the chants would stop briefly for a testimony, or to eat some ital food and pass the chalice cup, only to resume again up until the utmost time that brethren could stay before the appointed time to leave.

Here was different. I was surprised by the depth of the reasoning, which took precedence over the drumming & chanting. In fact, we didn’t even seal up the Fire Key, say the Creed, or sound any chants on the first night. It was pure reasoning until close to dawn. It was good and pleasant, a growing together in spirit, but it was not as I had expected it to be.


This was a 3 Light Ises, which meant that we would hold the Groundation for 3 nights and 3 days. The second day was our chance to explore the grounds and better acquaint ourselves with the other bredren, Empresses, and families who had come there. We had some food to eat in the car, and a box from the local food bank provided plenty dates and avocados. Nathan had a new crew of little friends to play with, and they were jetting from one corner of the property to another playing games, drawing pictures, or playing in the water.

The sun was shining, the weather was warm. The trees were green and the birds were singing. It’s a picture you’ve seen, or heard described, a thousand times, but what can I do to improve on it? There was a stream that flowed near the tabernacle. A ridge of ancient rock formations crossed the property, complete with ancient Native American stone carvings. Sheltered by the trees and bushes in a place where the line of rock intersected the flowing stream, a cold waterfall poured over the rock, providing a great place to take showers.

The second night was similar to the first, with reasoning taking precedent over chanting. This time the fire key came late in the evening, and was followed by the creed, but no drums or chanting actually arose until the wee hours of the morning. Apparently this was less of the chanting house that I was used to and more of a reasoning house. It’s alright. The reasoning was sweet.

These reasonings challenged me to defend my conception of Ras Tafari; to represent myself, my background, and my philosophy, my trod of life; to clarify that I was not a “sky god” worshipper, and to justify my presence as a Rastaman within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as the Nyahbinghi Congo-greation. I learned many things that night about Louva Williams and the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church out of Jamaica. I learned about the religious side of Toots Hibbert, one of my all-time favorite Reggae singers and the frontman of the Maytals. I learned that another one of these Rases had also been a skinhead in his youth, making it three of us here who shared these common points of cultural experience and overstanding. I learned of the Chaldeans, the people of the birthplace of Abraham, a tribe that one of the men here was hailing from. I learned, and I also shared.

Along with reasonings about the path I have followed in life, and about the origins of my own deep convictions, I also shared my reasonings on the things I have learned from listening to Ras Tafari elders, traveling abroad, and reading many books. For example, I have a reasoning that I share about the 3 Ethiopias. This one says that the Ethiopians of the East (continental Africans, especially of the Abyssinian highlands and the modern nation of Ethiopia) must come together with the Ethiopians of the West (diasporic Africans, especially those in Jamaica and the other Caribbean islands) in order to save, redeem, and uplift the Ethiopians of the entire world (the entire Ethiopian diaspora, a.k.a. Human Race). In this outlook, the Ethiopians of the East must bring their great message to the West, and the Ethiopians of the West must bring their great message to the East. The Rastaman of Jamaica must enter the Church of Ethiopia, at the very least to reason and experience it in fellowship and brotherhood. He must learn what the Ethiopians of the East have to teach him, and they in turn must learn what he has to teach them. The Orthodox man of the East must likewise enter into the Nyahbinghi grounds so that the perspective of the Jamaicans and other Ethiopians of the West may enter the consideration and experience of the Ethiopians of the East, enlightening and educating them in this new faculty of understanding. The two must come together, as each needs the message that the other one is carrying. And then we will all arise.

While my mind was on these high flights of reasoning, I had not done a very good job of metering my energy throughout the weekend. Several of the other brethren were resting and awaiting the sound of the drum to summon them to Ises, but I had eagerly sat awake in the tabernacle all night expecting the chants to begin, just talking and listening for hours on end. When the time for drumming finally arrived, it was so late in the night that I only had one or two good chants in me before it was time for me to lay down in the tent and sleep a few hours.


I have a camera that I now travel everywhere with. It’s a portable documentary film kit in a bag that I’ve used to film my current works-in-progress: a pair of fitness documentaries and a series of short video profiles. I brought the kit with me to Jamaica in February and filmed a video with Father Haile Malekot of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jamaica that I will soon release (Jah willing). I had also intended to film a video with Ras Flako on that trip, but that didn’t work out. He’s been fundraising to build a house for Bongo Cecil, one of the elders on the Pitfour Nyahbinghi grounds, and I thought we could record an update on that. That day we missed each other by an hour or two, but now that we were together at King’s Canyon, I proposed that we make up for it and record the video before I left.

Nathan crawled into the tent early in the morning. He’d been sleeping in the house with the other children, but I doubt very much sleeping took place, and now he needed a nap. After a couple of hours more rest, we were up to shower, dress, and pack our bags. We packed everything up and into the truck early, intending to drive before noon. It was a long road all the way home to northwest Washington, but there was one last piece of unfinished business I wanted to take care of first.

But this time Ras Flako had a new idea. He decided not to do a short interview with an appeal for assistance in the homebuilding efforts, but rather requested that we film a reasoning amongst the brethren regarding the 1983 RITA conference resolutions. He sat all the brethren down outside the tabernacle and–after we shared a short prayer and opening chant–commenced a reasoning on the 22 resolutions of the Rastafari International Theocracy Assembly held in 1983 at the University of the West Indies. The reasoning took about 3 hours, over 2 hours of which were recorded on video. This video may never be seen by anyone outside of the group who were there. It was educational and edifying, but none felt that it represented either ourselves or our Ras Tafari culture well enough to be shared publicly. In fact, the sweetest parts of the reasoning came after the camera was turned off. It was a good reminder why cameras are not usually allowed upon the Nyahbinghi grounds.

After that were prayers, warm farewells, and a group photo was taken. But, before we could get on the road, Nathan sneaked back into the river again to play! Now we were many hours behind our schedule with a two-day drive ahead and appointments and obligations waiting at home. As much as I would like to have stayed there the entire month, right through Ethiopian Freedom Day, African Liberation Day, and Derg Downfall Day, the reality of our lives was calling us home.

We headed out late in the afternoon and started the drive north. We’d run out of food on Saturday, and thinking we’d be in town in time for lunch, hadn’t really eaten or drank much this entire day. Now it was evening and we hadn’t even seen a town, let alone a grocery store. Eventually we happened on a decent-sized gas station and stocked up there on all the fruits, nuts, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, and whatever other whole foods we could find.

After about 3 hours drive, we both hit our limit. We were just north of Sacramento and a feeling told me to pull over on this exit here. I saw a familiar sign for the Super 8 by Wyndham and America’s Best Value Inn. This was Dunnigan, the same town we’d passed on the way south and considered sleeping at that time. This time I got my $60 price off Google Maps and we tucked in for the night.

Published by nicnakis

Nicholas |nik-uh-luhs| n. a male given name: from Greek words meaning "victory of the people" John |jon| n. a male given name: from Hebrew Yohanan, derivative of Yehohanan "God has been gracious" Nakis |nah-kis| n. a Greek family name derived from the patronymic ending -akis (from Crete) Amha |am-hah| n. an Ethiopian given name meaning "gift", from Geez Selassie |suh-la-see| n. Ethiopian name meaning "trinity", from Geez

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