What does Babylon mean in Reggae?

How long were the jews in babylon?

That’s 70 years of bondage.

If your even the slightest fan of Reggae music you must have heard the term “Babylon” being used in some way or another. So what exactly is “Babylon”?

Well the Christian may recognize the term from the Bible when the Jews were captured and forced to undergo hardships in Babylon. The Rastafarians in their consistent historical consciousness recognized the similarities between this biblical saga and the reality which was the Transatlantic Slave Trade or Triangular Trade.

The reason why the tern “Babylon” is used as opposed to another is due to the fact that for the most part the Bible was the only reference point available to most enslaved Africans and since they were stripped of cultural identity and their children were forbidden from learning to read, biblical terminology proved to be the best way of communication between rastas and bald heads.

Its not only Babylon which is used, but also “Israelite” is used to refer to Africans as their sufferation under the  “Babylonian” system is brutal, long and ongoing. Another popular term is “exodus” which depicts the “movement of Jah people across the red sea” – these are lyrics from Bob Marley & the Wailers, Exodus. The term “red” was used to describe the bloody facts about the middle passage in which many Africans were thrown overboard or died from the disgusting conditions of the slave ship.

The rasta have long made the point, which many academics are now recognizing that in the schools the entire curriculum is built around the culture, history and beliefs of the colonizers with vague references to Africa here and there. In fact many of Jamaica’s brightest upon leaving high school can only say “slavery happened a long time ago”. Because that is all they know about the issue yet they can describe Paris, London and can the tales of the Merchant of Venice. This is very disturbing.

“400 years and its the same philosophy” – Peter Tosh

In contemporary Reggae/Dancehall music biblical terms are still used extensively and “Babylon” refers to the system built on slavery i.e. the global free market/globalization system. The social hieracrchy has also come under fire as politicians and police officers have long been pointed out as being pivotal in the oppression of the poor. If you think about it, it makes absolute sense. When talks of what lead to modern capitalism is brought up, I often hear arguments of the steam engine but not once did I hear slavery which is an almost identical model of the global ‘North and South’ trading scheme only thing is goods are being shipped now as opposed to people. Dr. Eric Williams argued this point brilliantly in his book “Capitalism & Slavery”

But this is one thing I cannot overstand
dem nah teach me nothin bout mi ancient land
Inna the school and the college and the institution
the curriculum that I get is European
Ah teach me bout Marco Polo and Napolean
Nah teach me nuttin bout the river Nile bank
where civilization it began
You say thou shall not steal and should not kill no one
yet you steal treacherize and then you teach wrong
(Sizzla) yea yea slave and you murder all mi dad and mi mom
But wicked Babylonian and you will have to burn

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