By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be
We are what we are
That’s the way it’s going to be, if you don’t know
You can’t educate I
For no equal opportunity
Talking about my freedom
People freedom and liberty
Yeah, we’ve been trodding on
The winepress much too long
Babylon System is the Vampire
Sucking the children day by day
Me say the Babylon System is the Vampire
Sucking the blood of the sufferers
Excerpt from “Babylon System” released in 1979 on the Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Survival album.
Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley was born in the parish of St. Ann, Jamaica on February 6, 1945 and transitioned in Miami on May 11, 1981. Marley was a Pan-Africanist whose life was influenced by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a Jamaican who was also born in St Ann’s parish and is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement.
The philosophies of Garvey, who was born 58 years before Marley, are frequently heard in the lyrics of Marley’s songs. Garvey advocated “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” and in his 1979 released “Africa Unite” Marley sang:
“Africa unite ’cause we moving right out of Babylon and we’re going to our father’s land. How good and how pleasant it would be before God and man to see the unification of all Africans.”
In a speech recorded in July 1921, Garvey said:
“The great problem of the Negro for the last 500 years has been that of disunity. No one or no organization ever took the lead in uniting the Negro race, but within the last four years the Universal Negro Improvement Association has worked wonders in bringing together in one fold four million organized Negroes who are scattered in all parts of the world, being in the 48 states of the American union, all the West Indian Islands, and the countries of South and Central America and Africa.”
Marley makes reference to Babylon in “Africa Unite” and a few of his other songs, even naming one of his albums Babylon by Bus. Released in 1978, the album is a compilation of live performances from the European leg of the June/July 1978 Kaya tour, recorded in Paris and London.
Marley’s lyrics included references to Babylon because of the significance in Rastafari culture for the need to resist the evil of Babylon, which is the system of oppression. Europe, because of the involvement of Europeans in the enslavement of Africans and later the scramble for Africa and colonization, is considered Babylon. So it is not surprising that a tour of Europe would be seen by Rastafari as touring “Babylon by bus”.
Since its inception, Rastafari has been a religion and culture of resistance to European domination of Africans, including a rejection of the values held dear by the capitalist system which saw Europeans gain wealth by oppressing racialized people.
In Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, published in 1998, Nathaniel Samuel Murrell writes:
“Rastafari therefore represents an important dimension of popular resistance to British colonialism, the plantation system, as well as the authority of British-oriented mulatto and Black middle-class values. It has challenged the values not only of the privileged but also of the underprivileged who accept colonial values. The Rastafarian’s “chanting down Babylon” is, therefore, directed at all segments of the Jamaican society that cradle and foster the beliefs that sustain Black subordination.”
Marley and fellow Rastafari followed the teaching of Garvey, who urged his followers to reject the image of the Europeans as one to worship and consider the epitome of beauty, as had been taught to generations of Africans during their enslavement and colonization.
In a recorded speech (published in 1923 in the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, edited by Amy Jacques-Garvey) Garvey said:
“The Biblical injunction of Acts 17:26 reminds us that He created of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth and is most interested in brotherhood than with one’s own race. Because if Negroes are created in God’s image, and Negroes are Black then God must in some sense be Black. If the White man has the idea of a white God let him worship his God as he desires.
“We have found a new ideal. Because God has No colour, and yet it is human to see everything through one’s own spectacles, and since the White people have seen their god through their White spectacles, we have only now started to see our God through our own spectacles. But we believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy One, the one God of all the Ages; that is the God of whom we believe but we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.”
Garvey also urged his followers to see the beauty in themselves as African people and not the European standard of beauty. He advised them to begin early by giving their children Black dolls “that look like them to cuddle and play with”. He established a doll factory to make those dolls for African-American parents and to have access to such dolls.
In Marley’s “Babylon System” he exhorts:
“Tell the children the truth come on and tell the children the truth. ‘Cause we’ve been trodding on ya winepress much too long and we’ve been taken for granted much too long. From the very day we left the shores of our Father’s land we’ve been trampled on.”
This truth would be about the history of the brutality and horror to which Africans were subjected during their enslavement, which many of our youth know nothing about. One of the reasons why a young entertainer thought it was appropriate to say that the enslavement of his ancestors was a good thing for him and wanted to give a “shout out” to the slave masters.
If wishes did come true, he would be transported into the past, as portrayed by the movie Django Unchained, right into the scene of the “Mandingo fight” as one of the enslaved men forced to fight to the death as entertainment for White folks.
Marley urges rebellion against the Babylon system. The enslaved Africans choose various ways to rebel, from poisoning their owners to malingering when they had to perform the back-breaking work that enriched the White slave holders. We can choose various ways to “rebel” including reading about our history and working to ensure that we leave this place better for the next generation.
Since the 1980s, Marley’s birthday has been recognized with a proclamation from City Hall by the Mayor of Toronto. Marley is one of the Africans who educated and edutained the world about African culture and history.
February is African History/Heritage Month. Educate yourself about our history!