What Is Babylon For Rastas?

rasta culture, rastafari -

What Is Babylon For Rastas?

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You hear about it in most Reggae songs but you don't know why? Would you like to understand what happened to make this legendary city so controversial? Think you need a deep dive into human history so you too can take a stand? Do you want to know what Babylon means to the rastas?

My name is Caroline, I am a true history buff, specifically that of Africa and the Middle East. Inevitably, I was led to make my main passions my profession while traveling the world to meet many supporters of the Rastafari movement to share with them their cultures as well as their knowledge. Rest assured, I know exactly how to answer all your questions!

Known as one of the oldest cities in the world, the ancient city of Babylon is to the Rastas the representation of all that is evil on Earth. The absolute opposite of Zion (Zion), the Rastafarian holy land, theMesopotamian metropolis that was meant to be The Gateway to the Gods, is nothing but a vile combination of societal excesses and advocates mass consumption, spiritual censorship and social oppression.

As you read through this article, you will understand:

  • The eventful history of this Mesopotamian city
  • The presence of the Babylonian civilization in the various religions
  • The symbolism of this city for the rastas

The significance of the citadel of Babylon for rastas will no longer be unknown to you. You will be able to tell its story to your friends and sing your heart out for its downfall to your favorite reggae sounds understanding why.

Get ready, now it's time to start:

1- Babylon, oldest city in the world

Before becoming a symbolic city for rastas around the world, Babylon was a city in Mesopotamia - territory that corresponds to Iraq today. It had its heyday during antiquity and although only a few ruins remain to this day, it was of major importance in history and biblical texts.

Mentions of it are found in Genesis but also in Revelation. There it is described as a city that wants to impose itself on others, terribly proud and authoritarian. Christian tradition will relate the Babylonian king who experienced the fall - Book of Isaiah - to Lucifer, a fallen angel who fell from heaven.

But the ancient city is not just a symbol of human pride! Far from it. It can be said that it unites many, many flaws in itself. In Revelation, it is linked to the Great Whore, the mother of all "abominations of the Earth."

The "Great City" thus presents a very negative notion in Jewish and Christian traditions. But this is not just about these two religions as can be seen by studying the Rastafari movement.


a) Babylon and the Rastafarians

As can be seen, Babylon has become the very image of human depravity. This notion is found as early as the first Rasta texts, written by Leonard Percival Howell. He was one of the first to equate the ancient city with savage capitalism. He wants to fight against the financial importance, the depravity, the human decadence. In this, he will oppose the other great figure of the Rasta movement: Marcus Garvey. One wants blacks to be able to use the economic machinery as well, while Howell will question the economic system that he considers responsible for the injustice suffered by workers.

At the same time, Howell predicted the coming to power of a black emperor, a fact that would prove correct with the accession to the Ethiopian throne of Haile Selassie in 1930. His preaching then became more and more successful. He founded a Rasta community in Pinnacle in 1940. This one wants its members to move away from the capitalist idea represented by Babylon. But he had troubles with the ruling power, the big local landowners and Great Britain, which considered him a major player in the sedition.


In the early 1950s, the group founded by Howell is disbanded and the participants will then disseminate Rasta ideas around the world. The perverted Babylon, a symbol of the repressive system, initiated by Howell remains one of the major notions in Rastafarianism to this day.

Along with other symbols - see our article on the Top 14 most important Rastafarian symbols - Babylon has a major place in Rasta religion. But this one takes on the negative side of society, to be avoided at all costs. Being a Rasta is still today a principle that wants to put the equality of men and respect for the earth at the heart of its beliefs. One wants to eliminate the domination of one people over another. Rasta also wants to emphasize the return to African origins. If you're fervent about these principles of equality, you can show off your beliefs by wearing one from our rasta backpack collection.

b) The Babylonian city that became a strong symbol

Babylon is not just an image of human depravity. It is also a symbol of the deportation of the Judeans to the city instituted by king Nebuchadnezzar. This story takes on important meaning as early as the 1930s for followers of the Rastafari movement. The Jamaican government wanted to silence those it considered to be dissenters. It imprisons a large number of people and will redefine the rules of the island. The Rastas then consider that their land becomes a "hell on earth", a land of captivity and slavery. The island then becomes the Babylon of the Caribbean, the symbol of their imprisonment. The movement then aims at exile to the lands of Africa, assimilated to Zion. Rastas await the exodus, just like the Judeans dominated by Pharaoh. The Mesopotamian city again takes on a particularly negative value in the Rasta imagination, a place where freedom to think, act, and simply live is reduced to its simplest level.

The city is the representation of all that is considered ignominy. However, it can be noted that in this notion there is no racial concept. Man, no matter where he is, suffers the same repressions and must seek freedom from them.

2- What does Babylon represent to Rastas?

As a symbol of human corruption and pride in the Bible, the city is also the image of a rich land where gold abounds. The sacred text even though it denigrates the city at the same time makes its apology since it displays its prestige and domination over other empires. It is the very image of man's power over nature and over other men. In the Book of Daniel, we can thus see these different empires that successively dominated Israel.

Rastas see this as a continuation of the domination of the Western world over Africa. It imposes its values and system on the world at large.

Babylon also has great importance in the field of belief. Thus, mysticism can be linked to it, the belief in false gods - the kings - in a powerful city that hides its flaws under appearances of luxury. The people are deceived. The city is the source of the myths that have fooled men.

In this, it will stand in opposition to Zion -or Zion-the heavenly Jerusalem that Rastafarians identify with Ethiopia. It was here that Cain settled after the fatal act that cost his brother his life. He built a simple dwelling in connection with nature but also to protect himself from it. No luxuries, just what is needed to live. Babylon is bad, Zion is good. This duality is found in Rasta culture in general.

a) Babylon and Rastafarianism

Rastas have stigmatized the city and made it the major enemy of the movement and of men. The city represents in their eyes the symbol of human vanity which builds not only to protect itself from the outside but to showcase its wealth, its despotism. It represents what is worst in man, his will to dominate the weakest, his will to be superior.

In Rastafari culture, there are many references to the lost city. Thus several songs mention the Great Depraved.

Several tracks by famous Bob Marley have also denounced the power of the city including the well-known " Babylon System "

"Babylon system is the vampire, yea! (vampire)

Suckin' the children day by day, yeah!

Me say de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,

Suckin' the blood of the sufferers, yeah!"

Gregory Isaacs also composed an anthem for the decadent city with " Babylon too rough ". Finally, it's impossible to talk about Babylon without thinking of the famous song " River of Babylon " by the Melodians, a popular reggae band in the 1970s. Now a true Rasta anthem, the text is a summary of the values attached to the Great Whore:

"By the rivers of Babylon,

We sat down

And we wept,

When we remembered Zion

For the wicked who carried us off into captivity

Have asked us for a song

But how can we sing

A Rastafari song in a foreign country?"

b) Babylon and politics

We have been able to note that the ancient city has different aspects that are particularly negative in the eyes of the rastas. It is also an integral part of the conception of politics. To reduce Babylon to nothing, it is important not to follow the establishment it represents, whether it is the police, the official religion or the political class. The rasta rejects all traditional models of systems, from liberalism to democracy. To give voice to these movements is to give the repressive Babylon the weapons to act. This anti-political culture rejects the policed model of the well-managed city that reduces freedoms to mere obedience and manipulation. Rastas reject the models they believe come from Babylonian civilization and the politicians who want to take the place of God. They work to destroy the cursed city with the slogan:

" Babylon will burn!" "


You got it, this ancient city of Babylon is the very symbol of debauchery, the excesses of humanity and human stupidity. She is therefore the entity that everyone must fight against (spiritually) in order not to sacrifice their freedom.

With all this new knowledge, you can now relate the various events that made Babylon the representation we know nowadays. You are also able to discuss and debate with your loved ones about the excesses of this system by arguing your points. In other words, by now being able to understand what Babylon is to Rastas, you are sharing Rastafarian knowledge.

Aware of all this and stingy with freedom, join the spiritual struggle and use every possible means, from the most subtle to the most pronounced, to fight oppression. Start, for example, by wearing one of these hats to mark your first steps!

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