The song “Rivers of Babylon” was written and recorded by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group ‘The Melodians’ in 1970. But the song remained relatively unknown until it was recorded and released by the Germany-based disco band Boney M in 1978 after which it became a theme song for hope and aspiration and reverberated around the world.
This song talks about the feelings of the Jewish people in exile in Babylon following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The lyrics of the song are obviously taken from the Biblical Psalm 137:1-4 wherein it is presented in the form of a hymn expressing the lamentations of the Jewish people in exile in Babylon.
The song talks about being carried away by the wicked in captivity. It also talks about weeping by the river of Babylon when they remembered Zion. And it also laments about how they could possibly sing praises to their Lord when they were in bondage in a strange foreign land.
As I listen and ponder over the lyrics of the song, I cannot help but imagine that the Nagas of today also find themselves in a somewhat similar situation which the Jewish people experienced in exile in ancient Babylon. Of course we are not in exile in a foreign country like the Jews. But I guess we are somehow entrapped in our land. And we are also not in a real sort of captivity and bondage as everything we need and require are apparently being provided by our captors. It may also be inappropriate to address our so-assumed captor as wicked because, at least on the face value, our captor appears to be a benevolent and philanthropic entity who is ever ready to meet the needs and aspirations of our people. And as believers and followers of the gospel, we are still required to stay hopeful and optimistic for our day of deliverance by singing the lord’s song even in this strange situation.
Our aspiration for self-rule and existence and recognition as an independent sovereign people was made evidently clear to the concerned authorities as early as 1929 when some of our farsighted leaders submitted the famous Naga Memorandum to the Simon Commission. On the eve of British departure from the Indian sub-continent when power was about to be transferred to Indian hands, the farsighted Naga leaders saw in advance what was about to befall on the Nagas living in the far north-eastern edge of the so-called India country. Therefore they did whatever they could possibly do by submitting numerous letters of appeal and intimation both to the outgoing British government and the incoming Indian government. But all our cries fell on deaf ears only as none of these authorities felt that the Nagas were important enough to be considered and included in their schemes of things. And the Nagas were simply ignored as non-existent entity and set aside. The result was that the outgoing British authority left without doing or saying anything as far as the fate of the Nagas were concerned and this evidently put our fate and future at the complete mercy of the now newly independent India who in its new found glory and limelight as a new nation was probably not going to listen to the voices and aspirations of a tiny people living in the north eastern edge of its border. This was the strange situation in which we found ourselves about 72 years ago.
Following India’s independence also, the Nagas remained adamant in their aspiration to live and to be recognized as an independent sovereign people and this stand of the Nagas obviously did not go down well with the leaders of the new Independent India who were already confronted by many other gigantic issues. Therefore the army was activated and set in to crush the so-called Naga rebellion which resulted in a literal bloodbath across the length and breadth of Nagaland. And the question was how could a native people whose only weapons were machetes and spears and whose only appeal was to simply be left alone and be allowed to live freely and independently as in ancient times possibly fight against an intruder armed with the most sophisticated weaponry of its time and whose leadership was bent upon taking advantage of the situation and annexing lands and territories and subjugating a people with whom India had had no affinity whatsoever in the past. Yes, this was the strange situation in which we found ourselves.
And for over 70 years now, we Nagas continue to find ourselves in this strange situation because both India and the world do not consider us important enough to be given our fair share of the deal. When Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait the whole world came to the rescue of Kuwait. When communism was about to engulf the whole of Vietnam, the United States was even outrageous enough to send thousands of its troops and artillery to this faraway country to check the menace of communism. Then why is it that even today, when the whole world has been connected through internet and when a good portion of the world is obviously already aware of the Naga story, nobody comes to our rescue. This is the strange situation in which we find ourselves.
As the world is apparently not willing to do anything as far as our political aspirations are concerned, every time we Nagas are compelled to return back to square one. And that is dealing with India whether we like it or not. And this has, I believe, in many ways, put India back on the driver’s seat. There may be countries who are morally supporting the Nagas but the sad reality is that none of these countries may come out openly to confront India for the sake of the Nagas’ right. This is so because for any country to be at odds with a mighty superpower like India just for the sake of a small people living on the edge of India’s border would be more disadvantageous than advantageous. This is the strange situation in which the Nagas found themselves.
The song “Rivers of Babylon” also talks about the Jewish people weeping when they remembered Zion. For the Jews as well as in Christian thought, Zion has deep profound meaning. It literally means the hill of Jerusalem on which the city of David was built. And it symbolizes the heavenly city or the kingdom of heaven or a land of future promise. That is what Zion means for the Jews.
What about the Nagas? What would be our Zion? In the Naga memorandum submitted to the Simon Commission in 1929, the Nagas had appealed to the Britishers to just leave the Nagas alone and allow them to live and determine their own destiny as in ancient times in the event of the British withdrawing their empire from this part of the world. And that is what we have been appealing even to India all these years. Just leave us alone and allow us to live our own lives uninterrupted and undisturbed as in ancient times. And so I guess that is our Zion – to live as a totally free people in our own god-given land. Yes, this is the strange situation in which we have been living for the last 70 years.
But as believers and followers of Christ, we have to remain hopeful and jubilant even in the midst of uncertainty and bondage by believing that the Lord will choose the hour, time and manner of our deliverance. So I guess we must continue to sing the Lord’s song even in this strange situation in which we have been living for over 70 years now.