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Concrete Jungle

Concrete Jungle


by Bob Marley & The Wailers


"Concrete Jungle" is both a metaphor and a very real place.

As a metaphor, "Concrete Jungle" evokes the worst aspects of modern urban life. Cold structures of concrete and steel, with manmade towers casting the earth into shadow by blocking out the sun. Bleak and unnatural landscapes, with the earth paved over and living greenery nowhere to be found. People behaving like animals, competing with each other over scraps while struggling just to survive.

And as a non-metaphor, as a real place, Jamaica's Concrete Jungle might be described in more or less the same terms.

Concrete Jungle is a housing project. Its official name is Arnett Gardens, but everyone who lives there—and everyone who's afraid to go there—knows it better by its more evocative nickname, which is often shortened simply to "Jungle." Concrete Jungle was constructed in the early 1970s, a modern government housing scheme built on the edges of West Kingston's Trench Town shantytown ghetto. It's stood at the center of many of the worst problems plaguing Jamaican society ever since.

Jamaica is a democracy, with two strong parties—the conservative Jamaica Labour Party (yes, the name makes no sense) and the left/liberal People's National Party—vigorously competing for votes in regular parliamentary elections. But Jamaica's democracy took a tragic wrong turn in the 1970s, when both parties began patronizing armed gangsters to terrorize each other's constituents. This politicized "tribal war" has been raging, off and on, ever since, transforming Kingston into one of the world's most dangerous and violent cities while making Jamaica's democracy into something of a farce.

Jamaica's political violence has a distinct geography… and Concrete Jungle is one of the most important locations on its map. Jungle is one of Kingston's most notorious "garrisons," government-built housing projects filled with partisan supporters of one party or the other, and used—as the name "garrison" implies—as fortified bases for the gangsters raging tribal war. The first garrison was Tivoli Gardens, built by the JLP in the late 1960s. A few years later, the PNP gained control of the government and built its own garrison to rival Tivoli at Concrete Jungle. JLP-affiliated bad men from Tivoli have been battling PNP-supported Junglists ever since.

The situation may be tolerable for the "top ranking" gangsters and the cynical politicians who think they control them, but it is brutal for the "sufferers"—ordinary poor people—who are forced to live in the garrisons or in the violent no man's land in between them. Mindless, endless violence has now been terrorizing Kingston's civilian population for decades; even Bob Marley, the country's greatest modern-day hero, nearly lost his life to the tribal war when armed gunmen believed to be JLP-affiliated Tivolites broke into his uptown compound and unleashed a hail of bullets in retaliation for Marley agreeing to perform at a PNP-sponsored concert in 1976.

Marley wasn't joking around in his lyrics; in Concrete Jungle, the living really is hardest.

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