A Nation Honours Fallen Hero

by: Nivedta Kowlessar

Courtesy of Guyana Chronicle -- Sunday, May 9.

As they did for this final return home Friday afternoon when they stayed into the night, Guyanese turned out in their thousands throughout yesterday to pay tribute to their fallen hero - the late President Cheddi Jagan.

In death he lay in his casket under a striped green and white canopy on the lawns of State House - his official residence in Georgetown after he returned to power at the historic October 5, 1992 general elections and proceeded to put his unique stamp on the presidency of the Republic.

And the thousands filing past as his body lay in State on the lawns of a compound he and his wife Janet had thrown open to the public in a demonstration of a presidency for the people, showed how deeply Dr. Cheddi Jagan has etched his mark into the fibre and fabric of the Guyanese society.

One visitor observed that the relationship between Mrs. Jagan and the people seemed "very personal", noting that in other countries they would not have been allowed close to the official residence of the President.

"It seems consistent with his (President Jagan's) policy...his down-to-earth nature," he summed up.

The public viewing of the body continues today from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., giving thousands more the chance to pay homage to the champion of the working people.

It was on these lawns that he and his wife hosted the President's birthday parties these past four years - and another was planned for his 79th on March 22 this year - with the proceeds destined for children's and other worthy causes.

Yesterday's viewing was a massive outpouring of deeply-felt emotions for the passing of Guyana's most illustrious son of the post-colonial era and the nation is showing it is standing by its fallen warrior and hero.

The flow of mourners, well-dressed for the solemn occasion, some men wearing jackets and ties, began in the wee hours of the morning and was expected to end at 9 p.m.

Thousands of misty eyes peered through the glass-topped wooden casket for a lingering last look at his face.

Thousands of hands extended across it, shaking those of his wife, children and other relatives and thousands more hugged them.

Into the night, the lines of grief-stricken Guyanese along either side of the casket grew and seemed endless.

The gates of the late President's official residence in Georgetown were opened to public at 6:00 a.m. and with each hour the flow was thicker.

By 5:40 p.m. the lines had extended past New Market Street on the southern side of State House and turned into Middle Street.

An average 30 persons per minute filed past.

The very young, young, middle-aged and old entered through the wrought-iron gates on Main Street in the west and excited on the opposite side in Carmichael Street.

Outside, the usually busy Main Street was remarkable quiet. Inside, there were only sounds of footsteps, hushed voices, and mournful strains of low music from a speaker box, a short distance away from the casket.

His widow, Mrs. Janet Jagan, daughter Nadira Jagan-Brancier, son Cheddi Jagan Jnr. And daughter-in-law Nadia took turns with members on 15 branches of the Jagan family at each end of the wooden box holding the remains of the President.

His nephew, Brian, stood for more than three hours straight at the foot-side.

The guards were changed every hour, providing the only breaks - about two minutes long.

Clutching a single rose or buttercup, large wreaths, rags and handkerchiefs and babies in arms, Guyanese of every race, colour and creed paid their last respects.

The very young seemed eager for a look at a great man and a helpful Presidential guard lifted all those who were not tall enough to look inside the casket, standing about two to three feet off ground.

The others wore only a look of deep sadness. The movement of the lines stopped often as many lingered for a last, long look at their distinguished country-man, elegant in long-sleeved white shirt-jac.

Only the upper half of his body was visible through the glass, bordered with fresh flowers they brought. Many captured the view on film. Others stood memorising it.

Nadira, clad in a simple black dress, occasionally daubed away tears. Eldest grandson, Cheddi Jnr. II, was red-eyed.

Mrs. Jagan's strength shone through as she braved away the tears and smiled sadly, but reassuringly. Her gratitude for expressions of sympathy and support was evident.

Her cheek stained with lipstick for the women who kissed her, she even fondly said hello to little children and called out to persons she knew.

The First Lady also tried to ensure everyone saw her late husband for the last time.

"Seeing him?", she enquired of a little lad who was barely tall enough.

The crowd included limping grannies and the disabled and the guards removed the cordon around the casket to allow one young woman in a wheel-chair a closer view.

One group of women sang a religious song. Some saluted. Some waved.

At least two women had fainted during the afternoon. Those not strong enough were treated by medical teams outside and inside the compound.

Some people said they rose as early as 2:30 a.m. yesterday to make the journey to Georgetown. There were people from as far as Bartica and Leguan and the Essequibo Coast.

Among those paying respects during the late afternoon were former Finance Minister, Mr. Asgar Ally, Ms. Dianne McTurk of Karanambo Ranch, Rupununi, Comptroller of Customs, Mr. Lloyd Forde and People's Progressive Party Member of Parliament, Mr. Kim Kissoon.

Officials planned to close viewing at 9:00 p.m.