Unbelievable Scenes at Albion

by: Nivedta Kowlessar and Wendella Davidson

(Courtesy of the Guyana Chronicle - March 12, 1997)

The Georgetown lines were long, the funeral procession to Rosignol was likened to a national outpouring, but the scenes yesterday at Albion were unbelievable.

Thousands upon thousands of Guyanese trekked here steadily, eager for a view of the body of the late President Dr. Cheddi Jagan as it lay in State before the scheduled 2 p.m. cremation at Port Mourant.

At about 8 a.m., they were in queues stretching for as long as two miles and still more were joining to get into the Albion Sports Complex ground where Dr. Jagan's body lay in State under a tent.

As the deadline drew near, there was a determined look on the faces of many still outside the compound that looked like trouble.

And then just after 10 a.m., it was announced that the cremation had been postponed by a day and the public viewing of the body in the casket would continue non-stop until 8 a.m. today.

That erased the grim looks on the hundreds of faces around and there were approving smiles.

Despite the welcome news, the thousands from all walks of life stood their ground, waiting their turn to get in.

The crowds continued to swell with several persons not wanting to join the two queues leading to two entrances to the viewing area.

One of Dr. Jagan's nephews, his voice hoarse, tried to restore order with the use of a public address system while Police blocked those bent on not joining the lines.

On the main Albion roadway, the traffic was at a virtual snail's pace and vehicles were closely parked to each other on both sides.

Several cops regulated traffic as vehicles, including trucks, trailers, cars, pick-ups and mini-buses arrived - all packed with people of all ages and groups.

There was hardly anyone not appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Agriculture Minister, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud said the turnouts by Guyanese have been massive, though not surprising and showed the strength and support which Dr. Jagan has enjoyed in the country.

"People are showing passionately their determination to view (his body). It was clear (Monday) night. They would have done anything on this God's earth to get a glimpse of the late leader...", he said.

With the tension in the air eased with the chances of more people joining the viewing lines, those who saw the face of their leader through the glass top on the casket turned their attention towards the cremation site near the Babo John Cemetery, Port Mourant, about four miles away.

It was like the beginning of a phase two in a project.

The distance did not seem to matter; the crowds moved like an avalanche to the site in trucks and buses and on foot.

Reporters at the scene could not understand why they continued to converge at the crematorium, although the cremation had been postponed.

One lady explained: "This is the only thing gon satisfy we; we coming back tomorrow."

It was a remarkable site with persons gripping on to the white picket fence surrounding the area for today's cremation.

With the announcement of the postponement, several groups who had traveled from Bartica and Essequibo began to pitch tents for the night around the area.

They said that having come thus far, they had no intention of returning.

One man declared: "We prefer to sleep her tonight. If we move we ain't certain we gon get this view tomorrow. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

Presidential Advisor, Dr. Rovin Deodat announced the postponement several times invited those traveling from outlying areas and unable to return, to gather at a specified point for arrangements to made for their accommodation.

Several members in the groups had bags with ice buckets and drinks.

Some said they had a change of clothing in preparation for any eventuality.

The crematorium proper, about four feet high, was constructed of concrete and has openings at the base and stairs at the sides.

Atop are layers of coconut shells, dupe and chila wood.

A woman nearby explained that the body is usually placed on the pyre and more wood is added along with the casket.

Camphor and several pounds of ghee will be added before it is ignited.

There are two entrances to the site room from the public road.

Additional amenities, including electricity installation and accommodation for some 40 dignitaries were in place, officials assured.

At Albion, mini-buses with residents from West Demerara began to arrive at about 2:30 p.m. to view the body.

They said they had had a long wait to board a ferry for the Berbice River crossing from Rosignol.

Officials said an estimated 10,000 persons had thronged the ferry stelling at Rosignol early in the day resulting in a severe restriction on the number of vehicles usually allowed on board.

Way into the afternoon, persons were still grabbing the opportunity for a last look at Dr. Jagan's body.

As of the heat of the day took its toll on those in line, members of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) moved up and down offering cool drinks to people still waiting.

The drinks came from two barrels in an open back vehicle.

However, by then the lines were shorter and people had no difficulty in getting into the ground.

More Police ranks were out yesterday to control the crowd after incidents at the Albion Sports Complex ground Monday night.

Immediate members of the Jagan family, bodyguards, friends and citizens trying to help had been forced to form themselves into human barricades to prevent people from getting closer to the President's casket.

Fearing for its safety they held hands in an effort to block the overspilling crowds.

Thousands who had waited for several hours had defied all orders to queue, stormed the ground and broke several protective wooden barriers placed by the Police, which were yesterday reinforced.

But up to early last night, no incidents were reported.