Indentured playground desecrated at Port Mourant

Dear Editor,
Land cleared by indentured labourers and formerly used for recreation: cricket, mass gatherings, cultural activities, religious events like Ramayana, satsanghs, Phagwah, festivals like Holi, kite flying, kabadi, wrestling, and other functions at “Four Foot”, Ankerville, just behind the yard of the Jagans, has been desecrated.
The indentured labourers and those whose sweat went into converting a forest into a playground must be turning in their graves. Their descendants let them down. There is so much history in that playground. Great oral history was revealed about events at the ground. This holy land at the back of Ankerville, of great archival value to researchers, has been converted into house lots. One shudders to think that no Government, no politician, not even those who are geographic MPs, Councillors, and NDA reps, made any serious effort to preserve the playground. Community voice was ignored.
I found out that the indentured cricket ground was turned into house lots only when I visited a few days ago to pay homage to Jagan at his ancestral home. Many people are quite upset that they are deprived of a playground, and about the erasure of history from our memories.
The indentured playground, which played such an important role in the growth and development of the Indian community on the Corentyne and beyond, has not been preserved for posterity to remember the contributions of the indentured labourers and their children or grandchildren in developing the area. Survivors from the 1920s onwards who played cricket behind the Jagans’ home at “Four Foot” are angry at the then Government for converting the playground into house lots. That large cricket field, where the indentureds and their children played ball, and where legends like Rohan Kanhai, Joe Solomon, Joey Carew and the fathers of Alvin Kalicharran, Rex Ramnarace, etc. once played or practised the game, has been converted into lots for housing. Such an act would inevitably result in the erasure of history of significance regarding the ground.
The indentureds and their children chopped down forest, cleared thick vegetation, dug drains, and moved tons of soil to develop that playground, and a roller was brought there for pitch preparation. It was all done by voluntary labour. It was established for the indentured, their children, grandchildren, and future generations for cricket and other sporting activities.
There were many community events at the location. People pooled resources and donated money for various programmes there. Cheddi Jagan played ball at that hollowed playground that his father helped to establish; he visited often after he entered into politics. Other famous personalities also played there.
People I spoke with claim there was no consultation with the community or with historians or activists on the importance of the ground before it was parceled out into house lots. Why was the ground desecrated by conversion into house lots? The argument cannot be there is a scarcity of land in Guyana; Berbice has unlimited land. There is abandoned rice land next to the ground that could have been used for housing. Alternative land can be easily identified on the Corentyne. The cricket ground could have been preserved in its most natural form for posterity.
I do not think politicians acted maliciously in converting the ground into house lots. They acted out of sheer ignorance, as is the wont of several politicians. They tend not to study history. They do not study history, and don’t care for lessons of history, or even about preserving the legacy of indentured ancestors. They do not understand the relevance of protecting historical grounds and edifices.
Mr. Austin of the famous Austin’s Bookstore told me that politicians don’t buy books, and certainly not history books, except Mr. Granger. African politicians would never convert into house lots Parade Ground or lands sacred or of historical significance to slaves. Few descendants of indentured labourers are aware of the significance of the indentured recreation ground in Ankerville, where just across the side line was built the first place of open worship (a Shiva Murthi) in a mandir, on the dam next to the cane fields. It could very well be the oldest place of Hindu worship in Guyana.
I learnt of the importance of the ground in recent years, in my research on the history of the Indian community in Port Mourant, when I conversed with seniors in their 80s and 90s, including my 93-year-old surviving mother, who played there. The playground was just behind the yard of the Jagans, next to open rice land and a mile way was open cane fields as far as one can see. It was right across from Bound Yard and served cricketers from Bound Yard, Free Yard, and Ankerville. It used to have large gatherings. It was the first cricket ground in Port Mourant, and for many years the only one for the large community, before a ground was prepared behind the hospital, followed by the famous PM Community Centre cricket ground.
The indentured ground was probably the first cricket ground for Indians in Guyana. Later, grounds were established in newer sections of Port Mourant, like Ankerville (behind the hospital), Free Yard and Bound Yard, and later in Miss Phoebe Lowside, Train Line, Babu Jhan, Haswell, Miss Phoebe West, Tain, Clifton, Jones, Portuguese Quarters, etc. The Ankerville ground was used for recreation and various other activities during the colonial era, before another one was built behind the hospital as the Indian population grew and settlements expanded. I played cricket at both grounds in Ankerville just before departing for university studies in 1977.

The indentureship cricket ground is of sentimental value to Indians who grew up in the area. It can be regarded as the cradle of Indian civilisation in Berbice, if not Guyana. Port Mourant was the largest estate in Guyana, and had the most indentured labourers. The area produced some of Guyana’s most distinguished sons and daughters; besides the Jagans, Sir Shridath Ramphal’s parents were from Port Mourant, as were the parents of Muneshwer and Alim Shah, among others, who were bounded at the historic plantation.
In ‘The West on Trial’, Cheddi Jagan detailed his childhood days playing and interacting at that very ground. It was at that playground that children of indentured labourers used to play soft ball as well as hard ball. It was a popular meeting point for the indentureds after the termination of that abominable exploitative system in 1920. It was used for rallies and for championing India’s swaraj (home rule), as well as to support Jagan in his struggle for Guyana’s independence.
Politicians don’t show appreciation for what our fore-parents did. Granger, Vincent Alexander, Harmon, Green, David Hinds, Tacuma Ogunseye boldly take initiatives to preserve their history. Regrettably, there is no corresponding alacrity from members of the other groups to preserve their history. Indian scholars are almost never consulted for views on matters of importance to the nation or communities.
The indentured girmitya labourers and succeeding generations of Port Mourant were disrespected. Other ethnic groups show appreciation for the contributions made by their ancestors, while that of Indians are marginalised. There is a lack of appreciation for the history of the indentured and their contributions to the nation. The indentured sporting ground should not have been converted into house lots. Such an act would result in the erasure from history of the significance of the ground.
The politicians and community leaders need to pay heed to historical events and activities, so we can remember our ancestors. Can anything be done to preserve such an important aspect of the history of the indentureds building their own cricket ground? Can a monument be established in tribute to the ancestors?

Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram