Leguan, Hans Buer, culture and crematorium

Dear Editor,
Leguan, our island of birth, has recently been in the news often but the inspiration of these thoughts is not the stelling but a picture on Facebook of the Leguan Neighbourhood Democratic Council cleaning up an area for a cremation site. The posting has attracted many comments from those as far away as Iceland where the Guyana flag was recently flown outside a school with grandchildren of former Leguan residents. Some have already indicated that they plan to return to be cremated there when they die but this should not be an excuse to delay the project which has been long overdue.
There is a lot of history to be proud of for those associated with this seagull-shaped land in the mouth of the giant Essequibo. Around the time that slavery was abolished, there were 23 sugar estates and 3 coffee plantations there suffering from labour shortages.
Those interested in some history can Google Indentureship-Guyana Sugar Burning to listen to an interview with Moses Rampershad who was born at Blenheim on February 26, 1897. His parents were indentured to Henrietta estate. In 1906 they left for India only to leave again for Trinidad and eventually for Blenheim, the village that now boasts what may be the tallest Hanuman structure in the hemisphere.
The Anglican Church at Enterprise stands majestically as a landmark since the early 18th century. Others have heard stories of Muslims from the island paddling across the river to attend religious ceremonies at Philadelphia East, on the East Bank of Essequibo, the site of the first masjid not only in Guyana but in South America, established in 1860.
Our ancestors of all religions continued to practice many aspects of their culture which enabled them to survive many hardships.
However, cremation was not one of them for it was illegal until 1956. Credit must be given to the late Jung Bahadur Singh who was the first to be cremated at Ogle beach at a time when the bill he initiated was not yet law so special exemption had to be sought from the Governor. This ancient practice is now widely accepted as it also has numerous benefits. Land is limited for burials which are more expensive, requires a tomb and regular maintenance. There is no doubt, however, that more sites are needed across the country. The poor, for example, can rarely afford this final ceremony if they had to take a deceased body from Bartica to Ruimzight on the West Coast of Demerara.
There are hundreds of well-wishers who express themselves on the Facebook page Friends Of Leguan Island set up by Hans Buer. This friend of the island travelled the world from his birth land Germany and found peace, quiet and meaning in this paradise. He keeps us informed as if he is the Minister of Information for which we are grateful especially in announcing deaths of loved ones who may live and die in our own city unknown to us. It is also an appropriate place to let all those who say RIP or condolences know if the family of the departed one needs any temporary assistance. Sorrow and flowers are not always enough.
Hans has also been generous to the extent that should embarrass the rest of us. Last year he alone donated 5 bicycles to the best students on the island leaving one to wonder why others could not contribute. There is need for continued support for graduating secondary students who cannot afford a university education. The schools, religious and social organisations, sports groups all need to communicate with and reach out to former residents when necessary.
Many outside Leguan are paying attention and some are willing to participate in partnerships with those locally, provided there is proper organising, reporting and accountability. We recall post-1992 when every school had at least 3 trustees, who were not active in any political party, to receive and account for funds, and materials donated from overseas when the entire country was in serious financial difficulties. SIMAP and the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education (CODE) with help from former residents abroad repaired schools and established the library that now sits outside the secondary school. Most of the books for this and other schools came from Canada. While the financial situation has improved today and while Government at every level has basic responsibilities they should not be involved in every human activity. To expect this is to limit the freedom of the individual and stifle initiative and motivation.
A few many recall men like Mr Lowe who operated a rice factory in Blenheim in the 1950s. When transportation was a problem, he built his own boat. As children, we swam around it speculating how he was going to get it from the land to the water. It was a time of manpower but also of volunteerism and cooperation. Men grab hold of ropes and with sheer muscle pulled this masterpiece on logs rolling it over the sand until it floated. Getting a free ride among the rice bags as this vessel manoeuvred the Atlantic waves from the koker where it was docked straight to the wharf at the Rice Marketing Board in Georgetown was one of the indelible memories of childhood.
It is disturbing to read that this once oasis of peace and tranquillity is now marred by excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs leading to serious crimes. Likewise, we wonder why a Minister must visit the island to learn that newspapers are not being distributed there.
There is room for improvement but with the internet, souls like Hans Buer together with those who now cherish memories of once living there we can all help to reshape the future of the island before we make our final trip to the crematorium grounds.
We live all over the globe but Leguanites we remain.

Ram Sahadeo, O Sharma, D Persaud, V Teekah, M Rampershad, R Gomes, W Armstrong and others