Bourda cemetery and the vendors

Stabroek News
October 15, 2000

When Joseph Bourda's descendants settled on the location for Plantation Vlissengen's cemetery, they could not possibly have envisaged that one day it would find itself in the centre of urban bustle, let alone that it would become a source of controversy. At the time the site was selected it was a peaceful spot, bounded by shady trees, and fanned by the north-east breezes which wafted the scent of citrus from the orange and lime trees lining the plantation's middle-walk, across the tombs. In due course the middle-walk became Regent street, and any smell of citrus (this time emanating from the stalls in Bourda Market) was obliterated by the unsavoury stench rising from the drains, rotting debris and car exhaust fumes.

The once tranquil Bourda Cemetery has been neglected for a very long time. Owing to its situation and derelict state, the municipal authorities and others have been casting their covetous eyes in its direction with increasing frequency. Beginning in 1960, a series of battles has been waged to save it from extinction. H.R. Persaud and the Historical Society led the first successful defence of the burial ground, but there were subsequent moves against it in 1982, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999. On one occasion, the Inter-American Development Bank, of all institutions, came up with an eccentric proposal to extend the market into the cemetery, while last year it was suggested it should be converted into a shopping mall, of all things. According to our report in today's edition, the latest twist in the saga is that the vendors have declared an interest in selling there. It is not the first time that such a notion has surfaced, although one can only hope it will be the last.

This time around, however, the Mayor has been reported as declining to lend a ready ear to the request. The council has embarked on cleaning the cemetery, but not, it is said, with a view to facilitating the vendors to set up their stalls on, or among the tombs.

The Mayor is in order. The City Council, while it has custodianship of the ground, does not own it. Under the terms of that custodianship, conferred in the first instance by ordinance of 1876, it is bound to maintain the cemetery, but it has no power to permit its utilisation for anything apart from a burial ground.

Some years ago, when Mr Compton Young was Mayor, the Heritage Society applied for and obtained an injunction from the court preventing the municipal authorities from driving a road through Bourda Cemetery. While the vendors are not engaged in any road building exercise, their use of the ground would still be illegal, and it is a fairly safe assumption that if not the Heritage Society, then at least a group of individuals would return to the courts for the appropriate injunction.

What we really need in order to prevent this drama from being played out on an almost annual basis, is a meeting of the Mayor, the National Trust, the Heritage Society, the Tourist and Hospitality Association of Guyana, and any other interested parties to explore ways to achieve the long-term rehabilitation of the cemetery so it can become the kind of attractive historical monument it should be. Only then, perhaps, will it be left in peace.

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