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Remembering Cheddi Jagan in Prose & Verse

A Death in the Family by Ian McDonald

(From Stabroek News, Friday March 7, 1997

As I write this before morning light after hearing the news of President Jagan's death I feel deep sadness, more shaken than I would have believed. For so long he has been a reassuring presence for good in the life of the nation. In the family of any nation there are quarrels but these are set aside when such a revered elder figure in. the family dies. For a long, long time we will be discovering ways in which we miss him.

I feel particularly sad that Dr Jagan did not have at least some time to rest, reflect on the struggles and achievements of a great life, and write down for us and succeeding generations the experiences and lessons of an extraordinary lifetime. Any man after a career of such arduous and continual struggle might be understood for seeking retirement from the stress of politics, the campaign burly-burly, the burdensome affairs of a poor and troubled state. He deserved a few quiet years in the bosom of his family, his party and the nation.

Of course he would have scoffed at such suggestions. All his life he worked hard. Work for the people, he said, was his hobby. He would have wanted to work hard to the end. I imagine he would have said that any lessons he had to teach would have to be learnt from the work he had done, from the example he had set. I do not think he would have liked the role of elder statesman, withdrawn from the fray, distanced from the everyday action in the nation he loved. He was not cut out to be a bystander.

It is reported that in October last he was warned of a heart problem. It may be that he was urged to take it easy, even to take time off to have the trouble attended to and thereafter live and work at a less hectic pace. I am speculating but in such a situation I cannot see Dr Jagan taking kindly to such urgings. There were so many important things to do, he would have contended, so many problems which could not wait for solving later, so many plans to activate, so many people to energise, so many to inspire with his vision, so much lost ground to make up. I wonder if he could ever have slowed down. "There will be plenty time to rest!"

Still, those years of peace and writing he might have had are a loss to the rest of us. His voice would have been heard on the side of reconciliation and national unity. His presence would have been a stabilising anchor in whatever storms might blow. His memories written down, and reflections refined by deeper thought, would have provided an absolutely unique picture of Guyana and its history in a long and abundantly filled life. There is a saying out of Africa that when an old man dies a whole library has burnt down. An incomparable library has now burned down and there is not a single Guyanese who does not know it is hard to count the loss.

I have a memory of Dr Jagan which I want to share. It was on no great state gathering of the eminent and the famous. He was at Rose Hall estate to give out house lot deeds to about fifty sugar workers. It was pouring with rain but he did not think of cancelling and they did not think of not attending. When it came to his turn to speak an aide handed him a speech, I suppose, but he gave a smile and did not take it. He then spoke from the heart to those few sugar workers and their families in the falling rain and I have never heard words so clear and powerful and suitable.

Not a long speech, no rolling periods, no ideology, but simple words spoken in a straight line to their heads and hearts. How their ancestors had suffered much in slavery and indenture. But now through years of struggle and sacrifice a different time had come. But they should know it was a time when they must bear responsibility, they must care for what they had won, they must show they were worthy of the efforts of those who had gone before. Now they must look after their house lots and improve them, they must leave things better for their children. He trusted them. He had always trusted them. They must remember what he said.

It was not really a speech. They had gathered around him and he was telling them the truth. I swear they will never forget what he said. And somehow on that quiet significant occasion I knew I had got a glimpse of what this man meant to the mass of people who loved him so much.

Whirling around in my head somewhere is what remains after age has taken its toll of the vast amount of poetry I have read in my lifetime. But often lines surface and I cannot for the life of me recall from what poem they come or who authored them. When I heard President Jagan had died some lines came as if summoned but I cannot remember their source. I wish I could remember the whole poem and who wrote the lines. The summoned lines captured for me something of Dr Jagan's fighting heart and the flame he lit for countless others. "He was one who in his life fought for life/who wore at his heart the fire's centre."

           © Ian McDonald


THE LAST JOURNEY by Stephanie Bowry
(Recited on March 5, 2006 at Babu John)

The year was nineteen ninty seven.
It was the sixth of March.
A choir of angels in sick-room
Stood in a splendid arch.

And sweetly sung a cheerful song
About a journey high;
And gently, gently rocked the bed
Between the earth and sky.

Upon the bed a good man lay
And not a word spoke he.
His thoughts were on the journey high
In the angels' story.

His mind remembered the long road
Which he had just come through.
"Ah, well," thought he, "I walked it well
And so would I this too."

His eyes sought out the waiting road
And with its guardian's met;
The guardian nodded, the man too,
Affirming both were set.

The choir ended its sweet song
And silence announced doom.
The angels broke their splendid arch
And death walked in the room.

"He's dead, the President is dead!"
The cry sailed through the night
From USA to Guyana
With speed as swift as light.

"He's dead, he's dead!" the anguished cry
Was relayed through the night
And folks from out their slumber rose
To set a torch alight.

That light, unwavering, may go out
To where his body lay,
To guide his spirit safely home
Before the break of day.

And over all the land and thick
Hovered a mist of gloom
And deep within each beating heart
Was a feeling of doom.

And the feeling took proportions
As slowly days went by;
And messages of love poured in
From earth and sea and sky.

And folks kept vigil each night long
One to cheer the other;
And prayers night and day were said
In his soul's good honor.

His portrait on their breasts they wore
And flags of mourning flew
But when his body was brought home
Their grief mightily grew.

And grief and love combined, maintained
Put out their dead with pride
And then his flag-draped casket laid
On gun carriage to ride.

And set him on his last journey
With pomp and majesty,
Through flower-strewn and perfumed streets
With royal company.

From Georgetown moved the great long train,
Through Demerara's coast,
Over Abary to Berbice
And up Corentyne's coast.

Without a hitch the cortege moved
'cept when to Buxton came-
There waiting villagers took stand
As if to try poor game.

The train came to a breaking halt
And the arresting throng
Stormed the gun cart...but homage paid
To the departed one.

Thus when the train resumed its walk
It moved with greater ease
And with a jolly bounce and spring
Before a happy breeze.

And thousands, thousands walled the route
And thousands were in tow,
Thousands waited at Babu John
And thousands wept in woe.

And at the Babu John grave-yard
They built a lofty bier
And man and casket they heaved high
With the tenderest care.

They set alight the lofty bier
And wept aloud to see
The red-blue flames dance high and bright
And lick the lavish ghee.

All through the night the fire burned
Till only ash was left;
All through the night the mourners watched
Both helpless and bereft.

But morning came with scarlet light,
With promises to bring
New life, new joy, new hope, new song
To put their pain to wing.

And on that morning scarlet bright
Folks lovingly picked up
And gave Guyana's waters vast
The President's ash to sup.

Some swear that when the ashes touched
The waters foamy white
They heard a voice familiar say
"Everything will be alright."

Some swear that while his body burned,
The fallen President,
Out of the flames in plain view rose
And up to heaven went.

And some insist that on what night
All nature is serene
Among the stars be seen.

© Stephanie Bowry 2006


In Memory of President Cheddi Jagan by Gideon S. Cecil

A great soul was born on Guyana's soil
From parents who lived in poverty, tears and toil
His path was rough from his birth to death
Where he lived and died for his nation in no regret.

He struggled for all Guyanese to be free
In sweat and tears he fought for our liberty
For us to remember the Father of our Nation
Who fought for one and all without discrimination.

If we will understand our hero Cheddi Jagan
And give each other love and a helping hand
We will live as one poeple and one Nation
With the same destiny for our souls to be free.

Let's remember our hero and mourn together this day
And lift our hearts together and sing and pray
For us to remember he was a man of patience
Who ruled our Nation with a clear conscience.

If we will comprehend this great son of our soil
And emulate his vision to walk an extra mile
We will build a bridge over hate, greed and war
And live as one to reach heaven's twinkle stars.

A brave soul from thee! You came and went away
For this Nation to live by the vision you share
In the ages to come your words shall be our song
For us to remember you, for our souls to be strong.

You left this Nation to mourn and weep for you
And my soul to think of you in everything I do
O what manner of faith you possesed for 28 years
When you struggled for my Nation in blood and tears.

Your name will be a light in every Guyanese heart
And your eternal words will never depart
Your face we will remember as a smiling rose
And your immortal words even though your eyes are closed.

May you be like a Lincoln, Gandhi and Nehru
As a true statesman in everything you do
So long as History live your name will live
As a Father of dear land of Guyana.

Who liberated a nation for a new Nation to be born
For us to remember Cheddi Jagan
As a noble soul reborn.

© Gideon S. Cecil


The Dawn I Created by K.N.P

For your sake
We contained our tears
Until we could not be silent.
And then we wept, 
We wept bitterly 
But we knew, even in death 
You would not have us weep.
You prefer to weep 
So we can smile 
We can laugh 
We can be.
And even now, as we reflect,
We hear your voice  
That voice of care saying:
"Do not worry, my children, 
 Stand up like me, as I did, 
 Face the future with strength.
 The dawn I created 
 Must never be lost to darkness".
 © K.N.P.


There Was A Man by Hemraj Muniram

There was a man, a builder
of houses for learning, houses
for the sick, and ferry-
boats for the journey.
There was a man, a grower
of sugar cane, rice, bhajee
and conduct exemplary.
There was a man, a master blender
of theory and practice, who mixed
Guevara and Gandhi with spice from Marx.
There was a forward-looking man of action
ready to make a new world order,
who bear-hugged change from Moscow
to Santiago to Hosororo.
Ears in all climes heard his fiery fights
for forty-five years in the House
of Assembly and more times on the road
and within bottom-houses against fetters,
force, fraud, fear and Forbes.
There was a man, a peacemaker
in the World Peace Council, who strove
for just and steady peace among peoples,
including his colonized then disenfranchised
and traumatised folk.
There was a man, a humble man
like Uncle Ho, who desired neither crown
nor mansion nor vainglory, only
a land of unity, of plenty, and free.
There was such a man, believe me,
named Cheddi Jagan.

© Hemraj Muniram