Cricket ground at Port Mourant used by indentured labourers converted into house lots

Land cleared by indentured labourers and 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. One shudders thinking that no government, no politician, not even those who are geographic MPs, councillors, and NDC reps made any serious effort to preserve the playground. Community voices were ignored. I only found out that the indentured cricket ground was turned into house lots when, a few days ago, I visited to pay homage to Jagan at his ancestral home. Many people are quite upset now that they are deprived of a playground and of the erasure of historical events associated with that ground from their memories.

The indentured playground played such an important role in the growth and development of the Indian community in Corentyne.  That large cricket field is where the indentured and their children played ball, and where legends like Rohan Kanhai, Joe Solomon, Joey Carew, and the fathers of Alvin Kallicharran, Rex Ramnarace, etc. once played or practiced the game. Such an act would inevitably result in the erasure of history of significance of the ground. Editor, the indentured and their children 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. There were many community events at the location. People pooled resources and donated money for various programnes there. Cheddi Jagan played ball at that hallowed 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 with conversion into house lots? The argument cannot be that there is a paucity of land in Guyana. Berbice has unlimited land. 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 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 preserve the legacy of indentured ancestors. They do not understand the relevance of protecting historical grounds and edifices. Mr. Austin of the famous Austin bookstore told me politicians don’t buy books, and certainly not history books except Mr. Granger. African politicians would never convert Parade Ground, or lands sacred or of historical significance to slaves into house lots. 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 that 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. It was right across from Boundyard and served cricketers from Boundyard, Free Yard, and Ankerville. Later, grounds were established in Ankerville (behind the hospital), Free Yard and Boundyard and later in Miss Phoebe Lowside, Train Line, Babu Jahan, Haswell, Miss Phoebe West, Tain, Clifton, Jones, Portuguese Quarter, etc. The indentureship cricket ground is of sentimental value to Indians who grew up in the area. The area can be regarded as the cradle of Indian civilization in Berbice, if not Guyana. The area produced some of Guyana’s most

distinguished sons and daughters – besides the Jagans, Shridath Ramphal’s parents were from Port Mourant as was the parents of Muneshwer and Alim Shah, among others who were bounded at the historic plantation.

It was a popular meeting point for the indentured 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.

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 marginalized. 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 indentured building their own cricket ground?

Yours truly,

Vishnu Bisram

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