By: Romila Boodram
The scarcity of land for housing and the high costs associated with it are familiar problems facing everyone today no matter which part in the world they live.
Even the dead, although they don’t know it, are in this predicament too.
Every day, six to seven people are buried at Le Repentir Cemetery and just like how the government is hard pressed to find house lots for the living; they also have to create “living” space for the dead since they too are running out.
And, just as how a house lots for the living cost a hefty sum, so too are the final resting spots for those whose spirits have left this world.
Of course, unlike the living, the dead do not have to put their hands in a bag and pull the number of their house lot; in fact, in most cases they have no say in where their final address will be.
Sometimes, some of them are afforded prime spots, which can be compared to the Pradoville Housing Scheme and similar communities, while others are confined to the graveyards that can be likened to the ghettos.
It’s all a status thing.
The situation is clearly amplified in Le Repentir Cemetery where space has become a major problem, and the price of a “house lot” for the dead can be burdensome.
Every year the authority has to open new land for burial even if it means recycling old burial spots.
The biggest problem for governments around the world is finding space to accommodate the dead.
To combat a cemetery shortage in Hong Kong, an architectural firm recently proposed a plan to build a floating cemetery in the country’s marina territory.
Guyana may soon have to contemplate ingenuous measures to address the increasing scarcity of burial land, especially in the city.
In an effort to reduce this problem, a crematorium was opened in Le Repentir Cemetery with the aim of encouraging more people to cremate their loved one’s bodies instead of burying.
Presently, the Le Repentir cemetery space-wise has approximately five to six years left before all the land is used up, this means that 80 percent of the land is already taken up.
The land at Le Repentir is divided into beds and each bed is named in keeping with some of the country’s religious groups.
The beds range from Old General, First New General, Second New General, Old Muslim, New Muslim, First Presbyterian, Second Presbyterian, Old Roman Catholic and New Roman Catholic among others.
At first, persons used to be buried according to their religious beliefs but because of the space constraint that is not the case now.
One bed can hold up to 120 tombs and once a bed is filled, a new one is opened up and it is named after the old one.
“If ‘Muslim’ is filled, we will open a new bed and we will call it ‘New Muslim’ or if ‘Second New General’ is filled, we will open a bed and called it ‘Third New General’,” a staffer at the cemetery explained.
“That is how ‘residents’ of the cemetery get their addresses,” he joked.
With so many tombs, one might think that it would be difficult to locate their dead relative at the cemetery but that is really not the case.
Just like how you have a lot number which will identifies your specific location; the dead too have their lot numbers.
If someone died two decades ago, you can provide that person’s name to the staffers at the cemetery and they will give you a lot number where you can go and locate your loved one—that number can very well be Lot A-122, third new general; much like 44 George Street, Lodge.
Don’t be too surprised to hear that there is even squatting in the cemetery. Persons can even be charged too.
The only problem is that neighbours do not quarrel with each other.
“What we call squatting is when strangers are buried on top of other people’s tomb. Only family can be placed on top of each other and this saves space,” the staffer said.
And, just like how people build big fancy houses so that they can be comfortable, when they die, their loved ones sometimes go overboard and put down a “mansion” in the cemetery for them—this sometimes take up more than one piece of land.
Le Repentir was once owned by French duelist Pierre Louis de Saffon, who had escaped to exile in Guyana during the 1700s and later became a wealthy land owner.
After he had fought his brother in a duel and killed him. De Saffon dedicated the two of his estates Le Repentir and La Penitence as a lasting memorial of his sorrow for having killed his brother.
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