Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Plans underway to renovate May Pen Cemetery, make it a historical site

Published:Monday | March 28, 2016 | 3:00 AMJason Cross
Desmond McKenzie (left), local government and community development minister, members of the United Nations Office for Project Services, and others on tour of the May Pen Cemetery in Kingston.

At least one potential investor has so far been identified to help with the renovation and remodelling of the May Pen Cemetery in Kingston, stated newly appointed Local Government and Community Development Minister Desmond McKenzie, adding that he was in the process of sourcing other investors.

"As it is right now, it is going to take a good amount of funding, not just to clean, but in terms of repairing the vaults that have been damaged by vandals, who did that for the use of getting scrap metals and cash for gold," the minister said while on a tour of the cemetery last week.

McKenzie has invited the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to consider partnering with the Government to give the cemetery a major facelift. UNOPS is also providing a grant to help construct the Riverton City landfill access road.

"They have accepted the invitation to consider it, and we're going to be having further discussion to have them get on board. The intention is to give the May Pen Cemetery a different look. It is an eyesore when you pass it on Spanish Town Road. I think the time has come that more attention be given to the condition," McKenzie stressed.

The minister outlined a few plans for the direction of the cemetery moving forward.

"In the initial phase of what we are going to be doing, we have to identify, first, the number of desecrated graves that are in the cemetery, and we're going to be involving the public health department because it also poses a health risk. We don't know the cause of death of some of these people, and as you see for yourself, some of the vaults have been exposed and you saw human remains. That is going to be a first area of priority," he said.

McKenzie hopes to implement a "Dovecot-style burial". He also wants access roads to be built throughout the approximately 250-acre cemetery.

"You know, in Dovecot, there are no sepulchres and there are no headstones, and we consider that if we do that in certain sections here, it would allow you a little bit more room to bury even 10 more, and persons would welcome that. If that is agreed upon, then it could be introduced. Then you'll charge a little more than you charge now," McKenzie said.

"We know where the roads are, but we have to now sit down and pencil out what it is going to cost - whether it makes sense to retain some of the roads - because I must confess to you that burials have taken place in some of the roads. So the question is going to be whether you condemn those roads and then try to reconstruct, to revitalise the others that exist."

CULTURAL ELEMENTS

McKenzie pointed out some of the more historic and cultural elements associated with the cemetery, making it essential to be properly upkept.

"We are going to be seeking both government and private-sector funding for this because the May Pen Cemetery is the oldest such burial spot in the Caribbean and it's one of the largest in the English-speaking Caribbean, it dates back to the 16th century. The movers and shakers of Jamaica are buried here in the May Pen Cemetery. We have the first minister of finance being buried here; Collie Smith, the great Jamaican West Indies batsman; the parents of Sir Florizel Glasspole; the grandparents of the Most Hon Edward Seaga, and you can name it," McKenzie highlighted.

"It is a place of historical value and it is something that could also become a part of cultural tourism because a lot of university students actually come here to write their thesis. So there is significant importance to the May Pen Cemetery."