The Rest of the Chorus

(Editor’s note: The following are the shorter responses to our call for Guyanese memories of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. In addition to these, we received responses from Hyacinth Benn, Lionel Boodhram, Ram Francis, Errol Gilgious, Vaidwatty Hinds, Melanie Lyte, Patricia Ann Madramootoo Locke, Golin Mahadeo, Lindy Mansfield, Yasmin Oudkerk, John Persaud, Ramkarran Ram, Donna Ramnaraine, Nellie Rigby, Aubrey Rodrigues, Monica Roopchand, and Nigel Surujbali. We thank them all.)

Shiam Akbar: The place was well guarded so nobody could enter.

Lennox Alleyne: I was there a few years ago. The jungle has reclaimed the area, and you won’t believe that anything had existed there.

Pamela Andrew: Some of us didn’t know Jonestown existed until Jim Jones killed his people and made headline news. I was a teenager then, and scared as hell. I couldn’t understand what was going on. America should apologize to us for what Jim Jones has done in our country. Jonestown will remain a curse. Too many lives were taken there, whether it be American (or Guyanese), but it’s our soil, our land, our country.

Deborah Philippe Archer: As a child, I met some of the victims’ parents in California. At the time, my uncle was the Guyana Consul in California. They came there to beg my uncle to get a message to the President of Guyana that Jim Jones was holding their young people against their will and was brainwashing them. The results of Jonestown tragedy were after many months of talks between the parents and Guyanese Government reps on how best/safely to get their children out from under Jim Jones’ control. It’s scary to think that one man can have control over so many minds.

Laurence Armogan: Do you know all those who got rich from there during the time around the massacre? Many Guyanese got rich from the time of the Jonestown massacre.

Gerald Banks: Ahhh, my beautiful little niece, Tiffany Garcia.

Naomi Benjamin: This historical and tragic day did happen, there will be people who care and who don’t care, those people were seduced by a human being who claimed to be a man of God. He poisoned the drink so that he could kill all the followers. But eventually, the poison was so strong that when the first set was served, some of those people started to collapse. That is how the rest were trying to escape, but some were shot.

Reuben Beveny: You were saved by the grace and mercy of God for a special purpose. Give him all the praises and glory.

William Blackman: I went into Jonestown to get the Stoen boy, as a Marshal of the Court with a court order from His Hon justice A F R Bishop.

Sharonda Caesar: My cousin was married to one of the survivors, a United States citizen named Stanley Clayton. They got married in Georgetown Guyana just after the massacre. They both went back to the United States. She still lives there, but she is divorced from Stanley.

Roop Chan: I was in the army then and I was amongst the first set of Guyanese soldiers to meet there.

Amanda Chung: I cannot quite remember the year, but I know growing up in my village of Morawhanna, my sister and I, and all of our friends, would look forward to the day when the big steamer boat as we called it docked by the stelling before going on its way to Port Kaituma. It would bring goods for the Jonestown community from Georgetown and maybe new arrivals. But, as children, we were more interested in the huge chimpanzee that used to be on the boat. It used to eat bananas and make all kinds of funny faces which made us crack up with laughter! When the tragedy happened, I was much older and out of the North West District. It was a sad day for every Guyanese… and the chimpanzee.

Mikey De Mendonca: The real question, why was Jonestown’s existence kept almost a secret until the tragedy, and, why were the authorities reluctant to interfere?

Bowan Dex: Sorry to say, 99% of people who died in Jonestown were American. The problem with America is they go outside of America, and then leave the problem at our doorstep.

Rudolph Dyal: After it was over my dad, the late police inspector Daby, was one of the police officers who took Larry Layton (the guy that shot Leo Ryan) back to San Francisco for trial. [Editor’s note: Larry Layton was convicted for conspiracy to kill the congressman, but was not Ryan’s assassin.]

Esther English: That afternoon was a very tragic time for the families at Citrus Grove [an area of Port Kaituma] as the gunmen opened fire at the lifting plane. [Editor’s note: The attack on the congressional occurred while the two planes were on the airstrip.]

Leon Faria: No man can lie on his back and belly at the same time and therefore likewise impossible for any man take wrong and make it right because of (1) privileges and (2) authority.

Lavington Fields: Let’s put the record straight, Jonestown was an American tragedy that happened in Guyana. Yes the head of state at the time had to know of their existence. Could he have stopped the tragedy? Maybe. As I remember it, this was a cult and at the best of times, with the best technologies available, it is impossible to stop these self-proclaimed leaders.

Jessica Fraser: I was a seven-year-old girl living in Matthews Ridge at that time. I remember the members would come out to Matthews Ridge to sell chicken and vegetables. I remember my dad crying when it happened and not wanting to take the train into Port Kaituma since he used to operate the train. He did not know what to expect, so he was scared. In the days following, I remember all the helicopters passing overhead, and looking up and seeing the feet of the dead hanging out as they were being taken to Georgetown. Those images I can never get out of my head even after so many years.

Gwendolyn Gaime: The government needs to be careful with who they bring into the country as investors, because when the thought of this massacre comes to mind, it’s disgusting and sickening to the Guyanese population. It wasn’t easy at all.

Pauline Geer: Before all that happened I remember seeing Jim Jones on Vlissengen Road at a certain church, and there was this big cloth sign saying, “Come and get healed – Reverend Jim Jones will make the blind see and the deaf hear.” I also saw Jim Jones’ son with some army men with the army truck. They always used to go buying bread at a bakery in Alberttown. I was a little girl living on Leguan Island and I remember seeing the helicopters passing all day with boxes looking like coffins. I asked my grandma why the copters were passing so often. All the neighbours kept talking about Jim Jones and how he poisoned the people.

Esther Griffith: I was 8 then but I remember the newspaper pictures, and that the place was called Jonestown. But there is another Jonestown in Mahaica, a village where my father was born. I live two streets away from the house in Lamaha Gardens, in Georgetown, Guyana.

Phillip Grimmond: I was given the task of protecting the survivors in the Lamaha Gardens House in Georgetown. Some of the girls wanted to marry and remain in Guyana. They were afraid to return to the USA.

Elizabeth Harris: Jonestown had a programme on the radio station. So I would not say people did not know about Jonestown.

Olga Harris: I was about 15 years old and worked at my aunt’s laundry where the members used to come and bring their clothes. I was also encouraged to go with them, but when I asked my mom, she said no. So I dropped it. They were my friends coming to the laundry. RIP.

Ramborran Harrynandan: That whole story would have been totally different had Leo Ryan gone up there with security personnel. At the last moment when the services of the police force were canceled, he had the privilege of taking US security personnel from the US Mission [Embassy] up with him.

 Sean Henry: My great uncle and two other miners found a large suitcase of USD [U.S. dollars] in the vicinity. Security heard about it and took it away.

Sherina Hussein: Lots of Guyanese were not aware of a place called Jonestown, although we live in Guyana, up until the big tragedy hit our news. So many people came here unknown to Guyanese, it was shocking and very sad. Everyone was asking who brought them here. May their souls rest in peace

Herbert Hytimah: I was employed by the Ministry of Health, attached to the malaria unit. I was standing on the railroad platform at Kaituma waiting for the train to travel to Matthews Ridge, when a tractor and trailer passed with the gunmen covered with a tarpaulin going to the air strip where the congressman and others were waiting to board the plane. I boarded the train thereafter for Matthews Ridge. Along the way, an elderly couple joined the train at an unusual area. There it was told what had happened at the Temple. It had just happened. Mass suicide murder, 914 died. God bless the survivors, Lee Ingram and others.

Susan Isaacs: I remember it very well. We would ride past the house in Lamaha Gardens as teenagers, trying to see cute guys!!!! My dad was in charge of the Ogle airport [near Georgetown] and members would come to see him. Very few people in Guyana knew about Peoples Temple or that it was even in Guyana.

Pinky Kerr: When I heard the news on the radio, I said to myself that can’t be happening. It must be some other country! For the likes of me, I was wrong. I could not believe that people could allow one man to control them so much.

Joseph Lall: I used to live in Port Kaituma when I was a little boy. I can’t remember much but could remember a visit to Jonestown after the tragedy. It was scary. All the small cottage doors and window kept squeezing, and Jones’ wooden chair was still in the Peoples Temple building.
Barbara Lucian: I remember when I was a little girl, I used to live at Port Kaituma in a citrus grove near the Airport, called the airstrip, where they started the shooting. That was before they went into Jonestown and started killing out their own people. I can never forget that tragic whole night.

Keith G. Marks: We still have a lot of Jim Jones around, but not the shooting or giving you Kool-Aid, just the taking of your money.

Calvin Mendes: [Guyana Prime Minister Forbes] Burnham knew what was going on in Jonestown, likewise Mackenzie, where he changed the name to Linden and covered up the story. He and the army got a lot of US money from Jonestown.

Maritina Newgent I would love to know why the Guyanese did not go in and get the little Stoen boy.

Yasmin Oudkerk: The Guyanese outside of Jonestown did not know about Jonestown until the tragedy which stained our beautiful country. The foreign reporters were here before we knew, most staying at Tower Hotel. The people at Jonestown used to sell clothing and bedding to the Ameriñdians in the area.

Sabrina Phillips: The house in Lamaha Gardens is still there.

Gladys Pyle: The only nice thing was on May Day, the march around town with everyone well-dressed and neat. The first crusade Jim Jones kept was at Sacred Heart on Main Street. I was there with my sister and other relatives. I remember I knew it was a fake healing. If you are healing someone you let everyone see. I remember this sad story.

Lin Rodrigues: I was one of the soldiers that was there.

Desmond Simpson: I’m at Port Kaituma right now and only yesterday a guy took me where all the people murdered took place.

Balwant Singh: Lawrence Van Sertima and I were closely associated with Peoples Temple, and we were involved with them until after that fateful day. Lawrence was host to a basketball team staying at his home when the massacre happened and they were saved. I personally always wanted to record what I knew, and now with age somehow when the opportunity has arisen, I have lost the zeal.

Lal Somwaru: I was a Customs Officer at Timehri Airport during the time Jonestown was set up. Peoples Temple received special treatment as they and their belongings were exempt from searches or duty. Unofficially they were given a free pass by the government. I left in August 1978, and found out about the horrible event the night it happened on a BBC newscast in New York.

Lori Ann Stephens: In my opinion Guyanese were unaware of Jonestown and Jim Jones, and how and when they got there. Most people are still of the belief that they were Guyanese people. But these were American people who were brainwashed by Jones into believing that he was their god.

John A. Talbot: People from that commune sold some of the largest eggs and broilers I have ever seen. They sold them in Georgetown too.

Patrick Tamessar: Many people today don’t know this story. Older ones will. It’s not a Guyanese tragedy but an American one.

Annette Vieira: That is jungletown.

Chandra Balkaran Watson: It was not Guyana, the country’s fault. It was foolish people following a man they believed was god.

Beverly Cyrus Wilson: Thank God for the survivors. I was a student midwife working Georgetown Public Hospital and cared for a mother who gave birth by cesarean section. One of her friends was also training in Midwifery. Sadly the mom and her baby returned to Jonestown and perished, but the nurse was still in training when that happened. To this day I can vividly recall the events and the faces of those I knew. They are etched deeply on my mind.

Originally posted on October 1st, 2017.

Last modified on February 24th, 2018.
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