By Gloridene Hoyte-John
Former Governor-General of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Sir Frederick Ballantyne might get his wish to be buried in a coffin made of breadfruit wood.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on NBC Radio on Sunday that Sir Frederick, 83, who died at his home last Thursday, had expressed a wish to be buried in a breadfruit board coffin.
In decades past, breadfruit wood coffins were the default for poorer Vincentians, but and have since fallen out of use as funeral arrangements have become more “modernised” and provided by funeral parlours.
Gonsalves said that Sir Frederick, the nation’s fifth and longest-serving head of state, was “a special man, a very distinguished national in all the areas which we have identified, and a person who was very humble.
“And, just a footnote, you know, he expressed the wish, as indeed, Sir Vincent, he wanted to be buried in a breadfruit coffin — a breadfruit board coffin,” the prime minister said.
Sir Vincent, 87, a former government minister and Parliamentary representative was accorded a state funeral last August.
Gonsalves said that Sir Vincent wanted prisoners to build the coffin for him but that didn’t happen.
Coffins made by prisoners were reserved for the poorest of the poor, whose families were unable to pay for their burial.
In these cases, the state would assist and prisoners would build the coffin.
Gonsalves said breadfruit wood coffin is being made for Sir Frederick’s state funeral on Wednesday.
“… the day before, actually, he died, they got the lumber and I have ascertained that the coffin is being built.”
In light of Sir Frederick’s state funeral, in Kingstown, on Wednesday, the government has postponed, until next week, the Budget Address and Debate — which should have begun today.
Schools, public sector workers and employees of statutory companies will be given a half-holiday, the government has announced.
“I know he didn’t want any big set of ceremonial — he would not have approved us putting off Parliament for a week,” Gonsalves said.
“But he was a public figure and we have to honour him properly as a civilised people,” the prime minister further stated.
Sir Frederick, a cardiologist and a former chief medical officer, served as Governor-General from Sept. 2, 2002 to July 31, 2019.
Speaking in early July, Gonsalves said Sir Frederick had indicated that he wanted to demit office due to health reasons.
Susan Dougan, the nation’s first female governor-general, succeeded him.
In Sept last year, Gonsalves, 73, said he would not mind being buried in a wicker basket or breadfruit board coffin, in protest against the increasing price of funerals in SVG.
“I have given a task to someone to find out how much these wicker baskets … would cost. You know the sturdy wicker baskets or even stronger thing and you put a good base, to see the cost of it and if I can buy one and I put it aside to bury in,” the prime minister had then said.