Arriving at Lake Kivu at the only ‘living’ memorial we were to see for the entire tour was a bittersweet experience. The natural beauty of the lake renders the horrors that occurred there in 1994 almost unimaginable. Greetings and laughter from local children and the sounds of a Sunday morning church service commencing added levity to what might otherwise have been another overwhelming, abstract representation of genocide memory.
The words ‘never again’ are inscribed on genocide memorials throughout Rwanda, however in Kibuye, the ‘living’ nature of this memorial means that these words hold even greater meaning. At other memorials, the memory of genocide is removed from the daily lives of Rwandans, preserved in museums or in former churches once used as sites of massacre. In these cases the words ‘never again’ are an abstract concept, faceless and dehumanised. For example, the words ‘never again’ can be found in the Kigali Genocide Memorial, in the exhibition documenting the history of genocide. These words ask us to consider the implications of genocide for humanity in general. In Kibuye, these words are found at what is arguably the most important place in the town, they are not an abstract concept, they are a plea from the citizens of the town.
According to the embodied testimonies we heard in Rwanda, Christianity has acted as a guiding light, both for those traumatised by losses and suffering during the genocide and for those who committed acts of genocide and are seeking to repent. During the church service, something happened which I imagine is not uncommon in a rural Rwandan village – a power outage. While the lights went out and the backing track accompanying the hymn ceased to play, the people of Kibuye continued to sing, unphased. They held their heads high and sang ever louder, maintaining their harmonies. The response to this power outage represented exactly what I had seen in Rwanda: a stoic, upbeat and forward-looking people reconciling and finding peace in religion in the aftermath of trauma.
Every week, the congregation at Kibuye comes together in a church that still bears scars of the horrors that occurred there. Blood stained pews narrate the story of a massacre of 11,000 Tutsis, killed because of a title imposed upon them by colonial governments. We sat in those pews. However, in a place that was once used as a killing ground, serenity prevailed. Small children clapped along to the upbeat hymns and purple, green and yellow light poured in through stained glass windows. As someone who is not religious, I paradoxically felt a sense of calm and peace in that place. Extensive discussions have been had regarding what the most effective and respectful forms of memorialisation entail. There is no conclusive answer. We are in two minds about whether a memorial should be separate from the daily lives of Rwandans and subject to Kagame’s national political narrative of genocide, or whether it is better to continue using a site of massacre as an integral part of community life, potentially retraumatising people, while leaving room for open interpretation of the narrative of genocide.
Whilst present at the Church service at Kibuye, I came to the conclusion that Christianity plays a large part in post-genocide Rwandan society. The number of attendees of the service, in addition to the strong Christian elements in the short movie we watched a few days ago at Hillywood, is evidence of this conclusion. However, I find this surprising, particularly when you consider the experiences of many Rwandan’s in the genocide, as well as the fact that hundreds of thousands of deaths occurred in Churches. Therefore, this post will discuss the reasons I believe Christianity is still important in Rwanda’s Tutsi population. However, it is also prudent to evidence presented of a movement away from Christianity to give a more complete explanation of Christianity’s changing relationship to Rwandan people post-genocide.
A possible reason for this strong relationship with Christianity is the belief of some Rwandan’s that their survival of genocide was an act of God. This view was particularly embodied in the story of survival Mama Lambert relayed to our group. Mama Lambert left no room for interpretation in arguing that her survival was a miracle by God. Whilst it would be insensitive to make judgement on whether her survival truly was the work of God, it would be unsurprising to hear that many survivors hold a similar sentiment. This sentiment therefore inevitably would be a driving force in promoting Christianity to the Tutsi population; rather than alienating them from their faith.
Furthermore, it would be appropriate to assume that the work of Christian NGOs has had a major impact on the levels of involvement by Rwanda’s with the Church, particularly when noting that Christian NGOs provide a significant source of welfare to the community. SOLACE and AVEGA, both Christian-based NGOs, previously presented to us on the various social initiatives they have in place to combat extreme poverty and assist vulnerable populations. It seems intuitive that the attraction of a stable community where everyone looks out for each other would drive interest and thus devotion towards God.
In a related point, I found from my experience at Kibuye the sense that the Church at least wants to, if not successfully, tackles the problems facing Rwandan society. The statement by the priest, directed in English to our group as visitors, that Rwanda has “a thousand hills, a thousand problems and a thousand solutions” in particular resonated with me and appeared to signal what the priest perceived the Church’s role was in post-Rwandan society.
However, there could not be a discussion on Christianity’s role in Rwanda without acknowledging that a proportion of Rwandan’s abandoned God and Christianity after the genocide. This is reflected in Bianca’s research, which suggests that the number of Rwandan’s converting to Islam has risen exponentially since the genocide. This appears to point to a relative loss in Christian faith compared to before the genocide.
In conclusion, when looking at the idea that individuals in society may have felt chosen by God to survive in the genocide, as well as the role the church has in providing welfare and in tackling issues in society, it is inevitable that Christianity still has a place in post-Rwandan society. However, flipping the coin, there is evidence of a loss of confidence in Christianity by a proportion of society. Whilst we may not be able to deduce whether Christianity is more popular or important today than it was before the genocide occurred, it could be confidently said that many individuals relationship to the Church changed as a result of the genocide.
Rwanda has gone through an extremely hard time, tears and emotions flowed as a result of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. As the world withdrew and watched millions of people slaughtered in cold blood. However this was happening at the period in which Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa. The Rwanda genocide is a blotch on humanity and the mass murder of thousands of innocent people must be the concerns of all of us, coming to Rwanda broaden my view on how importance it is to pursue justice but one question kept coming to my mind which is, was justice truly pursed in the case of Rwanda genocide?
My visit to the various Genocide Museums from Kigali memorial center, Nataram memorial sites, Murambi memorial and museum center, and Kibuye was very emotional and philosophical. Rwanda has narrated their history to the whole world by setting up different memorial centers and museum were each section in every centers has its own stories and well displaced pictures which help in narrating the brutality of human being during the 1994 genocide. However I thought I had prepared myself emotionally and mentally for this journey. I have heard and read a little about the Rwanda genocide until I came to Rwanda to see for myself. I did not really know what await me in the memorial center and museum until I enter inside the museums. It was really pathetic to see the pictures of young and little children who were brutally killed during the genocide, in every memorial center we enter all i kept hearing in my heart, are the voices of children, infants, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers crying helpless for assistant only for them to be left in the mercy of their killers. The Murambi memorial center was the most touchy center for me because, there were preserved human bodies, bones and skulls, I almost break down, going around looking at dead bodies that were killed by their fellow human beings. Everyone was moved and affected in Murambi museum in various ways. It was a sad, sorrowful, anguish and emotional moment, speechless, speechless that was exactly how I feel. Nevertheless going to AGEVA and AGAHOSA gave me a sense of serenity and hope. They are non government organsation aim to help widows and orphans. Also going to Kibuye catholic church made me to realize how the people of Rwanda are working together to rebuild the country because despite the massacre and neglect of some of the priest from church, people still come to worship God, they have realised that, coming to church is not for the priest but to come and worship God. Thus, in actual fact I was impacted after going around the various museums, I became a new and better person, I started appreciating, friends, families, well wishes even my enemies the more.
We rounded off the Sunday event by going on a boot ride it was fun thou, but the boot I was in stopped at the middle of the river which was not funny for me because it was the first time that I was riding on a boot and I do not know how to swim. After a lot of effort from the captain to start the boot, it refused to start he called his pattern who came with another boot tired his boot to ours and that was how we got to our destination.
We have visited three church sites where massacres have occurred since being in Rwanda. Today’s church, Kibuye, was still in operation and full of people instead of the piles of clothing and rows of skulls that we have seen in other churches. The sun shone through the 2 large stain glass windows of a simple design situated at either end of the building, the natural light added to the very industrial looking lights that have been nailed to the ceiling. Arriving late we were rushed to our seats through the back door as not to disturb the service too much.
Rwanda’s faith in God was tested during and after the genocide. With the violence affecting all who remained in the country. Churches were thought to be a place of refuge for the oppressed once the killing began. But the house of god became a home to the dead. In some cases the priests and nuns assisted in the slaughter of tens of thousands of people. This is not to say that other places were not used as locations for mass killings. Stadiums, schools and community halls were all thought to be safe with the power in numbers and the protection of NGOs, which turned out to be short-lived.
The priest of today’s service started off speaking of the parable of the Good Samaritan who helps a beaten and robbed man lying on the floor after others have walked on passed him. He finishes the story by saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Perhaps it was our presence that weighed the service towards a genocide related sermon but I found this quote very relevant to the Rwanda’s history. We are continuously hearing about how there was no mercy and the perpetrators killed their neighbors, friends and even family. And many stood by and did nothing; it was a time where friendship with a perpetrator could bless you with a quick death. The international community walked passed as Rwanda was on the floor having been beaten and robbed.
Staying in a ministry during our visit to Rwanda there’s a chance our exposure to survivors may be limited to those who have sought out religion in order to find strength. Although at times they admit to questioning his ways, there is very much a belief that it was Gods choice to keep them alive and because of that they have hope for the future, appreciation for the present and an acknowledgement of the past.
The next day we had Mama Lambert, a counselor at solace ministries and a survivor herself, share with us some of her stories. She spoke of how it was the work of God’s miracles that saved her, protecting her when many had died enduring much less. One of her stories was of the Hutu’s rounding up 800-1000 Tutsi’s in a common area in order to kill them. She and her son along with another mother and child were left till last. A student that she had once taught was present; the student was Twa and had been bullied at school because of this. Mama Lambert had once given this student a pen when the rest of the class was making fun of her for not having one, the student had forever been grateful for this simple gesture. She asked those in charge if she could kill Mama Lambert and the baby herself, when granted permission the student continued to kick her old teacher until they reached the marshes and told her she would have a greater chance of survival if she and her child hid in there. Much like the story of the Good Samaritan, this student decided to not just be another bystander and saved Mama Lamberts life.
DAY 10: Kigali (CNLG)
EMMA F.M. Listening to Yvette’s story today, I started to doubt. Could reconciliation – as … Continue reading DAY 10: Kigali (CNLG)
DAY 9: Avega, Agahozo-Shalom
STEPH K. As part of understanding peace-building efforts in Rwanda, we visited two sites where … Continue reading DAY 9: Avega, Agahozo-Shalom
DAY 8: Murambi, Nyanza
NAVA S. Guilt paralysed me as Mama Lambert began to speak to us about the … Continue reading DAY 8: Murambi, Nyanza
DAY 7: Nyamata, Ntarama, Gisozi
SAMANTHA G. Purple bunting waves in the wind as I walk through the grounds of … Continue reading DAY 7: Nyamata, Ntarama, Gisozi
DAY 6: Kigali
SARAH L. Venturing to Rwanda to study the genocide, and the implications in transitioning to … Continue reading DAY 6: Kigali
DAY 5: Lilieslief
LENA Mv V. Is truth enough? On a sunny Sunday morning on the outskirts of … Continue reading DAY 5: Lilieslief
DAY 4: Soweto
MASERAME M. I cannot remember the last time I was in Alexandra Township. The one … Continue reading DAY 4: Soweto
DAY 3: Pretoria, Voortrekker Monument, Freedom Park
JESSIE B. The Voortrekker Monument is momentous in its role, both as a part of … Continue reading DAY 3: Pretoria, Voortrekker Monument, Freedom Park
DAY 2: Johannesburg, Apartheid Museum
SCARLETT T. Having a rather underwhelming amount of previous knowledge of South Africa’s political history, … Continue reading DAY 2: Johannesburg, Apartheid Museum
DAY 1: Johannesburg, Constitution Hill
SAMANTHA G. Sitting on a hill overlooking the city of Johannesburg is Constitution Hill, the … Continue reading DAY 1: Johannesburg, Constitution Hill