Murambi Hill

P1020548 bewerkt (Large)Murambi Hill seems an idyllic place. The top of a large hill, only accessible through a badly signposted dirt track. At all sides gentle, green slopes into the valley, and from there sloping up again to the next green hill. A beautiful view, some scattered houses, agriculture, some cows, not much happening. On the top of the hill is a complex of buildings that can be recognised from afar as a school, like there are many in this part of the world. With one difference. There have never been classes here.

At the time of building, the complex was certainly meant to be a school, a technical school for the region, but it hadn’t been finished yet by the time the genocide started. At first, the Tutsis from the region fled to the church downhill, but they were advised, ostensibly for their safety, to go to the technical school. Over the next days, 50 to 60,000 men, women and children followed that advice. After a few days, the supply of food and water was aborted. De first attack by the armed militias was repulsed with stones and a lot of courage, but the next day, April 21, 1994, there was an attack from the same militias, supported by the army, armed with guns, grenades, machetes and clubs. The weakened Tutsis couldn’t resist anymore. Only a dozen survived the attack.

p1040365-largeNowadays, this is one of the most horrifying Genocide Memorials in Rwanda. Not because of the exposition in the main building, which is comparable to that in Kigali, but a bit less extensive. After the massacre, bulldozers were used to dig mass graves, in which the victims were dumped. The heat that was formed by the decomposing bodies, mummified some of them. When the mass graves were cleared, these “mummies” were further prepared with lime, so they were preserved as white ghosts of what they once were. More than 800 of these bodies are displayed on wooden racks in the classrooms and dormitories behind the main building, where they died. Because of the conservation process, they are preserved exactly as they were in their last moment. The fear still on their faces, a man trying to protect his head with his hands, a mother still holding her baby in her arms, some still have their hair, some only a gaping hole in their skull. It is one gruelling accusation against what happened to them.p1040362-large


3 thoughts on “Murambi Hill

  1. All these years on it is still impossible to grasp what precisely happened in Rwanda. Was there really so much hatred boiling under the surface and for so long that it erupted in this insane carnage? Or were people simply stirred up and manipulated by political agitators – internal and external? Was it somehow the outcome of long-ago colonial divide and rule? The result of pressing land shortage? Yet I understand that Tutsis and Hutu are so intermarried that it is not clear to which tribe individuals precisely belonged. And then there were Hutus who in the past had changed their identity to Tutsis because they thought it an advantage socially or otherwise. We were living in Kenya at the time, and it seemed like a ‘feeding frenzy’ of killing – as if for that time all moral values had been put on hold.

    How people now come to terms with such events is beyond me. In your next post you raise this. What DO you tell the children. My instinct would be to say the truth should not be hidden, because it will only fester away, and be drawn on by some future self-servers. Yet it is impossible for me to imagine quite how you would instil feelings of reconciliation in the children born out of this violence other than to let them know how very much you love them. And despite all.

    1. I suppose it was caused by all the reasons you mention, and many more. I don’t believe there can be simple reasons for such horrible events, and conflicts are never as easy as they might seem at first. Hutu and Tutsi were for a long time not the well-defined tribes that are present in many other countries in the region, but a complex mix of descent and social class. Colonial rule has done a lot to change that, and not for the good.

      I think it’s important to remember what happened and tell the children, as even now there are people who deny the genocide or want to “finish” it. But that’s easy to say in general and when it’s someone else’s experiences. There are still many people who are not able to recount their stories, not even to their own children, because they’re too traumatised. It will take much more time and effort to heal, I suppose.

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