20. BISESERO HILL OF SORROW
About thirty miles before Kibuye we turned off the main road and climbed a steep and curvy road through small villages. We were going to visit the National Genocide Memorial of Bisesero on a hill where 50,000 Tutsi are buried.
This hill is known as the "Hill of Resistance" because it is from here that Tutsis put up an orchestrated fight for their lives throwing rocks down on their Hutu attackers. The Tutsis from this Bisesero district (named after their ancestral tribes) were famous for resisting with clubs during the previous genocides of 1959, 1962 and 1973. And of all the Tutsis in Rwanda they put up the greatest resistance during the genocide of 1994.
But even so, they were eventually overcome due to being outnumbered, outweaponed and betrayed. At one point the French came over from the Congo on boats over Lake Kivu and encouraged the Tutsi to come down from the hill. Then the French left - promising to return - but in the interval several busloads of genocidaires from Cyangugu and Gisenyi came in and attacked them, killing many who had survived the previous onslaughts. This, the last holdout of Tutsis and the last place the RPF came to the rescue, was also where the Hutu killers made their last desperate attempt at total genocide.
There was no one at the Memorial when we arrived and so we made our way on our own through the small buildings, each one representing a different commune that had resisted here.
It was a hard climb and I could well imagine the exertion it would have taken the thousands of people running up this hill in the pouring rain of that April, May and June thirteen years ago. There would have been no steps to make it easier for them - just slipping and sliding in the mud, dodging between the trees that were here then. Only the fastest runners survived in the end. The young, old and injured were caught up with and slaughtered.
When we came to the last building, there were steps leading up even higher, to the very top of the hill, where there was a cemetary containing mass graves:
You can get a sense of the size of the tombs in comparison to me standing there. There had been a recent ceremony as can be seen by the fresh flowers, perhaps there from the anniversary of the genocide commemmorated every year in April.
Halfway back down from the top of the "Hill of Resistance" I posed for a photo, hoping to capture some idea of the height of the hill.
When we got down to the first building at the bottom there was a man walking up the steps toward us. He explained to Oliver, in Kinyarwanda, that he was one of the few survivors of this Bisesero hill where he had lost all his family. I don't know his name but after getting home I found a story and wondered if that had been him - he had looked very much alike. See Rwandan Courage & Survival.
On our way back to the road to Kibuye we passed a village where a Gacaca court was taking place. We stopped and I walked over to observe but was told that no photos were allowed, it being a serious matter of justice taking place and the privacy of the victims and the accused needing to be respected. However, I sat there for awhile watching the proceedings until it was time to go.
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BISESERO SURVIVOR SAW FRENCH
BISESERO HILL HAUNTS CONGO
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