21. MURAMBI MASSACRE MEMORIAL
Like horses lined up at the gate, which all start running when the gun is fired, the killing of Tutsis began all over Rwanda on April 7th, 1994. The AK-47s had all been handed out to the Interahamwe to man the roadblocks and all the Hutu citizenry had received their made-in-China machetes and told to go find their neighbours and kill them. If they didn't, they themselves would be killed by the government forces - the army, militia, police or Presidential Guard - whose directions they received blasted over Hate Radio.
In the course of the next one hundred days - until it was stopped by the Tutsi army of the Rwandese Patriotic Front - nearly 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, which would have required an average of 10,000 murders each day, 400 per hour, 7 per minute.
The most efficient way of killing large numbers of people, it had been discovered, was to lure them into public places and then kill them all at once. In the previous genocides of 1959, 1963 and 1970 it had been observed that Tutsis ran to churches, schools and hospitals for safe haven as they knew those places wouldn't be destroyed by the government. But this time many doctors, teachers and priests, most of whom were Hutu, were cooperating with the government and handing their patients, students and flocks to the wolves.
This in fact is what happened in Murambi, a district in southern Rwanda not far from the city of Butare, when the Tutsis all ran to the church there. The Catholic Bishop and the Mayor (who pretended to be on their side) told them it wasn't safe in the church and that it would be better for them to go to the vacant technical school on the hill, where they would be protected by the French army in the area.
So ten days into the Genocide - on April 16, 1994 - 65,000 Tutsis ran there for protection, but the whole thing was a set-up. No sooner had they all hunkered down than the electricity and water supply were disconnected, and for the next week they had nothing but contaminated water to drink and no food. Then they were attacked by bands of random killers but managed to fend them off with stones. But then, a couple of nights later on April 21, the killing started with a vengeance. The French soldiers who said they would protect them, disappeared and in their place came local Hutu Interahamwe armed with machetes and a batallion of policemen (Gendarmeries) sent by Colonel Bagosora (a mastermind in the Genocide).
All hell broke loose and unprecedented bloodshed occurred that night. 15,000 managed to run through the hills to a church a few miles away, only to be discovered the next day and slaughtered en masse.
Meanwhile, at the school, 45,000 Tutsis were dead, except for twenty who had escaped and four who were taken for dead, and lay under bodies until the killing was over.
The photo below is taken at the entrance way to the Murambi Genocide Memorial:
The man standing on my right, wearing the dark blue shirt, is one of those survivors. His name is Emmanuel and he lost his wife, children and all other family that night at Murambi. A bullet hit him in the head and he fell down, covered in blood and the bodies of people shot after him. When he came to the next day, he crawled out from under the dead and crawled into the nearby banana fields to hide. He and the man in the white jacket, who I believe his name is Felix, are the official guides for people coming to the Memorial, and they took us on a tour of the buildings behind, where the killing occurred.
We stood beside one of the mass graves into which the bodies of the victims were dumped:
From his hiding spot in the banana trees Emmanuel had seen bulldozers come to the school the next day to shove the bodies into the holes that had been dug. Then that night, even though his body was telling him "no" his mind was telling him "yes", he ran toward the Burundi border where he was helped by some Burundian soldiers he met on the way and taken to a hospital where the bullet lodged above his forehead was removed.
We walked around the back and along the path to one of the long buildings which windows have been covered with grey/green plastic, to keep out the light.
That's our friend Amani, on the right, in the Orwell Today T-Shirt. He'd accompanied us on the trip to Murambi, having never himself been there. The boy standing beside him was one of our guides. Behind those doors are what used to be classrooms but which are now rooms for the bodies of the dead. Felix opened the door and stepped back for us to enter:
A picture's worth a thousand words and it's pretty self-explanatory that what we are seeing are the contorted skeletons of Tutsis massacred that April night in 1994 - twelve years ago. Their bodies were dug out from the pits and covered with lime to disinfect and preserve them. They lie here, in the classrooms, as non-verbal testimony of what happened to them here.
Then Felix opened another door, and we went in:
Again, there's no need to describe the indescribable, and the pictures do the talking. I found that my brain wasn't absorbing the images my eyes were seeing, and it wasn't until I got home and developed the pictures that I really saw what I had actually seen, if that makes any sense.
Next we went to a building where some of the clothes that were taken off the bodies are hanging:
As Emmanuel is standing there outside, waiting for us to come out, you can distinctly see the bullet-hole on the left side of his head.
We went and stood in the field beside the buildings at the very back and talked about the politics of the Genocide - the role of the United Nations and France, in particular. That's our same driver, the one who took us to Akagera National Park, in the blue shirt between Felix and Emmanuel.
Across that field, and into the banana trees of the village, is where Emmanuel had run. In the distance you can see children playing, and curious about what was going on. Bob went close and took a photo.
After that we walked back to the Memorial Museum, but I asked Emmanuel to pose with me for a picture first.
I love that tree, which symbolizes, to me, hope for the future. It's there to provide shade and beauty and is also a silent witness and silent comforter, having survived, like Emmanuel, the killing that went on here.
We went on a tour of the Memorial Museum, reading the wall displays and watching the various video-recordings explaining the history of the Genocide. The testimonies of other survivors and witnesses of the Murambi Massacre were inspiring. And not everyone in the surrounding villages cooperated in the Genocide, some of them said "No" and harboured Tutsi refugees or didn't participate in the looting afterwards. As one man said "I wasn't particularly interested in benefiting that way".
As for Emmanuel, he spends all his time at the Memorial, conducting tours and emphasizing to people the importance of displaying the bones of the dead as living proof that the Genocide really happened, because some people these days are saying it didn't. Also, it keeps him close to his family who are all buried here.
Before we left, Bob stood in front of a new, properly dedicated grave site, with fresh flower bouquets on its concrete lid.
When we got home to Canada, and I had a chance to read the beautiful book Amani and his wife had given us, entitled "Rwanda Nziza" meaning "Beautiful Rwanda", I found a poem, written by a Rwandan, which expresses the pain of those at Murambi, and elsewhere, eloquently. See LAMENT OF VICTIMS OF GENOCIDE
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See also MOURNING IN MURAMBI
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