Sunday, September 16, 2012

Murambi Memorial

Huge raindrops pelted the old school building, and my translator held an umbrella by the door while I walked around the corpses.  We were at the Murambi Genocide Memorial, which is unique for preserving and displaying over 800 bodies of people who were killed in the genocide. 

The memorial is located in the southern province of Rwanda.  My translator and I spent about 3 hours on a bus in order to get there, followed by a few minutes by moto.  Finally, we arrived at a large building situated among rolling hills.

Inside, we first toured the small museum, which tells visitors a story of the genocide as well as what happened on those very hills.  According to the memorial, between 40,000 and 50,000 people died on April 21, 1994, at what was then a high school under construction.  People from the town of Gikongoro and neighboring communes had congregated there, as authorities directed them to the school and told them they would be safe. 

Actually, the area where the school was located (the southern province) saw much higher levels of violence than other regions of Rwanda.  Explaining regional variation in genocidal violence is part of my dissertation, so I have been exploring reasons for this difference.  While there are many potential reasons (for example, more Tutsi were living in the southern region), the influence of political leaders is key.  On April 18, there was an attack on the school, but the displaced peoples gathered there were able to resist the attack.  The very next day, the interim President of Rwanda visited the area and distributed new guns and machetes.  Two days later the attack started again, and this time resistance was not successful.

Today, visitors at the memorial can see corpses of those killed there arranged on tables within what should be classrooms.  I won’t show pictures, as seeing the looks on peoples’ faces as they were killed is not something to be seen if you aren't expecting it.

Thanks to those of you who have been reading this so far!  I realize it has been depressing at times, but it is important to know and better understand genocides and other mass atrocities.  However, next I’ll share what I’ve learned about traditional weddings to depart from such sad topics and add some light.