The Thousand Smiles & Hills of Rwanda
There is a power behind story-telling able to bridge all those things we think separates us from other cultures, ethnicities, or even those with different beliefs within our own society. The stories we tell, or refrain from retelling, have the power to transform nations. So far, none more prevalent or extreme than that of Rwanda post-genocide. The story Rwandans tell each other about their own past is not a story scarred or marred in shame and pain, but rather a story of forgiveness and hope. An integral part of Rwandan culture, oral tradition provides a sense of how history is preserved and traditions are understood through 'Gakondo' (oral/symbolic literature), 'Ibitekerezo' (myths), 'Ubwiru' (rituals), 'Ibisigo' (symbolic poetry), and 'Inanga' (songs). Such modes of story-telling have empowered communities to overcome immense amounts of hurt, fear, and hatred. According to many Rwandans, the testimonies and stories offered by perpetrators of the genocide during compulsory Gacaca trials have allowed families closure and even aided in locating victims. There is a nation wide agreement to persevere in reconciliation, but not forget.
"The new generations of children are growing up to hate the genocide and those
responsible. We do not want to promote this hatred and so we who have survived must educate
and spread what we know. But above all, we must remember, we must remember what
happened here and the colonial histories tracing back telling the story to our children and
-Rwandan College Student 2010
In light of academic criticisms, during Gacaca trials, Rwandans rediscovered an alarming perpetuation of knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation. Their own historical context of colonial rule, and the functions colonialism played in furthering the antiquated divisions of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, was somehow still prevalent in their modern beliefs. These 'subjugated knowledges' were clearly present in the events leading up to the genocide, but were disguised within the systematizing and colonial scientific theories of racism retold and augmented by the tribes themselves. They had embraced the identity and story, a culture not their own, had created for them. This rediscovery began a country wide awareness of how Rwandans perceived themselves, their neighbors, their communities, and their nation as whole. United, citizens of Rwanda, transformed their stories into that of one with a broken past and a renewed hope of reconciliation for a better future.