November 15, 2009

Murambi Genocide Memorial Center; Church of Ste. Famille

At Murambi, about 40 km from the Congo border, there was a vocational school with many small classroom buildings. In 1994, Hutu militia herded thousands of Tutsis into the buildings and killed them with machetes or spiked clubs. The breakage pattern produced by each kind of weapon is easy to distinguish on the skull.

The classroom buildings are now a memorial -- room after room of skeletons. The perpetrators doused the bodies with lime immediately after killing, to hasten disintegration, but the skeletons remain and some of them have patches of black hair on their heads, and even shreds of clothing.

The memorial rooms stink of death, still. On the pelvis of each skeleton there are two or three camphor balls to ameliorate the smell.

I'm including as few details as I can. I feel it is important to give you a glimpse.

Below, a mother holding her child. The red ribbon was placed there by a visiting relative.

The man below lives at the Murambi site and serves as an unofficial guide. He is standing outside the building where we saw the skeletons of his wife and five children. He does not leave the site. On the left side of his bald head you can see a round indentation where a bullet struck him but did not penetrate.

French soldiers used bulldozers to cover the mass graves at Murambi, then built volleyball courts on top. The French had commercial interests with the Hutu leaders at the time.

It's a pretty country.

Below, the church of Ste. Famille, the Holy Family, in downtown Kigali, the national capital. Many Catholic churches were genocide sites. Authorities, in more than a few cases priests, deliberately deceived the victims into thinking they would find sanctuary in a church. Thousands at a time were crammed into the small spaces: 20,000 in this one, which sounds impossible, but the perpetrators were experts at making use of space. Typically the victims were kept inside without food or water for up to two weeks, then shot or slashed. According to Costa, who stands in the foreground of the photo, the churchyard was filled with dead bodies when he arrived with the Tutsi militia on their revenge mission.

Recommended reading.

I promise, the rest of the Rwanda posts will be cheerful ones.

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