The continuation of a groundbreaking study of the Rwandan genocide, and the story of the survivor generation
In Rwanda from April to June 1994, 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors in the largest and swiftest genocide since World War II. In his previous books, Jean Hatzfeld has documented the lives of the killers and victims, but after twenty years he has found that the enormity of understanding doesn’t stop with one generation. In Blood Papa, Hatzfeld returns to the hills and marshes of Nyamata to ask what has become of the childrenthose who never saw the machetes yet have grown up in the shadow of tragedy.
Fabrice, Sandra, Jean-Pierre, and others share the genocide as a common inheritance. Some have known only their parents’ silence and lies, enduring the harassment of classmates or the stigma of a father jailed for unspeakable crimes. Others have enjoyed a loving home and the sympathies offered to survivor children, but do so without parents or an extended family.
The young Rwandans in Blood Papa see each other in the neighborhoodthey dance and gossip, frequent the same cafés, and, like teenagers everywhere, love sports, music, and fashion; they surf the Web and dream of marriage. Yet Hutu and Tutsi children rarely speak of the ghosts that haunt their lives. Here their moving first-person accounts combined with Hatzfeld’s arresting chronicles of everyday life form a testament to survival in a country devastated by the terrible crimes and trauma of the past.
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About the Author
Jean Hatzfeld, an international reporter for Libération since 1973, is the author of many books, including Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (FSG, 2005) and The Antelope’s Strategy (FSG, 2010). He lives in Paris.
Joshua Jordan is a lecturer of French language and literature at Fordham and Columbia University and received the French Voices Award in 2016 for his translation of Aberrant Movements: The Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze by David Lapoujade.
Read an Excerpt
Once the bushes and branches rise high enough to scrape the vehicle's top, we are driving in a green penumbra, stealing through what resembles a lush underground passage. But this is no adventure. We have already been down the now-overgrown road leading to Nganwa. At its end, on the hillside, lived Ignace Rukiramacumu. And there he is, right in front of us — Ignace, the man clad in peculiar calf-length pants. He scurries barefoot behind a young woman striding ahead, her hair covered in a very lovely yellow turban. He seems to be yelling at her. It is a surprise to find him here, since he should be breaking stones at a work camp some fifty kilometers away. He carries a bundle on his head and turns around at the sound of our car and laughs. His dry, time-creased face hasn't changed a bit since our last visit. More startling still is discovering the old trickster's wily gaze intact and the same sardonic look.
He tells us that he returned that very day from three years of work reeducation, fulfilling his travaux d'intérêt général, during which he cleared roadsides, crushed loose rock, and ate tins of sauceless beans. He was sixty-two years old at the time of the killings in 1994. His peers exempted him from the expeditions into the swamps, thinking the work too strenuous for his scrawny legs. This did nothing, however, to prevent him from poaching Tutsis. In the evenings, when the madness of the killings seemed finally to subside, he could be seen descending into the papyrus armed with the same bow he had once used to hunt waterfowl.
Upon his return from exile in Congo, he was imprisoned at the penitentiary in Rilima with the Kibungo gang, among whom he was the first to be released, thanks to a presidential pardon of older inmates. He came home scot-free. But ten years later his extravagant display of bad faith during the gaçaça trials earned him a sentence to the work camp. Now, at eighty-one years old, he has served his time in prison, driven on, one gathers, by rank resentment.
The young woman with whom he is quarreling as we exchange news is not his daughter but his wife, Jeanne. On his way home today, he had gone to fetch her from the nearby mudugudu to which she had run away for a second time. He had brought her home with him, we learn, because of all the gossip circulating about her in the work camp. Their argument resumes with full-throated yelling punctuated by mutual threats to wring the other's neck. There seems to be no stopping them. Finally, Ignace asks me to act as mediator. Jeanne scrupulously sizes me up, then accepts. The bottles of Primus in the trunk couldn't have come at a better time.
Ignace's house, a vast structure covered with beige tiles, preserves the memory of a former opulence despite the cracks in the walls and other stigmata of his incarcerations. He was a tireless farmer — his back bent over the earth on which his first wife exhausted herself — and an impressive innovator who owed his success to coffee crops.
We carry benches outside into the shade of the long, flowery branches of an umunzenze tree. The issue turns out to be simple. Ignace's captivity forced him to sell his best land to his daughters from a previous marriage. Jeanne received nothing from the sale save for the gibes and threats of the daughters, who lived next door, their eyes greedily fixed on the house. Jeanne, a woman who trudged across the country with her two children, seduced by the stout heart of a thriving widower and the promise of an immense plot of land, suddenly found herself alone. She feared losing all she had. So she took refuge in the mudugudu, settling in with a male friend, from whom she enjoyed more than basic hospitality. The power of love courses through her veins. She didn't know, she pleads, how long they were going to keep her husband in the camp. Ignace grumbles and jeers. He is surly, demanding unconditional surrender; she is stubborn, stipulating future guarantees on the land. The haggling promises to be long.
In the distance, one hears an animal's nagging yelps, which are too guttural for the dog or the serval one sometimes comes across. It has been droning its single note since we arrived, as if the beast has always been there. Its barks rise from the bottom of the valley. An injured animal stuck in the mud, perhaps, or haunting the depths of the marshes.
In a previous book I wrote about Ignace's house: "Built on a hill ridge in Nganwa, the house overlooks the Akanyaru River, rising above his land from a steep slope that affords one of the most magnificent panoramas in the region." Nothing has changed since then. Nowhere else can one take in such a sweeping view of the marshes — not from the hilly edge of Englebert's land, nor from the summit of the Cyugaro Forest, nor from the ridge path near Pancrace's place. Nowhere else do the marshes arouse such wonder.
At the field's end, thickets studded with yellow flowers cover winding red-earth gullies. Farther down, the bright green of banana groves and the celadon of palm trees are outlined by peat fires. The vastness of the marshes extends beyond, blanketing the Akanyaru River, whose almost motionless course one senses more than sees. A sea of foliage stretches to the first mountain foothills, which dissolve mistily at the horizon. The rolling bottle-green of the papyrus predominates, flecked with brightly colored reeds and silvery flashes from the ponds in which the morning sun reflects its dazzling rays. Right now, the sun blinds with a stifling light, but later, as it tips behind the skyline, it will gild the horizon with first an orangey yellow then an eerie pink glow.
Before I discovered the marshes, it was impossible for me to imagine the scenes of the manhunts that Jeannette Ayinkamiye and Francine Niyitegeka had described and, in particular, to understand how the two of them had lasted for so many weeks. Once I saw the marshes, it was hard to pull myself away; I returned to them constantly, staring mesmerized through moments of doubt and disgust.
It was Ignace who said to me one day, as we were discussing the marshes: "The corpses were rotting so quickly that we no longer recognized those we had struck. We came across death with nearly every step and yet we never imagined our own or that of our families. Death became at once routine and unreal. I mean, it left us untouched. The truth of the genocide is in the mouths of the killers, who manipulate and conceal it, and in the mouths of the dead, who have taken it away with them."
From where we sit, we hear, besides the yelps rising from the marshes, a background sound of herons' raspy barks, the shriller squawks of white vultures gliding overhead, ibises' bursts of laughter, and a concert of less distinct songs, perhaps parrots or tiny talapoin monkeys, which, they say, live here in throngs. As one approaches the muddy water, the cries are lost in the din of screeching frogs and egrets, of grunts and whirs. With a bit of luck, one spots a herd of warthogs wading at the edge of a pond and, more rarely, the raised head of a sitatunga antelope swimming in the brackish water. White waterlilies are lulled by the current. Pink orchids fringe islets of reeds. There, in the sludge, lie the families of Berthe and Claudine, Francine's baby, Innocent's parents and sister, Jeannette's mother, Angélique's parents, Jean-Baptiste's wife and son, and Edith's parents and parents-in-law. Thousands of bodies have sunk into the Akanyaru and Akagera marshes, which are haunted now by a crowd of ghosts who climb the hills to torment the living.
* * *
IT HAS BEEN nineteen years since the killings: the age of an adolescent. I know many young people who have grown up in the company of these revenants. Each has had to sort out the history for themselves, a history that is now a part of them. I met several to write this book — children of the survivors and of the killers who spoke in my previous books. They all know the marshes, which come into view as one crosses the long bridge at the entrance to the district of Nyamata. They all know the marshes' evil secrets.
Only one of them has ventured out alone to the brownish water's edge to see the swamps up close and to give form to what he has heard described since childhood. His name is Jean-Pierre Habimana, one of Alphonse Hitiyaremye's sons. His father is Ignace's friend and a killer from the gang in Machete Season. A nice boy, Jean-Pierre lives in Nyamabuye, on a hillside along the Akagera River. He is finishing his tailor's apprenticeship in a workshop near the Kabukuba market. Here, in a few words, is how he describes his "awkward childhood."
NINETEEN YEARS OLD
Son of Alphonse Hitiyaremye, former Hutu prisoner
My seven-year-old legs carried me down the path to school. It was risky. I had to run nonstop because the other boys would single me out. Sometimes I would hear someone shout, "That one there's a killer's son. Everyone saw his father, how he swung the machete until his arms almost broke. Killing runs in his blood." But I couldn't turn back to look. Other times, I crossed paths with shorter kids who would spit at me, and I had to hide in the brush. Many adults pushed their children to harass and taunt us. I was afraid, which is understandable. In the schoolyard, when we were playing ball, I might be attacked on all sides by survivors' kids. Because of my father, of course. They all knew he lived in prison. I kept my mouth shut — I knew that it would be better to wait for Papa's return before speaking up. Grumbling words rumbled from Tutsi lips. I was hit with stones. That lasted for two or three years, then peace suddenly smiled on me. The authorities lectured them to wait for the gaçaças, to stop plotting punishments for us. In class, the torments were over; the teachers meant business.
It was a childhood rife with worry. I would listen to the neighbors describe the war and their escape to Congo. I would also hear the noisy squabbles at the cabaret. For people around here, drinking pours out all the trouble of past ordeals. When drinkers get drunk, if they feel stung by the nasty things the other ethnicity has said or done, they go hard in their talk and quarrels come quick. The children huddle out of sight, and although they catch every word, nothing makes any sense.
Myself, I got up the courage to ask my brother a few careful questions. It was safer than being snubbed by the adults. He said he didn't know. I asked my mama why my papa had to stay in prison instead of taking his place in the family, like so many other papas had in theirs. She dodged the questions. She weaved her way through explanations. I think she feared that we'd overreact. It's risky raising children without a papa's strength.
On the hill, my friends didn't know any more than I did, and what they said didn't sound anything like the truth. It was mostly at school that I grasped the story of the killings. The teachers explained the genocide to us. They followed a history program developed by the authorities and gave straightforward answers to our questions. They spoke patiently. They said that Hutus had decimated Tutsis because of a harmful government. But they didn't give excuses the way the parents did.
Of course, no student even hinted at his own family's situation. It was forbidden to talk about one's papa or a schoolmate's. I visited the memorials with my class. I went back several times. I heard about the hunts under the papyrus in the marshes, and I wanted to go down to see where the Tutsis had actually hid for so long. I trailed behind the groups on pilgrimage to the swamps. I stayed silent to hear their memories. It was a big thing to behold the marshes, to listen to how it all took place: the hunting-party songs, the machetes' bloody blows, the muddy holes under the papyrus where people hid.
Our neighbors were something else. I didn't doubt that they knew all about the killers' wicked deeds. How couldn't they know? But if I asked them, they'd sidestep anything exact. Except Mama. As I said, at first she seemed annoyed; she insisted on the government's misguided policies and repeated that the killers had had no choice. Then, one day, she tried her hand at the truth. I was twelve. She told me very plainly how my papa and his colleagues had killed Tutsis from the hills. She held nothing back about the blood on the blades. She explained that before the killings Papa hadn't looked anything like a killer: he was cheerful, he acted kindly in dealings with Tutsis, he was always among the first to lend others a hand in the fields. She described how well-off they were; how comfortably they lived, with no worries from the neighbors; and why, on the very first day of the killings, he left at the front of the group.
What did I learn? Basically, that my papa farmed a prosperous plot of land and did well in the drink business, too. His wealth earned him influence. Plus, people knew he was the adoptive son of the sector's warrant officer, which was very important in the neighbors' eyes. The two men strode proudly down the streets of Nyamabuye. By the time the killings came, he and the official had put all the preparations in place. It would have been unthinkable for the officer to lead the men into the marshes without his adoptive son by his side. The richest farmers had to set the example. To make a long story short, my papa's success prevented him from slipping to the back of the expeditions.
As she told me, Mama got angry at Papa no shortage of times. She somewhat accused him of being the cause of their hardships — even if she played with the words. She repeated that the militia turned up each morning at everyone's doors to make sure that everyone participated properly in the expeditions. It was only when the trials were supposed to start that she avoided blaming him too harshly. Which is understandable. As for me, I went to see my papa at the prison in Rilima every month. It was a five-hour bicycle ride; our conversations were kept to five minutes because of the jostling of the crowd. We exchanged timid words and bits of news. The prisoners' pink uniforms upset me. Among us children, we said our papas were being kept in Rilima out of revenge. We grumbled; we complained that their imprisonment was unfair. So, although we were young, Mama decided to set us straight. She told us that the high walls of Papa's prison were no injustice; he had gotten his hands dirty. She even told us how she had stepped in to keep him from joining the expeditions, how she had failed because he was very determined and worked up by the others.
* * *
MY NAME IS Jean-Pierre Habimana. Age: nineteen years old. My papa's name is Alphonse. He farms two plots of land in Nyamabuye. My mama's name is Consolée. She also works as a farmer and supports her husband unfailingly. There are three of us brothers and one sister. My name means "offering to God." I'm a very devout Catholic. I love God. I served at mass wearing my altar boy robe, and I still do my best to assist the priests. Deep down, I think God somewhat forgot about Rwanda. Otherwise, how do you explain that He would allow the genocide to happen? Yet it is through God's grace that the killings didn't reach absolute zero. It's thanks to Him that some Tutsis still made it through the hell of the marshes and that some Hutus were pardoned and pushed to return humbly to their plots to pick up the hoe again. I believe that God saved these people so that His children could bear witness to His power to save. That strengthens my faith in Him.
* * *
WHAT DO I remember from the year of the genocide? Nothing. I was too little. We fled to Congo. I have heard many people speak badly about that time; I have negative impressions. In Congo, I think we lived in fear of war. We stayed in tents surrounded by the volcano's black rocks. People lived on top of one another in the camp. They squeezed into line to wait for sacks of grain. They sang. Would you like a specific memory? People sang without ever running out of breath. With no land to work, they formed choirs. I remember crystal-clear the return to the Bugesera on trucks so long we would never have known they existed. This was in '97. I had never ridden in a motor vehicle and not even on a bicycle. We stopped on a road, and someone told me that that was our hill.
I grew up in Nyamabuye. As I said, I ran all the way to school to avoid being picked on. In class, I regained my calm. The teachers fussed over me because I was very clever at math. I darted through problems, and everyone knew it. It was a breeze, to be honest; school opened its arms to me. For sports, I picked basketball because of all the kids trying out for soccer. I played it effortlessly, despite my modest height. People said I was a fearless dribbler.
Papa's imprisonment thwarted my education. Poverty drove me from school three times. I was expelled in my first year of secondary school. In my fifth, I had to quit while waiting for the minerval to be paid — in vain. In my sixth year, I had to stop again, that time to learn carpentry at a technical school. I went for construction work over agriculture because the country's development offers more attractive prospects. I did an apprenticeship, I finished my internship, then I gave it up. I chose tailoring, like my sister, the one who makes suits in the yellow boutique on Nyamata's main street. A tailor named Alexis took me on as his apprentice. He says he is pleased with my work. Refining my skills will take another year. I work in the Kabukuba market not far from Nyamata. I enjoy cutting fabric; this new line of work is less exhausting than construction. I need to find a humanitarian organization to sponsor the purchase of my sewing machine. The machine is special in that it lets you sew flowers and decorations on women's dresses. It's a rare thing in the Bugesera, a costly investment.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Blood Papa"
Copyright © 2015 Jean Hatzfeld.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Marshes 3
Jean-Pierre Habimana 9
At the Market 16
Immaculée Feza 21
Fishing on the Akagera 30
Idelphonse Habinshuti 34
A Pile of Cassava 41
Nadine Umutesi 44
In Rilima 53
Fabiola Mukayishimire 58
Sidesaddle on a Bike-Taxi 66
Ange Uwase 70
Hanging Around on Main Street 79
Fabrice Tuyishimire 83
The House with the Crimson Roof 90
Sandra Isimbi 93
Ernestine’s Murder 105
Jean-Damascène Ndayambaje 112
Mother Courage 123
Jacqueline Mukamana 127
Mama Nema’s Veranda 132
Innocent Rwililiza 137
Sacks of Beans at Alphonse and Consolée’s Place 142
Alphonse Hitiyaremye and Consolée Murekatete 147
Sylvie’s Temple 151
Sylvie Umubyeyi 156
Claudine’s Mudugudu 163
Claudine Kayitesi 166
Nadine Umutesi 173
Idelphonse Habinshuti 178
Jean-Damascène Ndayambaje 186
Ange Uwase 190
Immaculée Feza 193
Fabiola Mukayishimire 200
Fabrice Tuyishimire 207
Sandra Isimbi 212
Jean-Pierre Habimana 219
Chronology of Events in Rwanda and in the District of Nyamata 225