This Saturday 29th June 2019, members of the Rwandese Community in Oxford, UK, took part in a ceremony honouring the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi at an event held at Pit Rivers Museum, Oxford.
This activity was organised within the framework of the 25th Commemoration of that genocide. It mainly consisted of the launch of an exhibition called Traces of the Past made of a film. This exhibition gives faces and names to the victims and foregrounds the voices of survivors.
In this film, survivors from Rwandan community members now living in the UK tell their stories of survival and how they make meaning of living with unending trauma caused by the immense loss their beloved ones.
Traces of the Past is woven within the “Bearing Witness- Kwibuka25” Project funded by Engagement with Research Seed Fund. It is based on Dr Julia Viebach’s African studies Centre / Faculty of Law, University of Oxford) research on memory and justice in Rwanda and her ongoing artwork and community curation.
Traces of the Past encourages us all to foster empathy towards the “distant” suffering of those often seen as “others”. People are all invited to listen to and learn from survivors’ accounts and to acknowledge their resilience, the strength and creativity in rebuilding their lives in the UK.
This invitation comes at a very worrying time where see the rise of xenophobia, right-wing populism here in the UK and in many parts of the world.
Traces exhibition objects display (Photo Jean Kayigamba)
Another aspect of this exhibition is that the survivors learnt objects that embody precious memories of loved ones who they lost. These objects on display at Pit Rivers Museum materialise the everyday lives of the people the survivors lost: family happy moments.
Through these objects, survivors also narrate unbelievable acts of inhumane violence, the failure of international community to intervene to stop the genocide, and how the world fell apart around them on April 6th after the shooting down of the plane carrying President Habyarimana.
These objects include a drum, a milk container (Inkongoro), a board game (Igisoro), radio batteries, a sewing machine.
Members of the Rwanda Community Abroad -Oxford, UK with Julia Viebach (Photo Jean Kayigamba)
The ceremony consisted of watching a short film Traces of the Past followed by a panel discussion involving the Researcher, Julia Viebach, and two survivors: Caritas Umulisa, and Jean Kayigamba which focussed on the importance of such projects to combat growing genocide revisionism and denial.
It is important that survivors are given space to tell their stories. This is crucial at a time where we see the surge of fake genocide survivors abroad being given credence by gullible Western media and some international academic institutions, especially during the commemoration times year in year out.
This exhibition is dedicated to the grandparents, parents, children, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, cousins and neighbours mercilessly massacred during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
It will run at Pit Rivers Museum till the end of December 2019.
By Jean Kayigamba
The Express News