After reading Boubacar Boris Diop’s novel Murambi, The Book of Bones I have come closer to understanding the extent of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Initially I had some hesitations on the nature and truthfulness of the issues that the author would reveal since he is not Rwandese or was not a victim of the Genocide. Diop is a Senegalese journalist and novelist. However, a reading of his book confirms of it as a witness to the genocide. The book has ingrained in me the extent of brutality of the genocide. I can visualize the deep emotional scars left in the hearts of the survivors. I can almost see the piles of bodies described in the book and this gives me more attachment to themes elaborated throughout the novel. The book was one of those written by ten African writers who, in 1998 spent two months in Rwanda finding out facts, which they then wrote about. The importance of the book in “painting” the picture of the Rwandan Genocide has not gone unnoticed and the book is none of the most popular to those who wish to know more about the Rwandan Genocide.
Diop has used numerous points of view or a polyvocal approach to draw readers into the complex nature of the 1994 genocide and its aftermath. At the beginning, Diop gives the story of a Tutsi businessman named Michel Serumundo who leaves his shop late at night. The businessman had not gotten news of president Habyarimana’s death in a plane crash –the event which precipitated the mass slaughter of Tutsis by the Hutus. Serumundo walks into barricades set up by young men and readers never learn of his fate. At this point, while I was reading the book, I thought of the many people who met their death without any knowledge of why they were being murdered on the evening of Habyarimana’s death.
Diop centers his story on Cornelius Uvimana, a Rwandese history teacher living in Djibouti at the time of the genocide. Uvimana returned to his country in 1998 and faced unimaginable truth. His mother and siblings had been killed along with thousands of others in a massacre organized by his father! As I watched in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” and my later interests, which confirmed that Hutus killed the Tutsis, I never fathomed how a Hutu father could kill or organize for the killing of his family simply because they were Tutsis. As such, Diop’s book confirms that indeed humanity had deserted all feelings and emotions of blood attachments at the altar of negative ethnicity.
The book raises issues of the worry and the helplessness that Rwandese nationals living in other countries faced as the genocide went progressed. I can imagine the pain and worry that Uvimana, who was living and working in Djibouti had concerning his family. Uvimana could not travel back home and face imminent death and the trauma of finding out of his family’s deaths must have been unbearable. His recollection of the events that led to his family deaths must have been extremely torturous. At some point, I can imagine Uvimana blaming himself that he could probably have done something to prevent the murders.
The book also came to reveal to me the pain, shame, and guilt with which the relatives and friends of infamous perpetrators have had to handle over the years. Uvimana’s father was an infamous perpetrators and his son had to deal with pain of losing his family and the immense shame of his father’s inhumane acts. Diop’s book also brings to the fore the relations that many people have had with the genocide. Almost everyone who was there in 1998, at the time of writing the novel has had something to say about the genocide and how negatively it affected them.
I have also come to understand in part the reasons why many organizers and perpetrators took part in the genocide. Diop explains in black and white the greed, hunger for power and general ethnic hatred that characterized the genocide. For instance, many poor Hutus blamed the Tutsis for their poor economic disposition claiming that the government favored Tutsis and there was unequal distribution of national wealth and economic opportunities.
Diop’s novel gave me information on the extent of inhumane acts committed at Murambi and other hotspots. I have come to know that Murambi Technical School situated in Murambi district of Southern Rwanda was the site of one of the most infamous massacres of the genocide. When the killings started Tutsis in Murambi tried to seek refuge at a local church but the bishop and mayor organized and sent them to the school claiming that some French troops were waiting to protect them. On April 16, 1994, about 65,000 Tutsis went to Murambi Technical School. Supplies of water and food were cut off from the school and the Tutsis grew too weak to resist any attack. The French soldiers manning the school also disappeared. Initially the besieged Tutsis tried to defend themselves using stones but on April 21 Hutu Interahamwe-the leading militia attacked the terrified Tutsis and 45,000 Tutsis were murdered. Most of those who escaped were killed when they were found hiding in a nearby church. Although the French soldiers tried to cover up the massacre by burying thousands of bodies into massive pits and then placing a volleyball court over the graves, the graves were later discovered. As such, I have come to realize the massive number of people who would be killed at one instance. I have also come to see the helplessness of the foreign soldiers or their collaboration with militias.
Boubacar Diop’s book Murambi-The book of Bones centers on the life of Cornelius Uvimana whose family was murdered at the infamous massacre in Murambi Technical School in the early days of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Although I knew substantial information about the Rwandan genocide prom the movie Hotel Rwanda and general literature, I have come to appreciate several things. Diop tells of the shame and guilt that friends and relatives of the perpetrators have had to deal with. He also elaborates on the massive numbers of people killed in hotspots of the genocide. The book also informs of the worry and helpless that Rwandese nationals faced in foreign countries. These among many other issues proves that Diop’s book acts as a witness to the Rwandese Genocide and the critical role that literature can play in the factual documentation of events.
Boubacar Boris Diop Murambi, The Book of Bones. Print.