“Is it important to remember? Why should we remember painful memories?”
Generation 25 (G25), the youth-produced play that premiered at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheater on Friday night sought answers to these and more questions:
What kind of a man would kill their own baby? And are children born evil? If not, what ignites the flames of hatred in them later in life?
These questions aptly capture the psychological dilemma of a population demographic born during or shortly after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi –the Generation 25 (G25), hence the play’s title.
In the play, this young generation collectively questions the past, as it assumes the mantle of being guardians of a dark, painful and bitter history they were never part of. The play ultimately poses the rhetorical question:
“If we don’t remember the painful memories, how will we prevent this generation and generations to come from going through what our past has been?”
Created by Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company, the 25 minute play captures the feelings and thinking of young people that were born out of rape, in refugee camps, and those that were orphaned during the genocide.
The play is anchored on three broad pillars: the past, present, and the hopes and dreams of Rwanda’s youthful generation.
In it, the youthful actors expound on the causes, realities and consequences of the genocide. It further portrays the role of the young generation vis a vis that of older generations in building a new and unified legacy for the country, with a view to ‘Never Again’.
The show that was supposed to start at 6:00 pm, kicked off an hour later, with opening remarks from Hope Azeda, the artistic director of Mashirika, who in turn invited Edouard Bamporiki, the chairman National Itorero Commission:
“When I was doing film school in the Czech Republic, I was told that art is there to move hearts in a positive way,” Bamporiki stated.
“Looking back at the society of Rwanda, we had a bad experience of how art was used as a weapon to destroy our society. We are very proud as government and as Itorero to have this team that is promoting the culture of peace using art. When I was in Peace School, I was told; no peace without art.”
He asked the youth in attendance to enjoy the performances, but also learn from the messages of unity and love embedded in the play. He revealed that he had been a member of Mashirika before, and described Hope Azeda as a mentor.
The dance-oriented play unfolds through different portrays of miraculous survival stories during the genocide.
One of the main characters, Roza recounts how she was rescued by Marie, a 10 year old Hutu girl. The potential grave consequences of her kindness notwithstanding, Marie persists in her noble cause. In the end, she is able to put her point across: that no one is born evil, but that hate and prejudice can only be taught.
Shane Muhimany, a performance artists based in the UK, travelled to Rwanda to take part in the play, and acts out his personal story: Muhimanyi was just two years old when his mother was killed in the genocide, and in the play, he poses questions on memory, trauma, and the restless search for home.
As an ode to his mother, he sings a song called Black is the color of my mother’s hair, a remake of Nina Simone’s Black is the color of my true love’s hair.
The play also shines a spotlight on the plight of thousands of children born out of rape, portrayed through the characters of Malaika and Manzi. Malaika is HIV positive, for which her mother tries to poison her. She survives, and nurtures her dream to become a tour guide in the future. For his part, Manzi resorts to rap music as a means of escape.
Though most were acting on a big stage for the first time, the actors received rapturous applause at the end of their performance, which came after a grueling six weeks of rehearsals.
The performance was followed by a special Kwibuka 25 panel discussion on the theme of Intergenerational Responsibility and Learning. Some of the panelists included; Ange Hirwa, a representative of Aegis Trust; Yannick Kamanzi, a G25 actor and co-director, and Mekha Ndayisenga, a young Rwandan.
The play will be staged again at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival, happening in July this year at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheater, before travelling to New York, where it will be staged twice.