Can 'legendary' sycamore tree preserve Genocide history, facts?

Genocide survivors in Huye District have devised a new way of preserving history and facts about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to prevent distortion.
R−L; Vincent Munyeshyaka,  the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Local Government,  Kajuga, Nkuranga,  Huye mayor Eugene Muzuka and Senator Marie Claire Mukasine after planting umuvumu  tree at a burial site in Huye on Satruday. (Emmanuel  Ntirenganya)
R−L; Vincent Munyeshyaka, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Local Government, Kajuga, Nkuranga, Huye mayor Eugene Muzuka and Senator Marie Claire Mukasine after planting umuvumu tree at a burial site in Huye on Satruday. (Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

Genocide survivors in Huye District have devised a new way of preserving history and facts about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to prevent distortion.

The new way involves planting, numbering and coding a sycamore tree (locally known as umuvumu) at locations that contain crucial information about the Genocide.

The places include common holes where victims’ bodies were dumped, former roadblock spots where Tutsi were massacred and any area that turned into a slaughtering ground during the 1994 ethnic cleansing that left more than a million people dead.

Jérôme Kajuga, the representative of the victims’ families, said the idea was conceived by Ibisumizi Club, a Huye−based Mountain Sports Club, launched in December last year.

Kajuga, who is also the director of culture, social and human science at Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO, said the club was founded to preserve the cultural and historic heritage of Rwanda and protect environmental sustainability. He is also member of Ibisumizi Club.

“Having a memorial site is good but we also want to preserve the history of the places where Tutsi were killed during the Genocide. We want to plant two Sycamore trees (imivumu), one on the right, the other on the left of such places, such that they become like the pillars of such places,” Kajuga said.

He said they chose the sycamore tree as it is a historical tree in Rwanda; it is a symbol of immortality, which is why it represented the king.

Sycamore tree provided forage for the livestock; clothes were extracted from its bark and some of the objects used by Rwandans were made from it. It is a historical tree in Rwanda.

The first such sycamore tree was planted at the weekend on a mass grave in which remains of 35,000 Genocide victims were retrieved in Huye, before getting a decent burial at Rukira Genocide Memorial Site.

Kajuga said they want the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) and Ibuka, the umbrella of Genocide survivors’ associations, to promote this new project.

“We appeal to CNLG, Ibuka to roll out the project in other districts of the country. We are considering that once we have counted all the sycamore trees and given a code or number to each, we will be able to know that the place where the sycamore tree is, such and such a person was killed there at a given date by given people and the information will be kept at the village level. That it how we will preserve history; that’s how we will preserve signs and ably fight Genocide denial,” he said.

Egide Nkuranga, the vice-president of Ibuka, said there are places where Genocide was committed with unutterable cruelty, citing the testimonies of survivors in sectors of Kinazi and Ntongwe in Ruhango District.

He commended the new project, saying it would help keep the history of the Genocide well documented.

“We are encouraging people to embrace the culture of writing so that our history never gets forgotten. This project will help preserve well the history of the Genocide as the sycamore trees will be coded and numbered and each will be containing information about the killing of the Tutsi,” Nkuranga said, adding that they were seeking funding for better implementation of the project.

He said they are mulling ways to have documentation libraries at various Genocide memorial sites such that the codes and numbers on such trees will be linked to the documents in such libraries.

Nkuranga said it will help researchers who want to produce documentation about the Genocide against the Tutsi, and help the future generations to have right information about the Genocide and how to prevent it for a better Rwanda.

Dr Jean Damascène Bizimana, the executive secretary of CNLG, said having the trees planted on places where Tutsi were killed or their bodies dumped does not harm anything, but what was better was to collect all the information about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi were preserved in memorial sites.

“You cannot put sycamore trees or signs everywhere in the whole country where people were killed. The Genocide was committed in a cruel way. What is better is to collect the information in a memorial site such that those visiting it can see those signs. This is the best way to preserve signs and explaining them to those who are not aware of them,” he said.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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