VIDEO: Spoken word remembers Genocide victims

The opening stanza of Sammy Asiimwe’s poem perfectly captures the mood of its title, Ode to Motherland.
All participants take a minute to remember victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. All Photos by Faustin Niyigena.
All participants take a minute to remember victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. All Photos by Faustin Niyigena.

The opening stanza of Sammy Asiimwe’s poem perfectly captures the mood of its title, Ode to Motherland.

Cloudburst of bullets


“Millions of innocent quenched machetes


Streams of blood drained our land


Acrid scent covered heavens

Vultures and Reynard fed

The world turned a blind eye

The days were filled with ichor

And nights short to the hunted

They said love is the way and answer

But look how they treated us

Made us believers and we

Slew each other furiously

Brushing aside our brotherhood

What was a family became a ruin”

No wonder Asiimwe was the first poet on stage at this month’s Spoken Word Rwanda event, held at the Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM) in Gisozi on Wednesday night.

Symbolically, the gathering was housed in one of the learning rooms overlooking the outdoor amphitheater at the memorial. The room is named ubutwari (courage).

Dida Nibagwire performs. Faustin Niyigena

Dieudonné Nagiriwubuntu, the Publics Relations Officer of the Kigali Genocide Memorial remarked that part of the motivation for hosting such an event was the need to honor the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to save lives and end the genocide, many of who paid the ultimate price.

Spoken Word Rwanda takes place on the last Wednesday of the month at a pop-up venue around Kigali.

Kara performs. Faustin Niyigena

This month’s event was dubbed Spoken Word Rwanda Kwibuka23, in memory of those that perished in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. It was the second time the spoken word forum was being staged at the memorial after its debut at the venue last year.

This was one of the more intimate performances as is always the case whenever it’s a special edition. Last year’s forum was also a special edition, a celebration of womanhood in the spirit of International Women’s Day which falls in the month of March.

Asiimwe wrote Ode To Motherland for the 21st genocide commemoration anniversary in 2015. He has since consistently performed it at various spoken word and poetry forums across town.

Kenyan Thatcher performs at Spoken Word Rwanda. Faustin Niyigena

The 23 year old is a student of Business and Information Technology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, (JKUAT), in Kigali. Like Ode To Motherland, most of his poems tackle weighty moral/societal issues aimed at transforming society;

“We now remember to keep

Alive memories of genocide

To teach our selves

Our children and

Children after them

Not judge each other by

Their ethnicity, height

Or shape of nose”, he further appealed in the poem.

Asiimwe was followed by about a dozen more acts on stage. By the time all were done, we had heard more moving poems about the genocide, and about other human catastrophes; through the poet’s words, we had also traversed the globe, from Rwanda to South Africa to the Garissa University College attack in Kenya, in which armed terrorists linked to the Al-Shabaab terrorist group killed over 150 people in April 2015.

Shasha, a Kenyan poetess revealed that she had lost all her buddies in the attack.

Junior Kanamugire and Fiona Kamikazi host the event. Faustin Niyigena

The day’s MCs, Junior and Fiona Kamikazi did a splendid job in encouraging members of the audience to take to the stage if and when inspired. In the end, it was a fair mix of both established poets and performers, and ordinary persons with a story to share.

Candles had been placed on every seat, and at approximately 9:00 pm the MCs asked the audience to each pick up a candle, with which they trekked outdoors and converged at the foot of the commemoration flame, which is lit every April 7th at the beginning of the official commemoration period. The flame then burns continuously for the next 100 days, to symbolize the duration of the genocide.

Artists and participants at Kigali Genocide Memorial light candles and take a minute to remember victims killed in the genocide against the tutsi

Here, a minute of silence was observed in honor of victims of the genocide. Soon after, the candles were blown out and people returned to the performance.

Initially it was hard for people to know how to conduct themselves at the event. Ordinarily Spoken Word is a fun gathering that’s characterized by laughter, eating, drinking, and generally socializing.

But with this month’s theme of Kwibuka23, it took the intervention and reassurance of the day’s MCs to get the crowd to loosen up a bit. The two MCs kept reminding us that this wasn’t just about remembering the dead, but also recognizing and celebrating the progress made, twenty three years later.

Fiona Kamikazi actually took time off from her MC-ing role to present a short piece titled ‘Uzaba umugabo,’ which had the effect of encouraging more people from the crowd to hit the stage.

Hudson Manzi performs.

As usual, the event focuses not only on literary but also cultural expression. Poet Tuyisenge Olivier was a good example. He hit the stage clad in traditional Rwandan garb – the umukenyero, flanked by a Kamanzi on a long drum, and another guy on guitar.

Kamanzi would later return to stage, this time for his own solo performance. After clarifying he wasn’t a poet but a drummer and dancer, he presented a short theater piece titled quest to the cure that looked at the genocide through the eyes of a youth.

Bruce Intwari Murangira speaks a letter to his beloved lost family during the genocide. Faustin Niyigena

One of the most moving performances of the night was by Bruce Intwari, who read a lengthy but poignant letter that he penned in memory of the eighty three relatives he lost during the genocide. He followed this with a poem.

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