Encounters with conflict and peace

A day in the marshes

As terrified Tutsi families realised that no-one was going to come and rescue them, they did their best to hide from the teams of killers.

The young and fit often chose to out-run the killers in the forests. The old, the sick, and parents with children spent their days hiding among the tall papyrus in the mud of the marshes.
We hid the children in small groups
"In the morning, we could not even give ourselves a little moment to dry out in the rising sun. We went off again, soaked through, to deposit the children in little groups under the cover of the papyrus. We told them to stay as nice as fish in the ponds – meaning not to put more than a head out of the water and not to cry. We gave them muddy water to drink, even if it were sometimes tinged with blood.

Then, in our turn we covered ourselves in mud. Sometimes, we would glimpse one another through the surrounding foliage. We asked ourselves why God had forsaken us here, in the midst of snakes, which fortunately did not bite anyone."

Killing all day long
“We went down very early. The little ones hid first, the grown-ups acted as look-outs and talked about the disaster that had befallen us... they were the last to hide. Then there was killing all day long. In the beginning, the Hutus played tricks in the papyrus, for example they said, “I've recognised you, you can come out” and the most innocent got up and were massacred standing. Or else Hutus were guided by the cries of little children, who could not stand the mud anymore…"

Nyabarongo river evening
The killers sounded cheerful
"The killers worked in the swamps from nine to four, half past four, as the sun would have it. Sometimes, if it rained too much, they came later in the morning. They came in columns, announcing their arrival with songs and whistles. They beat drums, they sounded very cheerful to be going killing for an entire day.

One morning, they would take one path, the next day another path. When we heard the first whistles, we disappeared in the opposite direction. One morning, they cheated, they came from all sides springing traps and ambushes; and that day was a very dispiriting one because we knew that that evening there would be more than the usual number of dead."

Angélique Mukamanzi
25 year old farmer, hill of Rwankeli (Musenyi)

Calm and accomplished killings
"In the afternoon they (the killers) would not sing anymore because they were tired, but chatting away, they returned to their homes. They fortified themselves with drink and by eating the cows that they had slaughtered at the same time as the Tutsis. These were truly very calm and accomplished killings. If the RPF liberators had delayed one week more on the road, there would not be a single Bugesera Tutsi left living to deny the lies, such as the criminals' so-called drunkenness."

Angélique Mukamanzi

"When we spotted a small group of runaways trying to escape by creeping through the mud, we called them snakes. Before the killings, we usually called them cockroaches. But during, it was more suitable to call them snakes, because of their attitude, or zeros, or dogs, because in our country we don’t like dogs; in any case, they were less-than-nothings.

For some of us, those taunts were just minor diversions. The important thing was not to let them get away. For others, the insults were invigorating, made the job easier. The perpetrators felt more comfortable insulting and hitting crawlers in rags rather than properly upright people. Because they seemed less like us in that position."


Gathering food at night
"In the evening, after the killings, we scattered out into the night to dig in fields, collection manioc and beans. It was also the banana season. We ate raw for a month, hands filthy with mud, like louts.

It was the same fate for adults as for little children, who no longer had the opportunity to drink maternal milk or other nutritious substances. So, many people, even though not struck by machetes, were sprung by a deadly weakness. In the morning, we woke and we found them, lying beside us, stiffened in their sleep. And we, without a word of farewell for them, without a last gift from time, were unable to cover them decently.
Rwanda moon
We made the most of rainy nights by rubbing ourselves down with palm leaves, cleaning away the thickest coatings of refuse and the mud filth. Then we lay down on the ground. We talked of the day, wondered who had died that day, asked ourselves who was to die the next. We discussed the evil fate that had fallen on our heads. We did not exchange many words of joy, but many despondent ones."

Angélique Mukamanzi

No one to save us
"During the evening assemblies, we could catch hold of no news from anywhere because radio sets no longer blared out, except in the killers’ homes. Still, we understood by word of mouth that the genocide has spread over the country, that all Tutsis were suffering the same fate, that no one would come to save us anymore. We thought that we would all have to die.

As for me, I no longer concerned myself with thinking about when I would die, since we were going to die anyway, only with how the cuts would hack at me; only about how long it would take, because I was very frightened of the suffering machetes bestow.”

Francine Niyitegeka
25 year old shopkeeper and farmer. Kibungo Hill

every day for a month...
cooking in Rwanda
"On certain evenings, when the evil-doers had not killed too much that day, we gathered around glowing embers to eat something cooked; on other evenings, we were too dispirited. In the marsh, at dawn the next day, we found the same blood in the mud... corpses going off in the same places.

These corpses offended our spirits to such an extent that, even amongst ourselves, we did not dare speak of them. They all too bluntly showed us how our own life would end. Which is the reason why our utmost wish in the morning was simply to make it through to the end of the afternoon one more time.”

Many of the quotes on this page from The Survivors speak AND The killers speak by Jean Hatzfeld. Images by Dave Fullerton

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