Encounters with conflict and peace

The Ntarama church massacre

Ntarama church sign
In the weeks before the genocide, rumours of trouble were everywhere.

Innocent Rwililiza remembers the day his Hutu neighbour stopped him as they were walking home from work and said, “Innocent, listen to me, I need to tell you that you are all going to die.”

Like many Rwandans, Innocent, a 38 year old school teacher from Nyamata, found that hard to believe. They had survived trouble before, and they would survive again. But when the President’s plane crashed on 6th April, they got very scared. “We continued teaching in the daytime but for fear of underhand tricks, slept far from our homes in the bush at night,” he said.

On 11th April, a Monday morning, the interahamwe militia attacked townspeople with clubs and machetes. “They started with prosperous shopkeepers first, because even then they were above all preoccupied with getting rich.” A little later, people heard a lot of gunfire. Soldiers had arrived in town.
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There was panic. Some people ran to the town hall, hoping for some protection from the local authorities. But the mayor came out and told them, “If you go back home, you shall be killed. If you escape into the bush, you shall be killed. If you stay here, you shall be killed. Nevertheless, you must leave here, because I do not want any blood in front of my town hall.”

Thousands crowded into church compounds. Alisa, who had arrived at Ntarama church with her family on 7th April, said, “We all thought that if we came into the house of God no-one would touch us.”
Ntarama church survivors
Ntarama church killers
FULGENCE: A very special day
"First I cracked an old mama’s skull with a club. But she was already lying almost dead on the ground, so I did not feel death at the end of my arm. I went home that evening without even thinking about it.

Next day I cut down some alive and on their feet. It was the day of the massacre at the church, so, a very special day. Because of the uproar, I remember I began to strike without seeing who it was, taking pot luck with the crowd, so to speak. Our legs were much hampered by the crush, and our elbows kept bumping."
ALPHONSE: Working conscientiously
"The Thursday when we went to the church in Ntarama, the people just lay there in the dim light, the wounded visible between the pews, the unhurt hiding beneath the pews, and the dead in the aisles all the way to the foot of the altar. We were the only ones making a commotion.

Them, they were waiting for death in the calm of the church. For us, it was no longer important that we found ourselves in a house of God. We yelled, we gave orders, we insulted, we sneered. We verified person by person, inspecting the faces, so as to finish off everyone conscientiously. If we had any doubt about a death agony, we dragged the body outside to examine it in the light of heaven."
ALPHONSE: A well organised welcome
"The first evening, coming home from the massacre in the church, our welcome was very well put together by the organizers. We all met up again back on the soccer field. Guns were shooting into the air, whistles and suchlike musical instruments were sounding.

The children pushed into the centre all the cows rounded up during the day. Burgomaster Bernard offered the forty fattest ones to the interahamwe, to thank them, and the other cows to the people, to encourage them. We spent the evening slaughtering the cattle, singing, and chatting about the new days on the way. It was the most terrific celebration."

Many of the quotes on this page from A time for machetes. The killers speak by Jean Hatzfeld. Images by Dave Fullerton

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