Remains of Genocide: The Impact of Objects in Negotiating Politically Sensitive Memorial Spaces in Rwanda
MetadataShow full item record
In 1994, the genocide in Rwanda killed over 500,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu citizens in approximately 100 days. The extent and brutality of the violence affected nearly every Rwandan. In the aftermath, civil society and the current government have pushed for opportunities to commemorate the victims of the genocide and tell their narratives through physical spaces. There are now many memorials throughout the country ranging from large museums featuring physical evidence and panels of information geared towards international tourists to small community cemeteries. Yet scholars question the rationales behind the construction of specific spaces, the narratives they support or refute, and the effects that they may have on those who view them. In particular, many have focused on the contentious debate over the display of human remains in these memorial spaces. However, scholars have not yet viewed memorialization as a whole, overlooking the important variation between local and national spaces to answer these questions. In this project, I collect data on 54 diverse memorial spaces in Rwanda, searching for variation in the construction and use of the space, and specifically whether human remains were present. I then conduct four detailed case studies; one national memorial that uses confrontational displays of bones, two local memorials that commemorate the genocide without using human remains, and one memorial that illustrates a fascinating hybrid strategy, following neither the pattern of local, nor national, memorialization. My analysis finds that there is an apparent and significant divide between local and national memorials. This divide is most apparent when examining human remains; I argue that this strategy clearly exemplifies a conscious political decision to manipulate visitors (namely foreign tourists) to accept the dominant government narrative of genocide history. This gap between local and national memorialization and the subsequent use of human remains in the latter category may greatly affect reconciliation and ethnic identities as Rwandans must come to terms with their past, and how they choose to commemorate it for future generations.