Breaking the Silence on the Rwanda Genocide: An Interview with Edouard Bamporiki

Edouard Bamporiki was a child of eleven during the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which close to a million people were brutally murdered, often by their neighbours, in a hundred day period.
A Hutu boy, after the genocide he missed his murdered Tutsi classmates and he scribbled his confusion and anger into his school notebook. He read his words aloud to his fellow students, but a teacher told him he had no need to write such things. He should keep silent; he was not old enough to understand political matters.

By Maggie Ziegler | 2013-07-01 12:00:00

He rejected that advice. He knew what he had seen, even if he did not understand the long legacy that led to the beginning of the government-planned genocide against the Tutsi; a history that included colonialist manipulation of ethnic relations into rigid opposed identities. Young Edouard, shocked by the killing and burdened by his Hutu identity, felt driven to speak out. That moment in the schoolyard was a first step in an ongoing process of healing his heart.%

I met Edouard Bamporiki on a group visit to a genocide memorial site where I was touched by his open heart and his empathy for survivors. I knew he was well known in Rwanda as an actor, filmmaker and writer and a voice for peace. I wanted to know more.

Maggie Ziegler: How would you now describe the relationship between Tutsi and Hutu?

Edouard Bamporiki: You know, we don’t use Hutu and Tutsi as it was in our identity before the genocide, but we still have this in our heart. Some people say that there was no ethnicity because we share language and culture, but because the colonizer used ethnicity, we grew up to understand Hutu and Tutsi as ethnic. Nineteen years is not enough time to forget this Hutu and Tutsi; I know that some are not happy to be Hutu because what was done by Hutu during the genocide brings shame to their relatives and friends. If you could change your identity you would see that more people would want to be like a survivor, a Tutsi.

Maggie: How did you become aware of this shame?

Edouard: In Rwanda, if someone is sure you are going to help in what is hurting in the heart, they will express everything to you. In that way I got to be aware that some people were not happy because of who they are. You know, some people from my village changed identity when they left the village to come to town after the genocide. You knew him as a Hutu but in conversation between him and others, far from his family, he says, “I am a survivor.” But that is not a solution. The solution is to accept who you are and work to change something bad made by your relatives or the same people from your group. Hutu and Tutsi have to accept who they are, then the young generation will not be in hatred.

Maggie: In Rwanda speaking about ethnicity is seen to be discouraged?

Edouard: No, here is no problem to speak about ethnicity. The problem is to use it in the wrong way. To remove or to forget ethnicity is a process. You can’t forget what you know. As time goes by, we will be free but I grew up in the mood of Hutus, so how can I forget it? But I will tell my kids that they are Rwandan. I did not have that chance. Hutu and Tutsi waere material for politicians to get what they wanted.

Maggie: What do you remember from before the genocide?

Edouard: My dad died when I was six years old. I knew nothing about ethnicity. When I was nine, my teacher asked the class our ethnicity. You know, in class he could not tell this is a Hutu, a Tutsi, a Twa, so he said, “Go home and ask your parents.” My mom told me you are Hutu, go back and say you are a Hutu. So at school every kid stood up and said, I’m this, I’m this.

We were more Hutu. It was good to me as a guy of nine years to see Hutu were more. We started building teams for football, Hutu against Tutsi, but as the Tutsi were not enough to build a team, we gave them some Hutu. That was that. It was friendship. We loved each other. We knew that Hutu and Tutsi was like the second name, that was something not strong, not big. We didn’t think that something bad would come.

Maggie: And then the genocide.

Edouard: Yes. I was surprised. In April, in 1994, I was in hospital, I was sick. I saw people killing others, killing. You know, a kid of eleven, but I could see everything. I asked my mum, why these people are killing others? It’s not easy to see people killing people in front of you. It was a big bad image. And my mum kept silent, two, three, four days.

One night a man, Pascal, came in and he chose to hide under my bed. He had a young baby, two years old. In the morning…in the morning, we heard big voices outside, singing ‘We are coming to kill you!’ I thought, it is our end, all of us. They said they were coming to kill, not this one or that one. They came in and then they said, “We are looking for Pascal’, and I remember thinking maybe Pascal will keep silent and hide himself. But Pascal says, “I am here.” This was a big voice to me, under my bed.

A man took Pascal and another man cut his neck in front of me. …So that was a big image. …That was…you know…yeah…Pascal’s body was still holding the baby. You know, now in April, every year, when we commemorate the genocide we take one minute of silence. My mind goes back to Kibogora Hospital, because even the killers took that minute. Looking around, looking at the baby on the chest of the dead man… and after one minute they killed the baby also.

I remember, I shouted a lot and my mum came and held my mouth. As the killers left, I asked my mum, ‘You have to tell me what is this? We came for medicine, but what I am finding here is terrible.’ And she said, ‘You have to keep silence, you don’t have to shout anymore. Remember I told you that we are Hutu and today Hutu are killing Tutsi’.

She didn’t say, some Hutu are killing Tutsi; she said Hutu are killing Tutsi. It is why I say that each Hutu is responsible for what happened here. Should Hutu have finished all Tutsi, we would now be having their stuff and running the country ourselves. We should have gained if this plan of finishing Tutsi was successful. But because we have survivors people look around and say, ‘You know, he’s my dad.’ They forgot that when their dad killed people, he took stuff, he brought things to eat and they ate it. They forgot they were gaining from the Tutsi that they killed. This is a problem. We have to stand up and say that we are sorry for what we did, for what our relatives did. I don’t know why some Hutu say it’s not my business, you know, it’s for those who did it. No, we have to be responsible if we want a bright future.

Maggie: That moment, when your mother told you to be quiet, has guided your life?

Edouard: Yes.

Maggie: When did you start speaking out?

Edouard: I started when I was in hospital because shouting shows that someone is not supporting. But I had to obey my parent, so I became quiet in public. But in my heart I was not quiet. From 1994 to 2005, more than ten years, I was shouting in my heart, looking for a way to say something in public. It was not easy. But when I got a chance to go to the public and express what was in me, I became a man. I became a real Edouard. Before I had this conflict within me; I had no unity and reconciliation in me. You could say I was like five Edouards, all fighting inside. But as I express what is in me, when I say what I saw, I get freedom.

Maggie: Say more about the battle inside you.

Edouard: To say this about the 5 Edouards… sometimes when I was in hospital I asked myself, did no one kill me? Have I already died? At the end of the genocide they said in my village, the country has been taken by Tutsi. I knew they finished Tutsi in my village so where were they coming from? To my confused mind, I thought maybe the Tutsi that died in Kibogora were raised up in Kigali and took the country. Maybe I also died in hospital, and was raised up at home.

I judged myself. Why was I born Hutu? Why was I born in Rwanda? Why Hutu killed Tutsi? Why I was born Hutu? And then I asked myself, Why the government of Hutu did not give us a chance to vote that they can kill, or not? We did not choose it. We did not vote to kill all of them. They did it in our name, but they didn’t ask permission to everyone. That is the kind of conflict I had.

Why, when we were commemorating Tutsi, no Hutu, old or young, came to say what they had seen? Only Tutsi. And then I thought that’s commemoration for who? For Rwandans?

Maggie: Is this changing?

Edouard: We are still having only survivor testimony. Not because they want to talk only themselves but because Hutu are still quiet. Even five years ago, finding Hutu to come to commemoration was not easy. Now they are coming, but they are still quiet. Hutu are not saying about what they saw. So there is no change. It is still a problem to me.

Maggie: I think you first gave your own testimony in 2006?

Edouard: I was invited to give a poem but before my turn a man my own age, a survivor, stood and gave his testimony. His testimony touched my heart and I started to cry. When they called me to read my poem but I was crying. I said, No, I’m not ready to give a poem. But can I give my testimony? And the MC said, go ahead, say something. I said, I’m sorry, I’m not a survivor. I’m a Hutu. He said, Yeah, keep on.

Maggie: So this was not planned?

Edouard: Not planned at all. This guy’s testimony touched me and I was not able to say the poem.

Maggie: Do you remember what was happening inside you at that moment?

Edouard: I remember. I will never forget it. I was so angry about what Hutu had done in Rwanda. Could I have had them near me I would have… Even me, an innocent kid, they used my name and so I am included in this situation. So I have to say something. I was expressing myself, giving my testimony to the public but the focus was those Hutu who did the genocide and killed our future.

When I said, I’m not a survivor I’m a Hutu, even someone who was sleeping woke up and watched me. When I talked about genocide in Kibogora, people cried. Then I had more confidence, I don’t know from where. That day, someone threw a grenade into the Kigali Genocide Memorial. So I said, it’s not a surprise that the memorial centre was attacked. Why? Because I have never seen Hutu stand up and say to Tutsi, we will never kill you again. We will never do anything bad to you again. That was my point. We have a problem here. We have a curse. We have a voice crying here. We will have struggles until we ask forgiveness. If not we’ll build houses, we’ll have technology, strong things, but the problem of hatred will be there and will kill even the young generation.

Maggie: What was the poem that you did not read that day?

Edouard: I did read it after my testimony. It was about supporting survivors. I would tell them sorry through poetry, I used to send messages to those I knew were survivors, I used to visit them to show them they were not alone anymore.

Maggie: So during those conflicted years between 1994 and 2006 you did not feel free, but you were writing poetry?

Edouard: I was writing poetry. I wrote nothing before genocide. After the genocide, as school. I found no Tutsi in my class, even my teacher was killed. As the new teacher was writing on the blackboard I was writing in my notebook. But I didn’t write what he was teaching. I was writing what I was thinking. My first poem was called Could you not kill them, we should be laughing together. It is in my book of poetry, which is in Kinyarwanda. Why did you kill them, why did you kill teachers and students? What kind of history are we going to study now after you killed teachers and students? There is no importance in studying. So in the poem I say I will never study.

After that, I wrote. I used to speak in my heart and in my poetry. But today I can stand in public and you will not find more poems.

Maggie: What influences your poetry?

Edouard: In our history, Rwandans didn’t know anything about writing or reading but they could say in public a poem of twenty minutes. Poetry in Rwanda, it’s not from the book, or from outside. It’s our heritage. It’s in our culture. But I’m not sure that my poetry is coming from the heritage because I write after darkness. It is from darkness that I get my poetry. I am different from others.

Maggie: Edouard, earlier you said that there were no more poems. Is poetry finished for you?

Edouard: I am not sure. As I come to the public with the message of unity and reconciliation, no poetry is coming. It’s a confusion to me, I don’t know why.

Maggie: You find that the testimony you want to tell is more powerful than the poems?

Edouard: Yeah: When I stand I feel I want to give a poem. But the message is bigger than a poem. So my poetry is going down, my message is going up. But the poetry is there. Not big, but small, but it is there.

Maggie: You feel it inside, the poetry?

Edouard: Yes, it’s there. It’s sleeping.

Maggie: Can you talk about how you feel different from others?

Edouard: It is not exactly that I’m sure I’m different, but it’s about why do I feel guilty? Why do I feel I have to do something to support my country? Why I don’t sleep during the night, thinking about the coming generation while others don’t mind so much about it? So am I normal, is what I ask myself. It’s in, that direction. I am not matching with others.

Maggie: Did you feel different before the genocide?

Edouard: No. I felt good. The village, it was how life was. No questions. No poems. That came later.

Maggie: In 2006 you also started with movies. How did that begin?

Edouard: The poems brought me a connection to an American filmmaker, Isaac Lee Chung, who said, can I use your poem in my movie? So I am acting and reciting poetry in Isaac’s movie, Munyurangabo. The movie was shown at the Cannes Festival and there a journalist asked me if I was a Tutsi. I said no. He asked me if I was a Hutu. I said yes. He asked if I was a killer. This question. I didn’t reply. When I was sitting on the plane from Nice to Paris, I got an answer. I started a book and the answer is in the title: Your Sin is My Shame.

Our older generation made a sin, and they have left us the consequences of the genocide. I wanted to tell this journalist: this is our problem but we are coming from darkness to light. So see us in the light; don’t call us killers because of what our older generation did. We are here to break that mistake, to rebuild what they broke down. Come and see what I am doing.

And I was thinking, what could I do to support my people to get freedom? I start to write the script for my own movie, Long Coat.

Maggie: 2006 was like a big explosion?

Edouard: Sure. The testimony, the book, the movie, it all began then.

Maggie: And did that sense of yourself as fragmented and broken begin to heal?

Edouard (laughing): 2006 was when I was born again.

Maggie: Long Coat portrays a Hutu family where the father is imprisoned for genocide crimes and the family is in denial about the past. In Long Coat the consequence of speaking out is harsh; the young man is sent out of his family. Can you speak about that harshness?

Edouard: Yes. Think if you have seen your father killing and then during gacaca (community court) your father says I have done nothing. It takes you to an unknown place. You remember, you have seen him doing this and how he’s saying he did nothing. You say, am I crazy, is he crazy? Who is normal, me or my dad?

The old generation wants to cover what they have done and still have their honour to their kids, so they say, ‘We were not a part of it.’ In their lying, the young people get lost and it creates conflict between them and their parents.

The family in Long Coat come from the same place to different destinations because of their choices. But when people come from different points coming toward the same point, I am happy. We have a bright future when we are together.

Maggie: You wrote, directed and acted in the movie. Why did you choose the role of the son of the killer?

Edouard: Long Coat is a true story. I have a good friend who saw his father killing people during the genocide. I asked him if he would be part of the movie but he said he had never played in a movie and he did not want to. It was not easy to find the character so then I thought, I can do it myself.

Maggie: He knew it was his story you were using?

Edouard: Yes, he knew. What is in the movie is what happened.

Maggie: Long Coat won an award at Focus Future in New York. What kind of impact has the movie had in Rwanda?

Edouard: I was happy when I took the movie to the prisons.To see a killer standing up and saying, ‘I have never apologized, but because of this movie, because of this guy’s testimony, because of this guy’s work, I am now apologizing. I did this and this and this.’

In Rilima Prison there was one guy who shouted after seeing the movie, ‘I want to talk to Edouard.’ He said, ‘I want to tell you something, how you end the movie, the father killed a man and threw him in the latrine. That is what I did. I killed people and then I put them in the latrine. I’m here for another reason, and in four years I go out but I also did the genocide.’ No one knew that. He went to Congo and then came back to steal and kill people, that’s why he’s in prison.

Maggie: He was imprisoned for what he did after the genocide?

Edouard: Yeah, after. But after the movie he opened up and said, I did this (genocide) too.

Maggie: We first met at Murambi Genocide Memorial, that place where 50,000 people were massacred, and I remember how stunned all of us were facing the lime preserved corpses. I remember how we witnessed not only the dead, but also the anguish of the living. I remember that you cried and held a woman who collapsed in your arms. What comes up for you now when you think about that?

Edouard: A good question. I’m sure there is no time will come when I forget what I have seen, what I have been through. Whenever I am in a situation that reminds me what I have seen, I go directly back to the hospital. I am still confused. How can people can go to a place like the Murambi Genocide Memorial and see bodies and then say nothing? And then when I go there, my heart is broken… I’m sure I will be touched by anything connected to the genocide, up to my end. I did not choose it but it’s like that.

Maggie: Tell me about the community you lived in before the genocide. Is it a place you go?

Edouard: It’s a place I need to go. I thought, what could I do? I don’t save much money but I went to my village and I promised that every year I would pay a scholarship for the best performer. For some years I’ve been doing this. But it wasn’t enough. I went to the families of killers, to support their kids to go to school. I used my own money. I didn’t go to anyone and say, support me to support these people. I do it myself. I was supporting the kids because their fathers spent a long time in prison and didn’t have time to work for their kids, I said them, I’m working for no one, doing this is my choice. Now the killers, the people who didn’t want unity and reconciliation in the village, are praying for me to have more money to help their children! So I take their kids to school and then they don’t see me as a bad person, they think maybe this guy…

Maggie: They think he’s okay.

Edouard (laughs): Yeah, he’s okay. We have to be peacemakers in action. I want to also support the survivors. Because if they don’t all have a chance to go to school, well, it’s where we became stupid and started to kill them.

Maggie: What’s next?

Edouard: In 2012 started the Amahoro Peace Film Festival. People like films and will learn something. As the sadness and hatred took time in Rwanda, we want peace to have a big chair in our country. From our darkness we can have the right to help others,. Each country does not need to have darkness to discover light afterwards. Our darkness is enough. I want people can come to Rwanda from around the world and sit in a big chair of peace.

People have to understand, the genocide is over but we are still fighting the consequences. It will take time. In my work I am asking, why was Rwanda was beaten by its own people? How can we accept a common liberation? Is this country for everyone?

Maggie: For you it is very important that Hutu apologize. What should that apology look like?

Edouard: We can’t wait for this from government. I’m expecting this from each person. If each decides to do this, then it can be all Hutu. We can stand up and say we did bad to you, our relatives did bad to you, but we are sorry. We will not kill you again. If we do not say this, we will not reach unity and reconciliation.

Maggie: For some years now you have been sharing your story in public. Do you experience it the same way in yourself each time?

Edouard: I can’t say it’s okay. When I said it the first time I didn’t cry, but as I kept saying it, I used to cry at some points. And I still ask, why are others not saying anything?

But telling the story has inspired me. I keep on. I was like a kid the first time I gave the testimony, and now I’m strong. So yes, when I’m talking I feel bad because of what I have seen, but I’m proud of what I am doing.

Edouard Bamporiki lives in Kigali, Rwanda. In addtion to being a writer, filmaker and actor, he is also a third year law student.

Maggie Ziegler has been involved with post conflict peace education in Rwanda for the past three years.

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2013

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2013, page 16. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Maggie Ziegler here

Peace Magazine homepage