Rwanda: The Poetry of Genocide

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 wasn't an isolated event. It was the most horrific in a string of mass murders perpetrated by the Hutu against the Tutsi, and vice versa, since 1962, when Belgium granted independence to Rwanda and Burundi, two neighboring nations in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Read more about the Rwanda Genocide (click here for information and purchase)
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Who's a Hutu, Who's a Tutsi?

Together, Hutus and Tutsis account for nearly all the people of Rwanda and Burundi. Roughly 90 percent of Rwandans are Hutu, while 9 percent are Tutsi. About 85 percent of Burundians are Hutu, and 14 percent are Tutsi. (The rest are mainly Twa, an indigenous pygmy people.)

Contact between the two groups dates back to the Tutsis' arrival in Hutu territory six centuries ago. But, until the 20th century, they apparently got along well - so well, in fact, that experts now disagree, sometimes vehemently, about the nature of the differences between them.

Nature, or Nurture?

Some say there are racial differences. Tutsis are supposedly taller, thinner, and lighter-skinned, while Hutus are supposedly shorter, thicker, and darker-skinned. Yet others say these biometric measures are groundless, if not racist garbage. They point out that years of intermarriage have long since blurred racial boundaries - if they existed at all.
The Hutu and the Tutsi aren't much different ethnically, either. They speak the same languages (which used to be the Hutus'), follow essentially the same clan and kinship systems (borrowed from Tutsi traditions), and practice the same religions. Many in both groups are now Roman Catholic.

Ancient History, or Recent?

Hutu language and customs were well established in the Great Lakes region when the cattle-herding Tutsi started arriving around 1400. But the Tutsi brought more than livestock. They also brought a more sophisticated understanding of war, which eventually helped them dominate despite smaller numbers.

The Tutsi social and political system centered on a quasi-divine king (the "mwami"), who was surrounded by chiefs and sub-chiefs, each in charge of a single hill. Scholars have compared it to a feudal or caste system, with Hutus at the bottom and Tutsis at the top of the socioeconomic heap. Unlike some such systems, however, there seems to have been a fair amount of movement up and down the heap - at least until westerners arrived at the turn of the 20th century.

The westerners - mainly Belgians - used race not only for classification, but also for colonial administration. They issued ethnic identity cards and discriminated in favor of the minority Tutsi, who they perceived as closer to white. They then repeatedly played the race card to divide and rule Rwanda and Burundi. Whatever animosity existed between the Hutu and Tutsi before, the Belgians made it much worse.

Scylla, or Charybdis?*

By the time Rwanda and Burundi officially came into being in 1962, Hutu-Tutsi antagonism was causing trouble for both nations. A Rwandan Hutu revolt ousted the Tutsi king, who fled the country with some 200,000 other Tutsis. Many ended up in Burundi where, fearing a similar fate, the Tutsi powers-that-be cracked down hard on the local Hutu.
In 1963, a group of exiled Rwandan Tutsis returned home as a rebel army, attempting to overthrow the Hutu government. They failed, but the effort prompted a large-scale massacre of Tutsis by Hutus, followed by smaller-scale reprisals. Then, in 1972, a Hutu uprising in Burundi resulted in widespread massacres by Tutsi-led forces, who killed at least 100,000 people, most of them Hutu.

*Being between Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom deriving from Greek mythology. Several other idioms, such as "on the horns of a dilemma", "between the devil and the deep blue sea", and "between a rock and a hard place" express the same meaning of "having to choose between two evils".

Worse Comes to Worst

Horrific as they were, these massacres pale in comparison to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Hutu extremists carefully planned, then led, the murder of some 800,000 fellow Rwandans, mostly Tutsi. Hutus who refused to go along were murdered, too. A Hutu-controlled radio station repeatedly urged the nationwide slaughter on, shouting "The graves are not yet full!"
Tutsi-led military forces eventually turned the tables, ousting the Hutu-dominated government and chasing the extremists (along with thousands of other Hutus) out of Rwanda. Across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the fighting continued, helping to precipitate a complex regional war that has claimed 3 million lives.

Officially, the Rwandan government now refuses to distinguish between Hutu and Tutsi. In this case, forcing everyone to toe the party line just might be a good idea.

Source: Associated Content from Yahoo!:

Rwanda: Where Tears Have No Power

Haki Madhubuti

Who has the moral high ground?
Fifteen blocks from the whitehouse
on small corners in northwest, d.c.
boys disguised as me rip each other’s hearts out
with weapons made in china. they fight for territory.

across the planet in a land where civilization was born
the boys of d.c. know nothing about their distant relatives
in Rwanda. they have never heard of the hutu or tutsi people.
their eyes draw blanks at the mention of kigali, byumba
or butare. all they know are the streets of d.c., and do not
cry at funerals anymore. numbers and frequency have a way
of making murder commonplace and not news
unless it spreads outside of our house, block, territory.

modern massacres are intraethnic. bosnia, sri lanka, burundi,
nagorno-karabakh, iraq, laos, angola, liberia, and rwanda are
small foreign names on a map made in europe. when bodies
by the tens of thousands float down a river turning the water
the color of blood, as a quarter of a million people flee barefoot
into tanzania and zaire, somehow we notice. we do not smile,
we have no more tears. we hold our thoughts. In deeply
muted silence looking south and thinking that today
nelson mandela seems much larger
than he is.

Haki Madhubuti, “Rwanda: Where Tears Have No Power” from Heartlove: Wedding and Love Poems © 1969 by Haki R. Madhubuti. Third World Press, Chicago, IL.
Source: Heartlove: Wedding and Love Poems (Third World Press, 1998)


Haki R. Madhubuti (born Don Luther Lee on February 23, 1942 in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States) is a renowned African-Americanauthor, educator, and poet. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, and served in the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1963.

Madhubuti is a major contributor to the Black literary tradition, in particular through his early association with the Black Arts Movementbeginning in the mid-60s, and which has had a lasting and major influence, even today. A proponent of independent Black institutions, Madhubuti is the founder, publisher, and chairman of the board of Third World Press (established in 1967), which today is the largest independent black-owned press in the United States.

Mothers Sing a Lullaby
(after the 1994 Rwandan genocide)

Susan Kiguli

Mothers sing a lullaby
As the dark descends on trees
Shutting out shadows.
The sensuous voices swish and swirl
Around shrubs and overgrown grass
Hiding mountains of decapitated dead
And the glint of machetes
That slashed shrieking throats.
In these camps without happiness
Mothers maintain the melody of life
Capturing wistful wind
To sing strength into the souls of children
Who have never known
The taste of morning porridge
Or heard the chirrup of crickets in the evenings.
Mothers sing a lullaby
For the staring faces
Who cringe at the sound of footsteps
Whose playmates are grinning skeletons.
Mothers become a lullaby
Silencing the sirens of sorrow
Restoring compassion to the nation.


Susan Nalugwa Kiguli, born on June 24, 1969 in Luweero District, Uganda, is an internationally recognized Ugandan poet and literary scholar. Currently (as of 2011) a senior lecturer at Makerere University, Kiguli has been an advocate for creative writing in Africa, including service as a founding member of FEMRITE,  as a judge for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (African Region 1999), and as an advisory board member for African Writers Trust.  As a poet, Kiguli to date remains best known for her collectionThe African Saga; [4] as a scholar, for her work on oral poetry and performance.


Ndahiro Bazimya

I am the son of scholars
Soldiers, warriors, dancers
Politicians, Farmers
Herders, poets
Athletes, survivors’
I saw my father’s destiny
Despite all who opposed
Who wait
With teeth gnashing and weapons ready
For his downfall
And through which in strength and integrity
will never come.
I have listened to my mother’s voice
Painting a picture through brown eyes
Of her childhood
About her family’s noble lineage and dignity
And the horror that changed it all
Through murder and destruction
Men prayed for death, not gods
My parents were pioneers
Rising above hate
The pride of Africa in their skin
As they led the way
In that I was conceived in
Third born of a new ara.
Blood of Africa
Born of the Western world
Raised with new ideas
While holding tradiition
The son who will
Blaze through a new world
While keeping in his heart an old one.