- The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda
If the title of the presently reviewed English translation of Véronique Tadjo's text recalls Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the French original—L'ombre d'Imana: voyages jusqu'au bout du Rwanda (Paris: Actes Sud, 2000)—inevitably evokes Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit. A coincidence? In any case, even without wanting to find any ideological affinity between Tadjo's text and these others, one cannot fail to notice the theme of the journey into horror or abjection that they share.
In 1998, at the invitation of "Fest'Africa" and with the financial support of the Fondation de France, Tadjo traveled to Rwanda in the company of nine other African writers to bear witness to the genocide of 1994. It was that experience that gave birth to the brief text under review here. In short but perceptive poetic descriptions, the [End Page 137] Ivoirian writer begins by painting the return to daily life in Kigali, behind which she nevertheless senses the haunting presence of the recent, horrible past—with which she is confronted in brutal fashion during the course of a visit to the Church of Nyamata: "Nyamata Church. Site of genocide. Plus or minus 35,000 dead. / A woman bound hand and foot. / Mukandori. Aged twenty five. Exhumed in 1997. / Home: the town of Nyamata. / Married. / Any children?" (11) This could be the reproduction of the text identifying the remains of that woman in the church that has become a memorial-museum. Yet the stenographic character of this text fits Tadjo's style when it comes to anything bearing a material relationship to the genocide. She renders it in a very factual and sober manner, as if to find an antidote to the morbidity of the spectacle itself and to her visceral emotions: "But these dead are screaming still. The chaos remains palpable. The events are too recent. This is not a memorial but death laid bare, exposed in all its rawness. The horror of the sullied earth and of time laying down layers of dust in its passage. The bones of the skeleton-corpse are disintegrating before our very eyes. The stench infects our nostrils and settles inside our lungs, contaminates our flesh, lingers in our bodies and our minds." (12)
In her text Tadjo recounts her encounter with the survivors of the tragedy, with Rwandans whose fate was thrown in a complete state of upheaval by the genocide and ensuing war, and with foreigners, Europeans and Africans implicated in one way or another in this conflict and its prolongation, if only for professional or sentimental reasons.
Throughout the recounting of these individual conditions and testimonies of the situation during and after the genocide, Tadjo asks hard questions, especially about the complexity of the justice that might be rendered. But the central questions remain those of the work of grief and reconciliation of the Rwandan people. How to forgive without forgetting, how to remember while hoping in a future for Rwanda? At the beginning of her journey, the author told herself in an almost pious way: "May my eyes see, may my ears hear, may my mouth speak. I am not afraid of knowing. But may my mind never lose sight of what must grow with us: hope and respect for life." (10) With this text, Tadjo fulfilled her wish.
If it is so important, both historically and morally, that non-Rwandan African writers like Tadjo put their pens to preserving the memory of the Rwandan genocide, it is even more critical for the survivors themselves to bear witness, as, for example, Yolande Mukagasana does in La mort ne veut pas de moi (Paris: Fixot, 1997). The Rwandan genocide has held grave consequences for all of Central Africa, including the crisis of Rwanda refugees in the Democratic Congo. Those, in turn, are also testifying about their experience (see, for example, Maurice Niwese's, Le peuple...