Dignity in Death and Life: Negotiating Agaciro for the Nation in Preservation Practice at Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Rwanda
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 92, Number 2, Spring 2019
- pp. 345-374
- Additional Information
The ideal of agaciro, or dignity, is foundational for the contemporary Rwandan nation-state. More than two decades after genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government seeks to make dignity a core characteristic of the new, post-conflict nation. At the same time, the state uses heritage sites, especially genocide memorials, to establish the nation’s history and identity. Focusing on the intersection of the dignity imperative and the value of genocide heritage to nation-building, this article examines the mobilization of dignity through a study of a joint Rwandan-American preservation initiative at Nyamata Genocide Memorial. Such memorials are essential to the RPF’s nation-building project, and according dignity to the remains of genocide victims is powerfully linked to re-establishing dignity for living Rwandans and the new nation. This article examines how dignity has historically shaped choices about the burial and display of the victims and artifacts of genocide, and how preservation work at Nyamata encounters new manifestations of these ongoing questions. Given dignity’s importance to the state and the connection between genocide and the new nation’s identity, the crucial but complex decisions about preservation are a key material engagement at the root of a key national characteristic. Tracing the practical transformations of a foundational abstraction for the post-genocide Rwandan state, this article shows that the state’s commitment to dignity at the memorials is based in an agentic conception of genocide remains, an understanding with powerful implications. But despite this, and although the state insists on dignity’s importance to the new nation, dignity is not only contested as a material practice but also remains uncertain as a basic principle for the new nation’s engagement with its defining moment.