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Narrating Itsembabwoko

When Literature becomes Testimony of Genocide

Josias Semujanga

The tenacious belief in a disjunction of genocide and art has risen a persisting polemic in literary cricism. Narrating Itsembabwoko challenges this dichotomous thinking by assuming that a narrative about genocide is both a work and a testimony because the sense-making in work is a shared construction between writing, reading, and meaning to the point that artistic expression seems to be the irreplaceable nature of art to ensure the memory of events. The main assumption is that the aesthetic process brings together the forms, motifs, or themes already available in the vast field of literature and art, which are known to the reader, and integrates them in a particular text; however, the axiological process is an argumentative level, which governs and shapes the enunciated values in the work. This book shows how through their works writers seek forms – language or genre – that allow them to represent the horror of extermination, making the reader think about the moral range of narratives about genocide – fiction or testimony – using words that communicate the values of humanity, in opposition to the macabre deployment of absolute evil.


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1. The Narratives Seed of the Genocide


1. The Narratives Seed of the Genocide In order to understand the origins of the Tutsi genocide as it was planned and carried out in Rwanda, it is crucial to review the elements of a totalitar- ian regime, both in its colonial and post-colonial forms. These discourses can also allow one to follow the evolution of Rwandan society towards a totalitarian State as described by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Total- itarianism.16 In this major book, Arendt identifies three stages leading to total domination and genocide: the first step is to kill people by putting outside the law certain categories of the population and identifying them as if they were foreigners; the second consists in killing moral people, rendering thus impossible any decision based on conscience; the last step is the destruction of what makes the identity of each person unique. Such a regime is founded on a desire to completely dominate individuals, trans- forming them into interchangeable samples. What is puzzling about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is that, at the time, the country was culturally homogeneous – with a single language, religion, and territory – to the point that any attempt to determine if the hatred between Hutu and Tutsi rose from a secular antagonism seems futile. Indeed, if this were the case, Rwanda’s population could not have existed, as it did, from the 15th century onwards. Even though there were war nar- ratives created in pre-colonial Rwanda, there is no account of any conflicts directly opposing Hutu and...

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