Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Rwanda

July 13, 2002

Dave Svilar, Fred Sheffield


The genocide memorial was near the capital city Kigali.  This map shows where the tiny country of Rwanda is located.

This wasn't your typical memorial, but it was effective.  In Rwanda there were several genocide memorials that were simply buildings or churches that were left untouched after a massacre during the genocide of 1994.  They were in most cases gruesome, so with our newfound interest in the history of the genocide we had to see one.

The roots of the genocide began before a written history of Rwanda was kept.  Basically, the Tutsis migrated from Ethiopia and were the wealthy (by cattle) superiors to the other ethnic group called the Hutus, even though they were outnumbered over 4 to 1.  German and Belgian colonizers magnified ethnic tensions until Rwanda gained its independence in 1962.  At this point the Hutu majority came to power and held it despite several militant uprisings by the Tutsis who thought they weren't being properly represented in government.

Most believe the murder of the Rwandan president (a Hutu) was staged by Hutus as an excuse to begin exterminating the Tutsis.  It was well planned and within hours roadblocks were in place.  Orders were passed down to kill the enemy - the Tutsis.  Any Tutsi or moderate Hutu were butchered on the spot.  The streets of Kigali were littered with dismembered corpses.  It wasn't just the army that killed - everyone joined in the massacre, man, woman and even children.  Neighbors killed neighbors, family members killed family members with any weapon necessary.  Machetes and hoes were particular favorites.  Due to its recent failures in Somalia, the international community (the U.S.) was wary of sending more soldiers and hesitated to call it a genocide (the U.N. must intervene in any genocide by international law).  By this time the death toll had reached a million people.  Finally, a Tutsi-led army swept the country and pushed the Hutu genocidaires into neighboring Congo

During the genocide people attempted to seek refuge in any place possible.  Apparently they figured church would be a good spot, so thousands packed into church buildings.  In some cases it was priests who betrayed the fugitives to the bloodthirsty death squads.  Nyamata was one such church where Tutsis had gone to seek refuge.  On April 14, 1994 the death squads came to Nyamata and slaughtered some 10,000 people either in the church or on the premises.  Everything from grenades to machetes were used to accomplish the mass murder.  In some cases the fugitives were tortured by hacking their feet and legs off one section at a time.  The Hutus called this "cutting them down to size."  (Tutsis were on average taller than Hutus, and had a reputation for thinking they were more civilized and generally superior to the Hutus.)  Eight years later when Fred and I visited the bullet holes still remained in the ceiling of the church, bloodstains smeared the walls and roof, and skulls had been collected and put on display in a massive underground showcase.

The church at Nyamata with the underground caverns displaying human skulls.


Bones collected from a latrine.  Over 60 people were shoved into the pit of a toilet by the murderers.


Bullet holes, shrapnel, and blood stains preserved on the roof of the church.


Fred and the guide look at one of the many piles of skulls on display in the underground chamber.


The hole in this skull was created by a machete.

-written October 2002

Take Me Home