To protect, remember and save

Mukasong’s ‘Barefoot Woman’ offers insight into Rwanda’s cultural heritage while honoring the author’s mother and all of Rwanda’s mothers

Written by Julia Ugart

Book review / references

“No one should see the mother’s corpse, or else she will chase after you… You will not rest until your death, even if you need someone to cover your body.” Scholastic Mukasonga remembers her mother’s words barefoot woman In the foreground. Mukasonga was once unable to care for her mother, who was killed in the Rwandan genocide, after her death pane, shroud. Turns the introduction quote and the following biographical stories into a literary story pane. barefoot woman It is a memoir of a lost mother, a story about his family as well as about Tutsis and Rwanda between tradition and progress, colonialism and genocide.

Mukasonga’s tribute to her mother, Stefania, begins with the memory of the violence she suffered etched into her memory. She remembers the soldiers who entered the family home, closing the door, men’s shoes, breaking jars, stomping potatoes, frightening her, hiding, crying little sister, screaming, parents, trying to protect the children, the brother whose face was disfigured by the violence of the soldiers. The author describes the violence experienced by Tutsis in the 1960s, which was accompanied by numerous murders and forced migration and resettlement. The author’s family, who now lives in the town of Nyama in southern Rwanda, continues to be threatened by soldiers. The word “nyama” means something like “the land of milk” – but there is no milk because the animals of the family have been killed and the land is barren. The description is a symbol of the family situation, in which the mother tries to protect her family, preserve traditions and cultural heritage.

The author recalls her mother’s knowledge and work in several chapters. Mukasonga provides detailed insight into family history, but also into the customs and values ​​of Rwanda. She describes how a mother, wanting to protect her children from soldiers, creates places to hide in various places: bushes in the field, overgrown holes in the ground, clay pots and large baskets in the house. But it also shows how the mother maintains tradition at the same time and in the IDP camp is a tradition insideFamily home, building. This gives her – as the Rwandan tradition envisions – validity and authority as a mother; She draws her energy, courage and strength from home. The meaning of millet, which she calls the “real Rwandan”, was also explained. In addition, Mukasonga tells us about UmoganuraA family celebration of thanksgiving that marks the beginning of the harvest and the beginning of the new year. The harvest can begin only after the festival, and tasks are fixed for men, women and children; Everyone looks forward to millet porridge and millet beer. The cropped haircut is still in use: the family builds mahbusi Scarecrows protect the fields from monkeys, and children make spectacle frames to imitate missionaries.

In addition to topics such as housing, life and food, the marriage market is also told. The concepts of body care and beauty are also described – according to the Rwandan ideal, straight legs without curving calves, small and delicate feet, long and thin fingers are especially beautiful. On the other hand, a good candidate for marriage is distinguished by their ability to stand barefoot in the mud and have large, numb, cracked and cracked feet. Because these feet are for African adoptive mothers and better than the feet of a princess who never touched the ground. Chapters deal with sexuality, sexual education and rape – “1994 as a weapon of genocide.” Likewise, Mukasonga talks about diseases and traditional healing methods through roots, bulbs, leaves and herbs, about deworming children with enemas and about spells during treatment. Time and time again, it shows how deeply a mother is in her traditions and knowledge of her culture and not only keeps them alive but also passes them on to the next generation.

However, the stories do not only deal with traditions and the preservation of cultural heritage. Moreover amajyambere, which means something like progress or evolution, is especially evoked by colonialism and missions – through Christian faith, Western ways of thinking and approaches find their way into the lives of Rwandans. Unlike family members, the mother resists many innovations, sometimes accepting advances, such as building a toilet, hair powder or underpants ikaliso In important matters, don’t just turn to the spiritual Ryangumpi To, but also to the Virgin Mary.

The family’s sole survivor tells the story of her mother and family, who were killed in the 1994 genocide, in small episodes reminiscent of the evening conversation as a fairy-tale hour in the family, in a very poetic way, with loving gestures and according to “African storytelling”. On the one hand, knowledge, experiences and values ​​are transmitted, on the other hand, entertaining stories, often have a humorous character and also create a sense of identity or even restore lost identity. The dark episodes dealing with colonization, persecution, and disaster are only mentioned briefly, but form the background to memory. You plunge into her childhood with the author, and become part of a family that cannot protect Stefania from what happened in Rwanda. The many terms in Kinyarwanda convey a true picture and the interpretations bring Rwanda and its culture closer to the reader.

The autobiographical text is a declaration of love for the mother and for Rwanda. It not only envelops them, but also gently envelops them pane one to protect them. I hope Scholastique Mukasonga will also find comfort through the stories that symbolize her mother’s shroud and her lost body.

Contribution from the editorial board of the Journal of Contemporary Cultures at the University of Duisburg-Essen

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