Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Rwanda Means the Universe: A Native's Memoir of Blood and Bloodlines

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Rwanda Means the Universe: A Native's Memoir of Blood and Bloodlines

Article excerpt

Rwanda Means the Universe: A Native's Memoir of Blood and Bloodlines. By Louise Mushikiwabo and Jack Kramer. New York: St. Martin's Press. Pp. xvi, 367. $26.95.

Rwanda Means the Universe is about Louise Mushikiwabo's memories of both the 1994 Rwanda genocide and her own family's history. These memories are presented in a readable and at times gripping fashion. The book focuses in rough order on how Mushikiwabo, a translator in Washington, D.C., learned about what happened to her family in the first days of the genocide in April 1994; Mushikiwabo's own story of growing up in Rwanda; the story of the Rwandan royal family's collision with Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth century; and finally a description of the genocide itself. The story is particularly memorable when the authors write of the role that Mushikiwabo's older brother Lando, a genocide victim, played as the only Tutsi Minister in the short-lived coalition government of 1993-1994.

Mushikiwabo's stories are told in an ethereal way, which forebodes the 1994 genocide. In the process, the authors speculate about how protagonists ranging from Mushikiwabo's family, British novelist Rider Haggard, King Musinga (1896-1931) of Rwanda, President Habyarimana (1972-1994) of Rwanda, Emin Pasha, and even Henry Morton Stanley may have thought about what they were doing. This technique makes the reading engaging, but it also goes beyond what the historical record offers. Indeed, in spots there are references made to Western popular culture, which while effective metaphors for an American reader, do at times stretch the incredulity of the Africanist. In this sense, this book is more literature than history or social science.

Mushikiwabo's family played roles in the ruling Tutsi court between the nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. For me, these accounts are the most interesting. Apparently relying on oral accounts, and the writings of her uncle, the well-known Rwandan historian Father Alexis Kagame, Mushikiwabo tells an engaging tale of intrigue that includes courtly traditions, cattle raids, war, regicide, and even suicide. This leads to a discussion of how colonialism emerged in Rwanda, and a description of the arrival of the Germans at the beginning of the twentieth century in the last country of Africa to be explored and colonized by Europeans. Indeed, when World War I started there were only two German colonial officers in the country. As a result, the footprint of Europeans was particularly light in Rwanda until after World War I when Belgium first established its administrative apparatus and issued identity cards specifying tribal membership. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.