Academic journal article African Studies Review

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak

Article excerpt

Jean Hatzfeld. Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005/Picador, 2006. Translated by Linda Coverdale. Preface by Susan Sontag. xiv + 253 pp. Maps. Chronology of Events. Photograph. Index. $24.00. Cloth. $14.00. Paper.

The provocative title of French journalist Jean Hatzfeld's book, Machete Season, now in English translation, evokes a key point Hatzfeld makes about the Rwandan genocide-that it was an "agricultural" genocide (70), born of the same instruments the killers had used to harvest their fields. The only difference in 1994 is that the crops were human.

The book is a fascinating read. The group of ten men Hatzfeld interviewed come from the same region as the genocide survivors he interviewed for an earlier book, Dans le nu de la vie: récits des marais rwandais (Paris: Seuil, 2000). As with his previous book, Hatzfeld organizes Machete Season by alternating descriptive chapters-about the region of Bugesera, the political history of Rwanda, and other topics-with the killers' own words. In this way, he sets the stage for the their remarks on select themes, such as looting or forgiveness.

The killers' words are chilling. They are remarkable for both their level of detail and, paradoxically, the level of evasiveness the killers maintain about the suffering they inflicted on their victims. The killers talk with seeming disaffection about how local authorities organized the killings, for example. There was no extensive planning beforehand, explains one in the group. When the orders came, the men obliged. In their matter-of-fact tone, the killers come across as willing, even blase, executioners, who were spurred on as much by the camaraderie of "hunting" with their friends as by the loot each claimed after dispatching a victim. "We liked being in our gang" (12), Adalbert, the leader of the group, explains, as if genocide were just another team-building sport.

The detail with which some of the killers relate the first time they killed borders on the pornographic. One man, for example, refers to killing as a "game" (24). Another describes how it felt to shoot two children in the back as "pleasandy easy" (25). Most killers wielded machetes, not guns, which prompted one man to compare killing humans to slaughtering livestock: "In the end, a man is like an animal: you give him a whack on the head or the neck, and down he goes" (37). …

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