Nyamata and Ntarama Memorials

We’re working at the Nyamata and Ntarama memorials, which you do mention  on p 113 of the third edition. Our organization Rwanda Community Works http://www.rwandacommunityworks.org has been working to make the sites more accessible and educational for visitors, so I’d like to provide more up-to-date information about what the sites are like today.

First, a few logistical updates.  The road leading from Kigali to Nyamata was paved last year, and there’s rarely any motor traffic on it, so the drive to Nyamata now takes about 30 minutes.  For visitors who didn’t rent a car or don’t wish to hire a private taxi at a cost of about 25,000 FRW for the round trip, matatus bound for Nyamata leave from the Kicukiro matatu stand in Kigali every hour, usually on the hour.  The cost for a round trip is about 6,000 FRW.  It’s probably best to visit the Nyamata memorial first; the matatus will stop at the main bus stop in Nyamata anyway, and to reach the memorial, one just has to walk another 1/2 kilometer south along the main road, then follow the signs for the memorial on the right.  It’s about 1/4 kilometer off the main road.  To visit Ntarama, one can board a matatu bound for Kigali and request a stop at Ntarama, about 5 kilometers north of Nyamata.  The signs for the memorial are on the left side of the main road, at an intersection with a narrow dirt road.  The memorial is about 1 kilometer down this road, and accessible on foot or by hailing one of the moto-taxis or bicycle taxis on the main road.  (Side note: visitors with private cars should just ask the concierges at their hotels how to reach the road that leads to Nyamata, because the maps in your guide book don’t really provide enough information on their own.)

Another option for visiting the Nyamata memorial is to take the Millennium Villages tour offered by New Dawn Associates (www.newdawnassociates.org).  It offers a multifaceted look at the district, starting with the memorial and then continuing to a school, a farm, a health center, and a basket-weaving cooperative, all of which (save the memorial) have benefited from the assistance of the Millennium Village project.  It’s $100 per person, which includes transportation and food for the day-long tour, and they’ll pick up participants from wherever they’re staying in Kigali in the morning and drop them off at the end of the day.  (RCW is also working with New Dawn to develop a tour of the Nyamata and Ntarama sites, along with two completely new memorial sites that we’re developing, but the new sites won’t be finished until April 2009, so that tour isn’t operational yet.  I’ll send you further details when it’s up and running.)

Secondly, some additional information on Nyamata.  There’s now a website (http://www.museum.gov.rw/2_museums/kigali/nyamata/pages/nyamata.htm) with some basic info about the site, although it doesn’t discuss transportation or anything of such a mundane nature.  Factual details: about 10,000 people were killed in the church compound from April 14-16, 1994.  The three guides that work at the site now (two francophone, one anglophone) all lost family members in the attacks there.  Today, the victims’ clothing and personal belongings are piled up on every single pew in the church, and the altar has a machete on it, as well as a rosary in a glass box, which the manager of the memorial (Andrew Kamana) informed me to have been blessed by John Paul II and given to the memorial a few years ago.  The single underground chamber that you mention in the guide has been turned into two formal crypts, which hold the bodies of 41,000 people.  Visitors can enter both of the crypts with a guide, although many will probably prefer not to be underground in an unlit chamber with skulls piled on four layers of shelves all around them.  The remains of genocide victims are still being exhumed around the country today, and on most days there’s a bag or two of bones in a corner of the church right next to the door (under the wall where babies were smashed to death), waiting to be added to the piles in the crypts.  (I don’t know what your policy is on suggesting donations, but I would also encourage visitors to each donate a few thousand francs [i.e. US$5-10].  I went through their log book a few weeks ago, and many visitors don’t donate any money, which is problematic for a memorial that is almost entirely dependent on donations for its basic operations.  They occasionally get money from the government for major improvements, like improving the landscaping in front of the memorial, but they’re dependent on donations for things like staff salaries.)

On to Ntarama: this memorial also has a website now, at http://www.museum.gov.rw/2_museums/kigali/ntarama/pages/ntarama.htm.  The church’s interior is now piled with the clothes of victims, similar to Nyamata, although it’s actually even eerier because a good deal of the clothing is hanging from the rafters near the doorways.  There are also two sets of large metal shelves, at the front and back of the church, which hold the skeletons and personal belongings (ID cards, jewelry, toys, etc.) of a number of victims from the site.  Outside of the church, a memorial garden is slowly being created, with all the flowers now planted and a wall of names being inscribed whenever they find money to do it.  The single guide at Ntarama now is anglophone.  I’d also repeat a request for donations here; because there’s no log book to sign, most people (according to the guide, when I asked her about it) don’t give anything at all.

Finally, a note about the work that RCW is doing at these sites.  We’ve engaged a Rwandan professor to conduct research on the history of the genocide in Bugesera District (where these two sites, and the two new ones that we’re developing, are located), and by April 2009 both of the sites will have large signs in English, French and Kinyarwanda that detail their history, their role during the genocide, and how life has gone on afterwards.  We’re searching for a qualified translator from the Nyamata area, who could be available for guests at the times when only francophone guides are working at the Nyamata site.  (We’re making brochures about the sites to distribute to hotels around Kigali, and in them we’ll include the phone number of this translator, so that anglophone visitors may call him or her ahead of time and meet him at the memorial.)  In the longer term, we’ll also develop an abandoned building next to the Nyamata memorial into a cafe, a bookstore/library, and an exhibition space that will have video and photographic installations about life and reconciliation in Rwanda post-genocide.  Those projects will probably be completed by the end of 2009.  (RCW as a whole also has some other cool projects going on, including weaving scarves for export, starting poultry and dairy farms, and eventually building an ecolodge in southern Bugesera, not far from the Burundian border. 
I’ll send another update by this coming April, when our new memorial sites have opened to the public and there are new tours running to them.

Thanks, Rachel Strohm

2 thoughts on “Nyamata and Ntarama Memorials

  1. Melissa says:

    I visited Nyamata and Ntarama last month, June 2011. There was no guide or posted info at Nyamata. However, Gaspard, the docent/guide at Ntarama, was fabulous!! Also, in what is a change, there is apparently no photography permitted at Nyamata or Murambi. We were permitted to take photos at Ntarama, though we were told this was an exception.

    In the trip we’re planning we’ll probably skip Nyamata in favour of Ntarama – and hope that Gaspard is there!

    We will probably skip Murambi as well. It has a terrific museum, but is about 4 hours each way, from/to Kigali and therefore takes an entire day.

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