Resiliency and Hope, Vengeance and Recovery: Representing "Survivance" After the Trauma of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in the Testimonies of Esther Mujawayo, Yolande Mukagasana, and Révérien Rurangwa
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The Rwandan genocide, just one of the many human rights violations that plagued the twentieth century, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and traumatized countless others in the wake of hate and extremist violence. The tragedy of Rwanda was compounded by the inaction of Western powers and organizations meant to enhance global stability and security. In its aftermath, the healing necessary to counter such violence requires survivors who are capable of giving voice and witnessing to the trauma endured, no matter the “master narrative” proposed by those in power and perpetrators who promote silence and denial. Using Gerald Vizenor’s notion of survivance, which he characterizes as “a narrative presence over absence” (1) and “an active resistance . . . of dominance . . . and victimry” (11) and Judith Herman’s three stages of trauma recovery (Safety, Remembrance and Mourning, and Reconnecting with Ordinary Life) to represent a path towards survivance, where select survivors can “engage the wider world” and take “social action” (Herman 208), I examine the expressions of survivance and trauma recovery in the testimonial narratives of Esther Mujwayo, Yolande Mukagasana, and Révérien Rurangwa. Such recovery requires victims to conquer multiform denial such as: agency, heritage, tradition, family, motherhood, gender, self, and validation to achieve survivance for both the living and the dead. Starting with the argument that testimonial narratives are of both literary and historical value, I then examine the texts looking at different forms of healing associated with the Rwandan genocide. Using theorists such as: Adetayo Alabi, John Beverley, Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Judith Herman, Dominick LaCapra, Renée Larrier, Dori Laub, Hannah Arendt, and Pierre Nora, I address the gendered and socially constructed expressions of vengeance and hope on a path to healing and survivance. The testimonial narratives of Mujawayo and Mukagasana reflect a form of “group therapy” and demonstrate the capacity to obliterate silence and denial while initiating healing at the smallest building block of society, the family. These women are able to live anew and seek the positive social change necessary to prevent future violence, which represents the very definition of survivance.