in Mutaho, Burundi:
HROC Testimonies from Mutaho
By Adrien Niyongabo
There’s a gift I received in the HROC workshop. Two times I was
taken, and people tried to kill me. I still have scars on my forehead,
neck, and leg, shaped by a machete.
There was an old man there who had tried to kill me. He was a neighbor
like my father as he had been feeding me with his kids as if we were
just like family. But surprisingly he was the one who brought the machete
and cut my neck. They [the Hutu attackers] thought that I had died but
I had not. I was with other people [Tutsi] who were even stronger than
me, but they died immediately.
When I was in the HROC workshop, there is a session where you share about
your sufferings and that man shared about his sufferings. He added that
during the massacres in our community he was not there, but in Cibitoke.
I got angry because I knew he’s the one who took me to the killers.
They had tied my arms in the back, and he was the one who was pulling
me there. On our way to that place, he was telling me terrible things
that I still remember. So because of anger, I walked out. I called one
of the facilitators and I asked for a private time to meet with that
Before the training, each time we would see each other at the bar, he
would run away immediately. This happened more than three times. So in
the HROC training I had a chance to ask him, “Please, why do you
run each time you see me when you are at the bar?” He said, “You
know, Jerome, every time I have been with you I was shameful. I didn’t
have anything to say because I could not deny all the bad things I did
to you so I just tried to hide it. You know I am the one who took your
rabbits, I am the one who took your chickens, I am the one who took your
hoes, and everything you had in your house, I took them. So I will ask
you to write down all the things that you lost, and I will pay them one
I responded, “I have been living with soldiers. I could have asked
them to come and kill you or I could have told them to come and kick
you out of the community. You know that there are many who are living
in Tanzania in the refugee camp because of what they did. But I never
wished you to be there because I know that they are also suffering. I’m
not going to kill you or ask you to pay. So please, don’t run anymore
when you see me. Maybe while you’re running you might just fall
into a hole and you will hurt yourself and maybe die. Please believe
that I really have forgiven you, and I don’t have any bad wishes
So he was very, very happy. He could not understand it because he knew
what he did to me, and he was surprised to hear that I would not take
him to jail or whatever but I have forgiven him.
But I survived two times. I have not yet met with the ones who tried
to kill me for the second time, but I am planning to ask the HROC facilitator
to invite them and meet with them in a workshop so we can deal with our
Where does that forgiveness come from? – Frankly, it didn’t
take effort to forgive them so much as it took time. I have never been
in prison. I am now 42 years old, but I would say that prison is not
a good place to be. There are those who have been taken to prison, and
now they are back home. I wonder if the relationship has been improved,
I mean between the victim and the perpetrator. But I would say it would
have worsened. And it would not prevent the perpetrator from planning
other harmful things. But as I just let things go, I think it made a
big impact on the person. Not as a person myself, but believe that through
my behavior there is another power that works through me to come and
transform the person.
In a way I do not understand why and how I did it, but I do know that
I didn’t pay anything, and yet I believe that that will be a lasting
relationship with my killer.
Bike story: Very recently, I was just coming back from church, and by
chance I recognized one of the people who had fled to Tanzania. He was
surprised to see me, and he said, “Are you still alive?” because
he had been involved in the killings. “Are you surprised to see
me alive?” I asked. “I really could never expect you to be
alive.” But that time, he had a lot of luggage and he was trying
to find a bicycle taxi so he could go home and find someone to help him
carry the load.
The bicycle taxi men were trying to charge him 3,000 Burundian Francs
(about $2.50), when it should be only 500 ($.42). And he was just arriving
so he had no money. I told him, “Don’t worry, I have a bicycle.
Take it, and you can just bring it back to me when you’re done
with it. He looked me in the eyes and asked “Are you really giving
me your bicycle?” “Yes,” I said, “And if anything
bad happens to you, I would rather prefer it happening to my bicycle
and you staying safe.”
Later a friend from the internally displaced persons camp came to me
and asked why I had given my bicycle to a Hutu who had just arrived from
Tanzania. And I said, “There is this meat, indindura--cow intestine--the
meat that changes things. Normally it’s given to women--they say
if she has been giving birth to girls, and then eats indindura, she will
give birth to boys. So if we agree that indindura is a delicious meat,
we need to eat it, and if you eat it, it changes you, and after being
changed, you can give it to others. You see these people that come from
Tanzania--we are the ones to show them that we have changed. If we just
give them a warm welcome and show them that they have been away from
the community for fifteen years, so they don’t know where to go,
everything has changed here. So unless we show them the way, they will
never believe that Burundi has changed. So that’s why we need to
show them we have eaten indindura, so everyone can understand.”
That is what I did it to that person. When he went to his community,
I’m sure he told them who gave him the bicycle, and he told them
how he had been welcomed in the IDP camp. And that will improve the way
the village people treat us-- once we go there, they will treat us as
human beings, as friends. That’s how we can make the change, that’s
how we can make forgiveness take place, so that’s why I say forgiveness
Big stipend? Yes. Once time when I was coming from the workshop, going
home, they said, “Where are you coming from?” I said, “I’m
coming from the workshop.” They said, “Oh yeah, you must
have received a big stipend for three days?” [It is the custom
for many non-profit organizations to give sitting allowances to those
who attend workshops, but HROC does not do this.] I said, “Big
stipend?” He said, “Yes, of course if you are there for three
days.” I told him, “Yes, I got a lot out of the workshop.” I
gave him this example, “You know ugali [maize meal, mush]?” “Yes,
of course, I am Burundian, I know ugali.” “Imagine that you
have a lot of ugali in front of you, but your heart is bleeding, will
the ugali take away the hurt and bitterness from the wound in your heart?” He
said, “No.” “That’s why I say it’s a lot
of money, because I come home with peace.” Even if they had given
us those big, big stipends, there would be no meaning to it for me because
my heart was still bleeding, but now I have my heart. So peace is more
meaningful than money.
The HROC workshop is the only workshop I have ever attended. The pleasing
thing was that the man who wanted to kill me in the war was in the workshop.
In the part of the workshop where we talk about our suffering, I felt
compelled to speak about what happened to me.
I had two brother-in-laws, one had been killed and the other had been
hidden somewhere, I didn’t know where. My husband was in Bujumbura
so I was at home with my five kids. We had locked the door, and the man
came and broke the door down with a machete and came into our bedroom.
He stood in front of me and asked, “Where are your brother-in-laws?” And
I said, “One has been already killed and I don’t know where
the other is.” “You need to show us where he has been hidden.”
When I said I didn’t know, they took me outside. There was a group
of five or six of them and one had a metal bar. And he hit me with the
bar three times and I lost consciousness. I fell down and this is while
I was carrying one of my children on my back. I don’t know how
long I was unconscious before I came to and got up. When I went back
to inside the man came with his machete. I was thinking he was going
to use it against me, but he did not. Instead he dropped it and said, “Where
is he?” And I again told him I did not know.
Back in the workshop, I knew him, and I have never spoken to him since
he did this. I would just walk away from him anytime I saw him. I considered
him a killer since he was going to kill me. But in the workshop I had
opened myself and I told him about how I had been feeling and what I
thought of him. So we had this time to be together, and he also apologized
for what he did, asking for forgiveness. I felt able to forgive him,
and I have done so. Now when we meet, we are friends. Sometimes when
I go to the village to cultivate my plot, I ask him for water, and other
times he comes to my home in the internally displaced persons’ camp.
So I would say our relationship has been revived, and now we are more
understanding of one another. And so I was happy for attending the workshop
and happy to have the chance to speak with the man who attacked me.
Now I think this in my heart. I saw many, many bad things. And they have
suppressed things and changed my way of thinking, I was going to run
out but from the workshop I attended, I feel different. I have many reasons
for why I was able to forgive and part of it was from the other thing
that happened during that same time when the man came with the machete.
While I was in my bedroom, three of my children were hiding in the ceiling.
And the other people who were with the man had spears and were stabbing
them into the ceiling to see if anyone was there. [Ceilings in Burundi
are frequently made of papyrus reeds.] I don’t know how they managed
to miss my kids with every attempt – the three of them were just
laying there in the ceiling. I think about how thankful I am that God
saved them – they would have been killed if they had been discovered,
but God saved them. And from that I think, “Why not I forgive the
one who wanted to kill me?”
And it’s something that’s so needed in our community, it
is no longer time for hating one another. It is time to seek for love
and reconciliation so I’m proud of being among those who are working
for that. I feel joy in my heart for having done such a thing. I am a
poor women so I don’t have money for it, but if I did, I would
buy cups of tea, and he and I would drink from the same cup, just to
be together, to feel connected, and to show that I have love for him.
Do your kids show signs of trauma from their experience of lying on the
ceiling? Yes, they show signs of trauma. I had two boys and three girls.
One of them died--he was shot in Gitega. The other boy came back for
the memorial of his brother and said that he would never again come back
here because he was afraid. Of the three girls, one of them is grown
up now and has attended a HROC workshop. She is now working on her trauma
and she seems to be improving.
But the other two are still traumatized. I cannot really ask them to
go back to their community. If they are asked to go there to harvest
cassava or something for cooking, most of the days they will say, “No,
mom, I can’t go there, they will kill us.” I tell them that
the killing is over, but they do not believe it. So it’s only when
we’re together that they can go. If they accept to go, they are
so fearful that they don’t want to stay there for very long. So
I would like them to attend HROC workshops as their sister did.
Now that I have talked to the man who wanted to kill me, and they have
heard about it, they have asked me how I came to this and I explained
how I had been helped.