The Art of Forgiveness

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Source: Pieter Hugo/ New York Times. Jean Pierre Karenzi, Perpetrator (left), and Viviane Nyiramana, Survivor.

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, which saw the systematic murder of nearly 800,000 people in a ethnic-fuelled bloodbath between the Tutsi and Hutu, artist Pieter Hugo released his ‘Portraits of Reconciliation’ collection. The cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” is realized through these once unimaginable series of tableaux- perpetrator and survivor, side by side posing causally together to illustrate the power in granting forgiveness and the power in accepting responsibility.

Viviane Nyiramana: “I was afraid of him – now I have granted him pardon, things have become normal, and in my mind I feel clear.”

As we commemorate Kwibuka this year, this collection of photography gains all the more significance in the process of reconciliation as they symbolise the national endeavour to find peace within this once conflict-ridden country. This want for amity is translated into reality through initiatives such as that of the non- profit organisation AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent), where over a period of time groups of Tutsis and Hutus are counselled- ending in the perpetrator’s official request for forgiveness.

To forgive is not to forget. To forgive is brave. 

Once or if forgiveness is granted by the survivor, ‘festivities’ commence in which the perpetrator and his family bring baskets of food and drink as a peace offering; ending the night together in song and dance. However, this process should not be confused with the criticism of forgetting one’s past- to forgive is not to forget, it is not a mere refusal to acknowledge the past nor is it an option of the passively weak. To forgive is brave. It is the acceptance of a sad history paired with the acknowledgement and hope that a brighter and more prosperous future is a realistic possibility for Rwanda.

Survivor, Beatrice Mukarwambari: “Forgiveness equals mercy.”

At Beauty of Rwanda, the process of reconciliation is an imperative in order to improve the lives of these Rwandan women. Through this sustainable business initiative the concepts of unity and forgiveness are put into practice. Their products symbolise how co-operation has lead not only to a recovery in societal relations between Hutu and Tutis but also to a reconstruction of Rwandan society – whereby the empowering of Rwandan women has taken hold and transformed the political, economic and social landscape to one of gender equality. 

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