This paper examines the testimonial literature of Rwandan women genocide survivors living in the diaspora. Taking as its starting point Madelaine Hron’sTranslating Pain (2009), which analyses the sociocultural dimensions of pain in narratives of immigrant suffering, this article explores the ways Rwandan women seek to negotiate a space within which to tell their stories in their host communities and the process of “cultural translation” that this inevitably entails. It will consider the strategies Rwandan women adopt to translate their experiences of trauma and displacement, as well as their role as public witnesses in the host society. As authors, educators and activists, these women are mobilising memory about the genocide, raising awareness for the continuing plight of survivors in Rwanda, and acting in solidarity with victims of other forms of violence and suffering, which I suggest points to an “altruism born of suffering” among Rwandans in the diaspora.
Dr Catherine Gilbert is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, working on the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series 2017-18, “Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation”. She researches and teaches both Anglophone and Francophone postcolonial African literatures and cultures, with a particular focus on cultural memory, trauma and exile. She has published a number of journal articles and book chapters, and her first monograph, From Surviving to Living: Voice, Trauma and Witness in Rwandan Women’s Writing is forthcoming with the Presses universitaires de la Méditrranée (March 2018). She is currently developing a new project exploring commemorative practices in the Rwandan diaspora, focusing on communities living in Belgium, France and the UK.