Rwandan Genocide

For 100 days in 1994, Rwanda was in a state of terror and turmoil. Decades of ethnic tension between Hutus and Tutsis had built up to this moment. The Hutu people sought to annihilate the Tutsi minority. They formed teams of Hutu men to scour the marshes and villages and kill Tutsis. Groups of Hutu extremists called Interahamwe, were also involved in teaching killing techniques and helping with the hunt. The killing of the Tutsis was very organized. Everyday men of the villages would wake up and gather in the town centers to eat and prepare for the days work. They would form work teams, plan out the day and sing songs. The book “Machete Season” by Jean Hatzfeld features interviews with the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide.

The perpetrators of the genocide did not just describe the ways in which the killings were committed but also the looting, and day to day activities. A central part of life during this time period was the nightly drinking of Urwagwa, which a bananas beer, made from the fermentation of mashed bananas (Hatzfeld, 6). Urwagwa is a highly potent drink, it has a very strong flavour, and can make the person become intoxicated very quickly.

Bottle of Banana beer, comes in many types of containers.
Bottle of Banana beer, come in many types of containers.

.Primus is another alcoholic beverage that was regularly consumed by the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide (Hatzfeld, 65). Primus is a Belgian beer, it is brewed in Rwanda’s only brewery called Bralirwa.  It contains about 5% alcohol by volume.

Bottle of Primus Belgian Beer.
Bottle of Primus Belgian Beer.

 During the genocide it was not unusual for men to get out of killing for the day because of a nasty hangover from these drinks (Hatzfeld 76). Primus and Unwagua were used at barters, or as payment to other people in the village (Hatzfeld, 73).  The alcohol was plenty because of the looting and so the Hutus indulged in it. But it was also used to lessen the work of the killings. The men would spend most of the days out in the marsh killing Tutsis. Many of the perpetrators admitted that their use of alcohol helped them cope with their daily life (Hatzfeld 158).  They thought that killing was easier than working the fields, and became numb to it quickly, one perpetrator named Fulgence remembers: “ We became more and more cruel, more and more calm, more and more bloody. But we did not see that we were becoming more and more killers-In the evening you might hear a colleague who would call out, “You, my friend, buy my a Primus or I’ll cut open your skull, because I have a taste for that now””(Hatzfeld, 50).

After the days killings were finished, many Hutu’s would meet in the cabaret, which is town tavern, and meeting area. They would brag about how many people they had killed that day, making bets about who had killed more (Hatzfeld,94). They would slaughter stolen cattle and drink Primus by the case (Hatzfeld,93). “Some spent sleepless nights emptying bottles, and became even wilder” (Hatzfeld, 93). Some of the Hutu men were known for their violent outburst when drinking, “some drinkers when mean when they had found no one to kill that day, others when mean when they had killed too much. You had to show them a smiling face, and watch out” (Hatzfeld,95). All of the Hutu townspeople would gather to partake in these activities, celebrate the days hunt, and enjoy all of the things that had been looted from Tutsi homes.

That nature of the Rwandan Genocide make it very difficult to quantify the extent of the impacts of alcohol use on the genocide.  For more than 100 days, the world sat and watched as the Tutsis were slaughtered. After it was finally over, not many people or countries rushed in to help  rebuild the country. Even many years after, not much research has been done into the mechanisms of this genocide. From the accounts of the perpetrators, we can assume that the use of alcohol was a central point in the day. It was used as a recreational activity, a relaxant, and a coping mechanism. Alcohol use played a darker role in society, turning many men into drunks, and helping to instigate violent behavior.  More research needs to be done in order to pin-point the extent of the alcohol use during the Rwandan Genocide.