Weaving Reconciliation

Thirteen years ago Pascasie Mukamurigo watched in horror as Hutu militants hacked scores of Tutsi men and women to death in a Kigali church. Ms. Mukamurigo managed to survive by remaining in a crouched position for three months inside the sanctuary. She returned home to find that her husband and one of her three children had been murdered by the same group.

Today’s New York Times carries the story of how Ms. Mukamurigo gathered twelve other widows to form Avega (Association des Veuves du Génocide d’Avril), a group dedicated to weaving exquisitely designed baskets to help support children orphaned in the Rwandan genocide. She also invited members of the Hutu families who had committed the atrocities to join the group.

“What struck me,” Willa Shalit, an artist and a producer of “The Vagina Monologues,” said, “was that these women who’d suffered so horribly — who’d been raped, machete-hacked and watched their children get killed — had created this object that was so exquisite and elegant, with tiny, even stitches.” The fact that the weaving groups included both Hutus and Tutsis, Rwanda’s two main ethnic groups, heightened the appeal. “I thought, what an incredible embodiment of reconciliation,“ Ms. Shalit said.

During my presentation at our second annual Cell2Soul conference last month, we examined a poem by e. e. cummings, “A Man Who Had Fallen Among Thieves.” Cummings used the story of the Good Samaritan as a venue to get inside the head of the helper/healer character. In his version, Cummings’ helper/healer wrestles with the decision to render aid to the victim. After overcoming his aversion, he finally does so, taking that necessary first step toward reconciliation in his own mind—

Brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars.

In forming her group, Ms. Mukamurigo has done just that. Now in Rwanda, banners bearing the words “Never again” hang from buildings; and the same slogan is stamped on rubber bracelets the weavers wear.

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