“If they are to die, I die with them.” Sula Karuhimbi, Genocide rescuer

 

Sula Karuhimbi (RIP) was known as a traditional healer. By deliberately embracing her reputation to spark fear in perpetrators, Sula determined that she would be willing to die with those she protected, a fact that she proclaimed openly in response to any threat. Her devotion to the people she could aid did not waver, even when she lost her own husband and son.

Sula was no stranger to atrocities targeted at her Tutsi neighbours. “The war has not only been now!” she reminded us. “It was always there even before you were born!” Her parents hid Tutsis when she was growing up; her in-laws did the same later on. And as a healer, looking out for others was her lifestyle. Rescue was not a difficult choice for Sula Karuhimbi; it was perhaps even the obvious one.

The first thing she remembers is flames. Tutsis belongings, their homes, were destroyed before her eyes. She quickly took in a number of people, especially children, even shielding a little girl in her clothes to protect her. In addition to housing many people of various backgrounds, she also guided people to passage through safe areas, and brought others to the house of Muhamudu, the only one she trusted, when her own place got overcrowded.

Sula’s home and community were often targeted, but she was prepared to use what she could to keep trouble away. When killers came, she got fuel and threatened to burn them as they would have burned her. When the guards and Interahamwe attempted to enter her house, she would pretend to invoke spirits and warn that “Nyabingi” would eat them.

She also utilised her healing practice to manipulate Interahamwe, sitting down with them as they drank their porridge. She convinced them that she could not hide anyone as an old woman. Sula was fearless in her active opposition to the Interahamwe. She even stole wooden roadblocks at night and used them as firewood. On more than one occasion, people threatened to kill her; some even shot her. But Sula consistently spoke out against their actions.

Even years later, she continued to care for children despite her old age. Her philosophy has guided her action unendingly, and we may honour her by considering it for our own lives: “If you want to love you start with your neighbour.”

Sula passed on in Dec 2018 at the age of 106. May her soul rest in eternal peace!