20090618

Research : Soaking up History

"The power to define is the power to destroy/ It is the truth for every girl it is the truth for every Goy." -Robert Anton Wilson (paraphrased)


So, in the first two minutes of this film I'm summarizing the history of Rwanda from late pre-colonial to early post-colonial and then jumping to 1977- around the time that baby Mutwale was spared from the elephant "depopulating," "cleansing," or whatever euphemism one might use to describe a massacre. He was subsequently displaced to Akagera Park in Northeast Rwanda near the border of Tanzania. So my timeline is spread across pretty much the whole 20th century and into the 21st, but this bit at the start is really important for establishing just about everything that takes place in the post-colonial timeline.

Lots and lots of research has been done for this, and I've got to give props to my sister. (Props, Jess.) She's been in and out of libraries, gone through entire bibliographies of Rwandan history, memoirs, scientific papers, written eyewitness accounts and a story outline, been in touch with historians and researchers, and yes, even lived in Kigali for 6 months. That last bit is how all this came about, so even more props for stumbling onto this story that I've grown to inhabit. Thanks for being such a fine catalyst. Mad props.

I've been through several briefings on the sequence of events: the prevalent semi-caste system in place before colonization by Germany, the taking of the "territory" (among others) of Rwanda by Belgium after WWI (made official in the "League of Nations Mandate") and the subsequent tidal wave of influence that followed after the Belgian government and Christian missionaries decided to redefine the entire society. One of my favorite little poems by Robert Anton Wilson describes how one's ability to define something, whether or not it fits that description, is one of the most destructive forces available to humanity. I forget which of his books uses it, I believe it's Prometheus Rising. I take his use of "Goy" to be the literal Hebrew translation meaning "nation" or "people," as he was not Jewish and would not likely use its modern, informal connotation. Anyways! Here I must interject with what brought on this post: I was going over the current storyboards with a donor, one that has an interest in European history:

She mentioned that the crucifix I'd used to adorn a wall made the missionary/Belgian conglomerate colonials represented in the scene appear Catholic. She then went too far back in history as a correction, thinking that perhaps I should be looking to the Huguenots (who?) for those who would've been responsible for the colonization, thus changing the relevant symbology. This is totally forgivable as most people don't realize that the first meeting between a Mwami (Rwandan King) and colonial factor (A German Count) was actually in 1894. Germans started entering the country in bulk between 1897-99. That's yesterday in terms of Rwanda's entire history. Anyway, back to Catholicism. I hadn't thought about denomination really, but it dawned on me that the implications (that missionaries essentially caused an irrevocable schism that eventually led to a major genocide- not exactly Jesus' plan, methinks) won't go over too well. With the symbology that I've got going, getting the specifics right isn't nearly as important as not getting them wrong. I decided to follow up a bit.

After some additional fact-checking it turns out the missionaries in question are indeed Roman Catholic. Along with the Belgian government, colonial forces emphasized the distinction between Tutsi and Hutu and Twa so heavily- even to the point of having registration papers that listed the distinction- that the manifesting discrimination eventually becomes the trickle-down-hate that leads to the events of the 100 days of killing. ...Over 800,000 dead in 100 days. Most killed by machete. Christ. I keep meaning to pick up a book of photography that documented the atrocities or the account of the 100 days by the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, but I just can't right now. Some part of me is afraid that the results will alter my film's focus and the rest... is just afraid.

Of course it's all more complicated than this, but it's a pretty clear path from here. Cause. Effect. Though, this film isn't about the genocide. The history I'm squashing into two minutes is kept pretty broad. It's important to understand that the history of this nation isn't just these atrocities. Though you could also look to the Hutu's precolonial treatment of the Twa as an argument that colonials aren't such a singular source of negative influence- hell, look at Japan's treatment of the natives of the northern island of Hokkaido or the disenfranchisement (how's that for a euphemism?) of the Native Americans by... Well, I guess that's colonists too. Still though, this history- It's more. One of the things my sister mentioned time and time again is how much information there is on the Rwandan genocide and how little available information there is on Rwanda. How little tangible documentation exists that isn't seen through the lens of colonialism or the prism of genocide. Maybe some of this is due to the market for information and maybe some is due to the... spectacle. Gods know some of it is due to the lack of recorded history for the area. In my case, in the case of my work, I don't think I need to point fingers or even stick to the history too closely. Then again I don't want any glaring discrepancies either. This often feels like a tightrope walk.

I'd already known that missionaries and government pushed the caste distinction because they thought the Tutsis- being taller- were sons of Ham, literal descendants of Noah (via his son, Ham.) Yes, the 'Arc' Noah. Helluva tale. I wonder if the author knew about this particular historical interpretation.

Anyway, my first instinct (the traditional Christ-on-a-Cross adornment) is actually historically accurate, whether it lends recognizable context or not. It does, I think. Stroke of luck or brilliant coincidence, I think it's a good sign. Angles are lining up. Pieces are fitting into place.

More exciting posts soon. Take that "more" to mean both quantity and degree.

2 comments:

Ramez said...

Holy Shit Jack your new website and this blog is phenomenal. This is Gooner from the animation forum by the way.
Amazingly inspirational, especially your paintings on your website. I'll be following your updates like a mothafugga for sure. Awesome

Jackhalfaprayer said...

Hey, thanks man! Been working hard.