Every year on 7th April, the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2003, is celebrated. 7 April 1994 marked the start of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, perpetrated by the extremist Hutu government. Over the next 100 days, more than a million members of the Tutsi minority were murdered. Moderate Hutus and other opponents of the massacres were also killed during this period. 

Since then, many of the perpetrators of the genocide have been prosecuted through various judicial and extra-judicial mechanisms, including the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, national justice, the Gacacas (people’s courts), the use of universal jurisdiction (notably in France and Belgium), and also by a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. A great deal of memory work has also been done to ensure that such atrocities are not repeated and to reconcile the Rwandan people.

Many works of art, in various forms, pay tribute to the victims, but also work to remember them, to ensure that the survivors are compensated and that such atrocities are not repeated1. Singer Corneille is one of the artists who have evoked this past in his compositions. Born in Germany in 1977, Corneille spent his childhood in Rwanda, in the capital Kigali. His father, Émile Nyungura, a Tutsi, was an electrical engineer who entered politics, becoming one of the leaders of the Rwandan Social Democratic Party (PSD). His mother, a Hutu, worked at a commercial bank in Kigali. When the genocide broke out, Corneille was 17. An armed group entered the family home on the night of 15th to 16th April 1994 and murdered his parents, his two brothers and his younger sister. The teenager witnessed the massacre. He survived and fled to Zaire, then to Germany, before moving to Canada.

As a committed singer, his work is marked by his own history and the Rwandan genocide, of which he is a survivor. This is particularly true of the song “Sur la tombe de mes gens” (“On the grave of my people”), taken from the album Les marchands de rêve released in 2005. In this song, the artist poetically recalls this traumatic event. He echoes the need to remember, “we always remember in the name of all my people” (“on s’en rappelle toujours au nom de tous les miens”), to avoid repeating these atrocities. 

He evokes the apprehension of going back to retrace the steps of this trauma, the fear of his reaction, “Am I going to hold a grudge against the Earth for having allowed hatred to prevail” (“Vais-je en vouloir à la Terre, d’avoir laissé vaincre la haine”). He concludes that despite the doubts, it is necessary, in particular not to forget the victims, but also to move forward, “To get rid of a past that is too heavy” (“Pour se défaire d’un passé trop lourd”). We need to keep positive things in mind, memories of happiness before the atrocity, and not reduce Rwanda to this massacre.


On the grave of my people

(free translation)

On the grave of my people

I will see again the garden

Where I let the bodies of my loved ones rest one morning

I’ll also find those brave men

Who hid us from the end

I’ll sing to them that we always remember in the name of all my people

On the grave of my people

I’ll see the road again

The long corridor of despair

The great exodus, the long road

And at the end always the animal, which changed my destiny

Who, tired, said go, I’ll leave the pleasure to the other

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

I will see my country again

The thousand hills and the hot winds

And streets, where I learned everything

I’ll find my old loves

And perhaps my first time

The one I’ll always love

But who I believe must no longer be

On the graves of my people

I’ll see myself again, little man

Great of heart and courage

But small like all men

Gaining momentum without looking back

To get rid of a past too heavy

Without knowing that the time will come

When he’ll have to go back

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

Will I weep with sorrow at last

Will I blame the Earth

For letting hate win

Will I want to kill them

To these cursed sons of bitches

The great and the small executioners

Or am I going to remain peaceful come what may

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

We’ll have to go back one day

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

On the grave of my people

1 Like the song, the book by Gaël Faye, then the film (Eric Barbier) Petit Pays. Find the song’s recommendation on our website.

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