Pounding Out the Pain

In Rwanda, women have started drum groups to help cope with the trauma of genocide

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In Rwanda, drumming has traditionally been a male domain, but women have taken up the mallets in several drum groups that have formed since the 1994 genocide, reports Ms. (Spring 2010).

One of the drummers is Jacqueline Umubyeyi, who, like many Rwandans, was traumatized by the genocide. Her parents and older sister were killed, and her younger sister was captured by the paramilitary and turned into a sex slave (though she later returned). Still reeling from these tragedies, Umubyeyi was taking a psychology course at the National University of Rwanda when she met Odile Gakire Katese, who had started a drumming course for women.

“I joined hoping to find an activity that would take my mind off of my sadness,” Umubyeyi tells Ms. But soon playing drums became a mission for both of them. Their group, Ingoma Nshya (“a new drum”), has grown to more than a hundred women and has performed in other East African countries as well as in Amsterdam and New York. Watching them wield their rhythmic powers has inspired other groups to form in both Rwanda and neighboring Burundi.

Katese notes that drumming is seen as a symbol of authority in Rwanda, so it’s significant that women are now claiming the instrument as their own.

“Art is a mirror of society, but before the genocide, theater, dance, and drumming were done just for ceremonial functions,” says Katese. “Art was not about reflecting our own experience and problems. And because the arts were done mostly by men, women had no place to express themselves.”

How are male drummers reacting to this incursion on their turf? “The father of Senegalese drumming, Doudou N’Diaye Rose . . . invited Ingoma Nshya to perform at his birthday party,” reports Ms.

Image by genvessel, licesned under Creative Commons.