Rwanda by James Nachtwey, 1994

The Crisis in Rwanda intensified in 1994 with the Hutu tribes hunting down the members of the Tutsi tribe who had ruled them for centuries as feudal overlords. Between 500,000 and 1 million people were slaughtered in the span of three months using farm implements as weapons. It drove millions across the borders and internally displaced many.

However, with some international intervention, the Tutsi-ruled RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) came back to power. This in turn led many Hutus to flee into Zaire for the fear of reprisals: it was thought that more than one million people crossed the frontier in a single day. Many were trampled, and the survivors ended up in makeshift shelters on rocky, volcanic earth without clean water or proper sanitation.

James Nachtwey’s photos of Rwanda were published in Time Magazine on July 4, 1994 (International Edition).

Machetes have been a weapon of choice in Rwanda; an agricultural tool found in most Rwandan households, it was easily accessible. Many photos of machetes are taken in Rwanda, but none was as dramatic as Nachtwey photo above which was taken at the tailend of the conflict. The photo taken at the Rwandan-Zaire border, lacks the killers and victims. However, the sheer number of machetes in this pile–abandoned by the Hutus who fled across the border after the atrocities–overwhelms the viewer.  Without blood or gore, Nachtwey has shown as how much power an inanimate object can hold.


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