Women drumming away the trauma of genocide

Friday February 17 2017

The all-female drumming troupe of Ingoma Nshya from Rwanda. PHOTO | COURTESY

For Marta, joining Rwanda’s first female drumming troupe, Ingoma Nshya — a co-operative of formed 10 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi — has helped her cope with the trauma of losing her husband in the killings.

Ingoma Nshya means a new drum or new kingdom.

Marta’s remarkable recovery is captured in Sweet Dreams, an inspiring award-winning documentary about playwright and director Odile “Kiki” Katese, who brought together women from both sides of the genocide, first in 2005 to form Ingoma Nshya, and then in 2010 to open Inzozi Nziza (Sweet Dreams), an ice-cream store in Butare, 126km south of the capital, Kigali.

The 23-minute long documentary was produced by the award-winning siblings Lisa and Rob Fruchtman.

The main goal of Ingoma Nshya is to provide healing to women who were raped or saw their families murdered, and even those who were daughters of some of the perpetrators. The group provides employment to its members. 

In the documentary, Marta recalls her husband’s death at the beginning of the genocide.


“We were from two different tribes. That’s why I am still alive. The fighting started here in Butare on April 20. That’s when they started the killing. We did not spend that night together. I had gone to my parents’ home and he stayed behind to look after our home. The next day, I waited for him the whole day to come for me but he did not show up. They killed him that morning, as he made his way to see me. I was with my children.

“This drumming team brought back hope to me. I used to dwell on my loneliness and how my children were going to survive, but once I started drumming with other women, I began to feel happy,” Marta adds.

Katese notes that Rwandans used to have a culture of division, fear and hatred prior to the genocide. “At first we proposed the creation of spaces where people would feel safe again. Spaces with a chance and opportunities like Ingoma Nshya.”

Ingoma Nshya

Culturally, Rwandan women were not allowed to touch drums, and drumming was exclusively for men. The drums were also exclusively played for the king.

Katese researched at the national museum and found out that women were forbidden to play drums simply because the drums were thought to be too heavy for them to carry around.

After forming Ingoma Nshya, Katese partnered with Blue Marble Ice Cream — a certified organic ice cream maker in New York City — to open the first ice cream shop in Butare, named Inzozi Nziza.

Today, Inzozi Nziza is a fully self-sustaining enterprise, owned and operated by the co-operative. 

Through the shop, the women have received training, jobs and a sustainable income; it has supported countless local farmers and producers, contributed to the local economy and provided the community with a hangout to connect and heal.

Sweet Dreams is now a tourist attraction and has helped the co-operative membership grow to more than a hundred women who tour the world with their drums.

Ingoma Nshya has inspired other women to form groups in both Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi.