Artiste uses poems to speak out against rape, injustices

Sunday February 20 2022
Malaika Uwamahoro Kayiteshonga in one of the scenes in the visual poem "Black Skin".

Malaika Uwamahoro Kayiteshonga in one of the scenes in the visual poem "Black Skin". PHOTO | COURTESY


Watching and listening to Malaika Uwamahoro Kayiteshonga recite one of her latest poems How Many Times, I got chills. The poem is emotive, especially for men.

In the poem she tackles the subject of rape, a topic that has often been muffled by the heavy wall of patriarchy everywhere it has tried to permeate to the surface.

She uses plain and explicit language while describing the spectrum of crushing moments and emotions that a rape survivor goes through, and how it often ends with the victim blaming herself for what happened.

The US-based Rwandan poet says she created the poem to bring the often-avoided subject of rape to the forefront, to restart the conversation around shaming, rape apologism, victim-blaming and protection of rape perpetrators.

The sound, visual content and artistic video effects add to the boldness of the message, almost like giving power back to the victims.

Her biggest project is the new poem Black Skin, which navigates the pitfalls, racial prejudices and injustices black men and women face in the West.


It amplifies the reality of how black people’s killings are largely swept under the rug, not carrying the same weight as the deaths of white people.

In 2015 while she was in class, right after the terrorists attacks on Paris, her professor told the students to take a moment of silence for those slain.

Malaika Uwamahoro Kayiteshonga.

Malaika Uwamahoro Kayiteshonga during the shooting of "Black Skin" in Abu Dhabi. PHOTO | COURTESY

In that moment, Kayiteshonga thought of the people dying in the insurgences in Burundi and elsewhere in Africa, and she took offence that all those deaths are not accorded the same value.

That is when the inspiration for the poem was born.

“At that moment I felt really betrayed because I thought of all the bad things happening to black people. But we had never taken a moment of silence to honour those innocent black people that were being murdered.

“It put into perspective how we mourn white loss but we don’t mourn black loss, When I left class that day, I wrote Black Skin,” she said.

In the poem, she also celebrates the beauty of black skin through various artistic impressions in the video and demonstration of day-to-day beauty routines like moisturising and applying jelly on the skin, which she calls showing love.

Celebrating heritage

The video, which was shot in Abu Dhabi in 2019, but has just been released, is also a convergence and celebration of black African heritage and Rwandan culture, the inclusion of cultural items like cow hides, imigongo designs and milk.

The scene where they are dressed in black pays homage to the Black Panther who fights for the rights of the black people in the US and elsewhere.

The poem kicks off with sound bites of a call she gets from her mother in Rwanda, wondering what has made her go silent for such a long time.

Then the poem starts with a line: “Hey mama, lately I have been feeling the weight of my black skin, it is a beautiful black skin but like stones it is crushing bones, it is squeezing my heart, it is squeezing my brain, I am losing sight of love mama.”

It continues:

“These days I see red as I break bread with those who inherit what we with black skin have to merit, I don’t know how much longer I can bear it,”

She said she intends to educate and spread messages of importance that can transform people. What she has learned is to stay true to herself as a person and an artist.

Kayiteshonga says her versatility as an artist has helped her as she takes her craft internationally, where her acting skills come into play while doing poetry projects.

She started out as an actress; she is also a singer and social justice activist. She has performed in different plays like Miracle in Rwanda, Notre Dame du Nil, movies like Yankee Hustle, Loveless Generation, and Operation Turquoise among others.

She also had poetry performances on different stages like the African Union Summit in 2016, Forbes 2020 Women Summit, Rwanda Day, and other solo performances.

Besides growing up around artists who fed into her early artistic impulses, Kayiteshonga had her start at Mashirika Performing Arts, Spoken Word Rwanda, Ishyo Art Centre.