It’s hard to read accounts of atrocities so in a cowardly way I generally don’t, (I like my meat plastic wrapped in a carton too.) There are somethings happening I know about but don’t want detail. In the copy of the Guardian Weekly, passed on to me a week after its issue date so comfortably historical, I found an article about atrocities that I could - had to - take in.
A young social scientist in Uganda works for the National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre. His work is to collect stories from the survivors of unspeakable acts of brutality. Mothers who have seen their children battered to death in front of them; men who have seen their waves raped and the children.. well, I don’t need to go on. 80,000 or more children have been abducted in the service of armies and six-year-olds armed with stout sticks are marching behind twenty year olds toting AK 47’s to beat to death children and adults unknown to them because they are afraid to do otherwise and because they become hardened to the life. To them it must seem like the computer games my grandsons play. These children, if they survive or escape are so traumatised their lives will never be free again.
In Ireland programs were set up to try to work with people who had seen (forgive me but in contrast) relatively mild horrors to help them get some peace; to help prevent them passing on pent-up rage, feelings of impotence; bile and a longing for retribution. These people do not have that sort of infrastructure in place. As their neighbours are also suffering terrible grief and pain there is no-one they can talk to who can listen and respond. They have ways of dealing with the sickness in their society. They have stories and myths and rituals. One man in a village has nightmares which cause him to pull off all his clothes and run into the night. He is said to be possessed of a demon. So many dead have been left without the rituals of passing that a corpse should receive and the belief is that they will be unable to find peace so will turn into demons who will haunt the living. We can see it as an allegory for what is ‘really’ happening in their psyche. Probably our way of dealing is little better, but we all use what tools we have to hand.
The NMPDC is sponsoring Deo Komakech to go from village to village listening to people talk and recording their memories. He is not unlike the counsellor they might get in the western world. The people he listens to have affirmed that giving these stories to posterity does help. It can’t cure but it brings some sort of inner peace. They haven’t been unnoticed; they haven’t been existing in some terrible dream in which they are alone; they haven’t been wrong in feeling the way they feel.