Karuhimbi remembered seeing ethnic violence dot her entire life, and said that just as her family and in-laws hid Tutsi during previous bouts of genocidal violence (presumably in the 1960s, when a first wave of violence against Tutsi erupted, forcing many to flee as refugees), she felt she was responsible to save as many people as she could.

She turned superstition in her favor. As a woman, a healer, and a widow, Karuhimbi was believed to be a witch possessed by the so-called Nyabingi, powerful evil spirits. She used the belief against the militia: When she was accused of hiding Tutsi in her hut or in her garden, she would suggest that the militia go take a look at the risk of being attacked by the evil spirit.

She recalls going to a bedroom and making noise with casserole dishes and stones, then shouting spell-like words at militia members, who became frightened enough to leave her alone. “I used to say ‘If I die, you will also die, but the [Nyabingi] will eat [you],” she remembered in a video.

Thanks to her manipulation of traditional beliefs—she even used poisonous herbs to cause irritation to the skin of militia members, making them believe it was sorcery—Karuhimbi saved as many as 100 Tutsis, many moderate Hutus and Twa (the third ethnic group of Rwanda), and even three white men in her home, feeding them from her plot of land and hiding them there.

She continued to live in the same hut she had before the genocide, even after Karuhimbi was recognized as a hero. She has been celebrated as an example of ubumuntu, a South African Zulu word used to express commitment against genocide: “I am because you are and you are because I am.”

Karuhimbi expresses the concept perfectly in her video statement. Far beyond the remembrance of her genocide, her words resonate poignantly in their succinctness. ”If you want to love,” she says, “you start with your neighbor.”

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