Rangira Béa Gallimore has spent much of her research career speaking about the unspeakable, that is, the trauma of rape. As Associate Professor in the Romance Language department, Gallimore’s research history may be divided into two periods: pre- and post-Rwandan genocide. Her earlier work focused on African Francophone women’s writings, African women of the Great Lakes Region in the conflict and peace process, as well as the representation of African women in social discourse and the media. Following years of studying fiction, Gallimore began the second phase of her work in response to the Rwanda genocide of 1994, when the country was “plunged into a frenzy of ethnic butchery” stemming from long-standing tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi groups.
Gallimore’s early research addressed how African Francophone writers subvert the French canon by drawing from their culture’s oral tradition to create different levels of meaning. In Gallimore’s first book, L’oeuvre romanesque de Jean-Marie Adiaffi. Le mariage du mythe et de l’histoire: fondement d’un récit pluriel (1996), Gallimore examines author Jean-Marie Adiaffi, particularly the novel La Carte d’Identité (1995). The main character in the book, who was a prince before colonization, loses his I.D. card. In the system imposed by the colonial French government, the loss of this I.D. card results in the loss of the man’s name and identity, so it becomes an allegory for the impact of colonization on the identity of the colonized.
Rangira Béa Gallimore’s second book, L’oeuvre romanesque de Calixthe Beyala: Le renouveau de l’écriture féminine en Afrique francophone sub-saharienne (1997), focuses on contemporary Francophone writer Calixthe Beyala. Whereas her first book subverts “the master’s language” by using the French of the slums (les bidonvilles) instead of classic French, her second book attempts to subvert patriarchy itself. Providing counterpart to male writers “who idealized the African woman as this beautiful symbol of the earth,” Beyala offers main characters who are forced into prostitution because of sexual abuse or poverty. “It’s very clear in her writing that she’s using the female body discourse. The body in writing is exposed, it is displayed,” explains Gallimore, and indeed Beyala’s tendency to address taboo subjects has created controversy. “It was very shocking for an African woman to write such things,” yet women’s bodies in Beyala’s novels stand as a “symbol of the violated earth, of the bad and the evil” that they have had to endure through their bodies. “You cannot deny the reality of Africa,” responds Beyala to her detractors.
Gallimore has been drawn to Beyala’s novels because of their powerful realism, which deeply resonates with her own experience of growing up in the Congo. “When I first read her book, I was amazed. I was looking at things I had seen myself. It was a reality in Africa we cannot deny; you maybe don’t want it in writing, but it’s a reality for women. Those are the things women have to endure to survive.”
Gallimore speaks of the obstacles to overcome when trying to speak the unspeakable, to comprehend the incomprehensible, that is genocide. Her next book involves literary criticism as well as sociolinguistic and anthropological methods, drawing upon data collected in Rwanda as well as archival data and transcripts of the testimonies of women who survived the genocide. She has been working with an organization in Rwanda called ABASA, a group made of rape survivors. (Abasa is a Kinyrwanda word that means “we are all the same.”) Interviewing women from this group, Gallimore hopes to give voice to their stories and identify their various needs so that Step Up can try to address them.
Gallimore has merged her academic research with social activism. While her background in linguistic theory is useful in understanding certain linguistic phenomena, she acknowledges that “if I go speak about the semiotics of the language of the genocide, that’s something that academicians would understand, but it may not be useful for someone outside of the association.” Realizing this limitation, she founded Step Up! American Association for Rwandan Women, an organization that recognizes the reality that “the needs of the Rwandan women are enormous. Not only are there concerns for practical things such as jobs, food, and school supplies, but the mental health needs have largely remained unaddressed. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety remain as an aftermath of the intense horror of the genocide.” Step Up has developed a number of projects to help redress these problems.