The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The River Between can help.

The River Between: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In Kenya, two ridges sit side by side, facing each other. A village called Kameno sits on one ridge, and Makuyu sits on the other. They face each other like rivals. The Honia river flows in the valley between them, offering life and sustenance to both villages. People from each village meet at the river to draw water and let their livestock drink, and the river unites them all. The ridges and valleys beyond Kameno and Makuyu rest quietly, as if they are asleep.
The river separating the villages symbolizes the ideological division between them. At the same time, the river unites them and provides sustenance to both, making it the commonality that holds them together.
Themes
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Long ago, the ancestors, Gikuyu and Mumbi, blessed the ridges and the Gikuyu lands. Both Kameno and Makuyu claim to be particularly favored by Gikuyu and Mumbi. Kameno’s claim appears stronger, since many heroes rose from its people over the years, including a seer named Mugo who prophesied that “people with clothes like butterflies” would invade their land. But the Gikuyu of the ridges do not heed Mugo’s words. They live isolated lives, separate and safe from the outside world. They do not care what happens to people elsewhere. The leaders that arose from Kameno and traveled elsewhere are no longer welcome in the ridges when they return.
The Gikuyu people believe that Gikuyu and Mumbi were the first people, much like Adam and Eve in Christianity. The “clothes like butterflies” in Mugo’s prophecy represent the white colonialists with their colorful clothing. The ridges’ isolation and the villagers’ disinterest in the rest of the world suggests that they are very insular people. This sets the stage for their struggle against the colonialists, who constantly push further into the Gikuyu’s land, forcing them to reckon with the outside world.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Related Quotes