The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Muthoni dies in Siriana. Waiyaki returns to Kameno to inform Nyambura and Miriamu. Before she died, Muthoni had told Waiyaki to tell Nyambura that she “see[s] Jesus” and has become “a woman, beautiful in the tribe.” Waiyaki dwells on those words and walks listlessly, overcome with sadness. All day and night, he finds himself asking, “why?” though he does not know what exactly he is questioning.
Muthoni’s last words for Nyambura again suggest that she has resolved her identity conflict and feels complete, honoring both her Christian religion and her Gikuyu tribal identity. However, her death represents the steep cost of transgressing one’s community.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
When Joshua hears of his daughter’s death, he shows no emotion and resolves to stay firm on his “journey to the new Jerusalem.” Chege sees Muthoni’s death as proof that the white religion causes division and death. He fears for the unity of the ridges and the survival of his people, but he will no longer speak. He also fears for Waiyaki and wonders if Siriana corrupted him, but he remains silent.
Muthoni’s death deepens the divide between those who advocate for Christianity and those who uphold Gikuyu’s tribalism, and each group interprets her death in their own way.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In Siriana, Livingstone sees Muthoni’s death as confirmation of “the barbarity of Gikuyu customs.” Though Livingstone had arrived in Kenya as a bold young man “fired by a dream of heroism” and evangelization, he is now old, fat, and weary. Livingstone considers himself an “enlightened” missionary, as he takes a less militaristic approach to evangelizing the tribespeople than his predecessors. He prefers to let the Gikuyu keep their customs and thus prevent the strife and war that comes from stripping a people of their own culture. However, Livingstone regards female circumcision as a singular exception, an unarguable evil that must be “rooted out.” To Livingstone, Muthoni’s death confirms that he must fight the practice with all his power—“The war was now on.”
As an “enlightened” missionary, Livingstone represents the far more subtle method of colonialism present in the novel. While Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o’s other novels depict militaristic colonialists, this story’s depiction of colonialism suggests that the white people also quietly infiltrated some parts of the country, often under the guise of religion. This passage also shows that Livingstone is far less “enlightened” than he’d like to think—although he claims to let the Gikuyu keep their customs, he opposes what is quite possibly the most important Gikuyu custom and marker of Gikuyu identity for women. In advocating against female circumcision, Livingstone does strip the people—at least the women—of their culture.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
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