The River Between


Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Months later, Waiyaki stands in the doorway of his office in the school that he, Kinuthia, and Kamau run for the children in the ridges. The thatched building leaks, the walls rot, and the “education-thirsty children” shiver inside. The three teachers discuss the white people’s ongoing “conquest” of the ridges. Gikuyu in neighboring lands have already been forced off their land or kept to work it as serfs, paying tribute to “their new masters.” Kinuthia says they must act. Many people in the ridges feel that Chege was right—they “slept” for too long and did not fight when they had the chance. Waiyaki likes and trusts Kinuthia, but he distrusts Kamau, who appears cunning and deceitful.
Where the colonialists were once a vague potential threat, their exiling Gikuyu from their ancestral lands confirms that they pose a very real danger. However, the fact that the ridges “slept,” or failed to act, for so long demonstrates the effectiveness of this subtler form of colonialism. Because the white people worked slowly and quietly, the Gikuyu did not realize what a threat they were until it was too late.
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Kinuthia points out that the missionaries in Siriana came peacefully so the Gikuyu would offer them land to build on, but they only paved the way for more white people to invade and take control. He calls the outpost next to Makuyu a “plague.” Waiyaki listens with admiration. He thinks to himself that education will provide the Gikuyu with the means to fight back. Kamau raises the possibility of forming a Kiama to “preserve the purity” of the tribe—Kabonyi developed the idea. Waiyaki worries that if a Kiama forms, the villagers will make him a leader in it. He decides they should end their meeting and send the children home for the afternoon. Tomorrow, the children can help them repair the building.
Kinuthia’s observation confirms that the white colonialists use Christianity as a tool to gain the trust of native people before exploiting them. Waiyaki’s desire for education and Kamau’s desire for a Kiama (a governing body) are at odds with each other: Waiyaki desires to integrate the white people’s knowledge with the Gikuyu culture; Kamau desires to eradicate any aspect of the white people to preserve the tribe’s purity.
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