The River Between


Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

The next day, after the children finish repairing the school, Waiyaki lets them go home early. He waits eagerly for Nyambura to arrive, but she never does, and he returns home disappointed. As he walks, Waiyaki reflects on the oncoming rains that will transform the surrounding brush into fertile forest and commence the tribe’s spring rituals, full of singing and joyful times. It had always been this way, since Waiyaki was a child. Now, however, the rains do not come regularly—“the pattern of seasons was broken,” the sun shines too often and burns the land, or the rains that do come wash away the soil. Waiyaki wonders if this disruption is also the white people’s fault, or if it’s a judgment on Makuyu’s “blaspheming” people.
Waiyaki’s fond memory of springs rains and the tribe’s rituals demonstrates the beauty of tribal life and reminds readers of the simple, agrarian existence that the tribe and the Kiama want to preserve. The broken “pattern of the seasons” reflects how the white colonialists’ arrival shatters their simple, predictable lifestyle. What was once consistent and dependable becomes unpredictable. For the first time, the future feels truly unknown.
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Standing outside his own hut, Waiyaki remembers Chege and reflects that he never truly understood his father. Did he honestly believe the prophecy that Waiyaki would save their people? He also thinks about Kabonyi, who was once a fierce Christian but now just as fiercely opposes them. Chege said that Kabonyi may be the only other person who knows the prophecy. Now, Kabonyi opposes Waiyaki at every opportunity.
Waiyaki’s questions about Chege’s beliefs suggests that Waiyaki himself has doubts about the prophecy. On another note, Kabonyi’s swift change from being a Christian to utterly opposing them suggests that Kabonyi is a man of extremes.
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
As he sits inside, Waiyaki is angry at Nyambura for not coming to see him until he remembers how fearsome Joshua can be. He realizes he would not want Kabonyi to have seen him with Nyambura, and the thought irritates him—he feels like he is becoming a “slave to the tribe.” His responsibility to serve his people weighs on him. Kinuthia visits and tells Waiyaki that the elders are making him the clerk of the Kiama. Kinuthia warns Waiyaki that Kabonyi is jealous of him and will make a dangerous rival. Also, Kamau claims to have seen Waiyaki and Nyambura walking together.
Just as Joshua exerts an oppressive control over his family, Waiyaki’s fear of Kabonyi and sense that he is a slave to the tribe suggests the tribe’s identity and expectations can be just as oppressive. Both Christianity and tribal identity come with their own set of pressures and expectations, suggesting that neither is morally superior nor allows for more freedom than the other.
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon