The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In his church, Joshua preaches powerfully, seemingly unaffected by Muthoni’s death. He declares that “all of the tribe’s customs are bad” and that Christians cannot compromise on this belief in any way. Waiyaki sits in the audience, unsure of why he is there. He finds Joshua’s words unsettling, since they imply that there is no middle ground between Makuyu and Kameno. He thinks of Chege’s commitment to the tribe and wonders if he is betraying his father simply by being inside Joshua’s church. As the congregation begins to sing, Waiyaki slips out. He feels the familiar longing and realizes, though he had not consciously meant to attend church, he was hoping to see Nyambura.
Joshua’s emotionally charged preaching reflects his increasing animosity toward traditional Gikuyu culture. Even though Waiyaki disagrees with Joshua’s words, the fact that he fears he is betraying Chege by being in a church at all suggests that any group demanding such strict adherence limits one’s ability to move freely or think for themselves.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Now that he is in the Kiama, Waiyaki knows that the elders would view his sitting in Joshua’s church as a betrayal. Waiyaki does not mind, for he knows that he would never truly betray his tribe. As he is walking away, Kamau meets him. Waiyaki admits that he stopped to listen to Joshua preach. Nyambura passes by in the distance and Kamau remarks that she is beautiful. Jealousy grows in Waiyaki’s heart.
Although the elders would not agree, Waiyaki’s confidence that he would never betray his tribe even if he listens to Joshua preach suggests that one can listen to and learn from another ideology without turning their back on their own cultural identity.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
After Waiyaki leaves Kamau, he and Nyambura meet in the forest. She apologizes for not coming to the school, and Waiyaki can tell by the way she looks at him that she has come specifically to see him. He longs to take her hand and tell her that he loves her, but he cannot bring himself to. They part. Nyambura leaves feeling a “glow inside” herself, which she hides from her parents.
Waiyaki and Nyambura’s fledgling romance is illicit, since they belong to opposing groups. Their relationship thus represents the same integration—and hope for unity among the Gikuyu—that Muthoni achieved by maintaining her Christian faith while undergoing circumcision as a Gikuyu woman.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon