The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Waiyaki’s life becomes busier, and his reputation grows. The villagers call him “the Teacher.” Soon, parents from all over the ridges will gather to hear him speak about education. Waiyaki intends to propose building more schools, though he will have to find teachers from Siriana or Nairobi. He also feels compelled to call for reconciliation between Makuyu and Kameno—between Joshua’s followers and the rest of the tribe—though he knows this could threaten his popularity. He hopes his actions will impress Nyambura.
Waiyaki’s fear that calling for reconciliation will threaten his influence and his hope that bravery will impress Nyambura both suggest that Waiyaki’s service is tainted by his own personal feelings. Although he desires to help his tribe, that desire is modified by his own inclinations, which ultimately endangers his ambitions.
Themes
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Unity and Division Theme Icon
On the day of the meeting, people come from all over the country to see the school and hear Waiyaki speak. They are impressed by his students, who can read and write and speak a foreign language, all without the help of the white people. Waiyaki seems the “reincarnation of [the tribe’s] former dignity and purity.” Most people love him. Kabonyi hates him, as he is jealous of Waiyaki’s success. Kabonyi views Waiyaki as an “upstart” and thinks he himself should lead his people and command their devotion, since he is older and more experienced. He would even be happier if Kamau led rather than Waiyaki. Kabonyi knows Mugo’s prophecy and fears that Waiyaki may actually be their foretold savior.
Waiyaki’s students are educated and intelligent, despite having never left Kameno or spent time with the white missionaries. This proves Waiyaki’s conviction that the Gikuyu can adopt the white people’s knowledge and approach to education without taking on their culture or sacrificing Gikuyu traditions in the process. Kabonyi’s jealousy of Waiyaki’s popularity indicates that his rivalry is motivated more by personal pettiness than a desire to protect the tribe.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In the afternoon, Waiyaki opens the formal meeting, speaking some words himself and inviting the students to sing songs about how now that their agrarian lifestyle is disappearing, they want education so they can defend themselves. The children’s singing moves the parents to tears, and they think their savior has arrived to awaken the people and lead them against the invaders. Kabonyi fumes. Though he meant to denounce Waiyaki for attending Joshua’s church, he sees that the people love Waiyaki more and more. When the singing ends, Waiyaki speaks, outlining his plans for the schools, and the people listen.
The children’s songs suggest that, although the Gikuyu may wish to preserve their traditional agrarian lifestyle, they must nevertheless adapt to the changing world around them, and this largely means embracing education. Kabonyi’s desire to return to the past thus seems futile in light of the changing world.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Kabonyi rises to his feet to defy Waiyaki. He declares that teachers and education will not defeat the white people. They must rise and fight with weapons to drive the white people away. This is why Kabonyi created the Kiama—to protect the “purity of the tribe,” and he himself will lead the revolution. The older people listen to Kabonyi and consider the truth of his words, but the younger people side with Waiyaki. Waiyaki rises to speak and his voice comes out powerfully, like the ancestors. He explains that, because he is young, he will listen to the elders’ advice. But the world will change, and the ridges must change with it, or they will be left behind. They must embrace learning. By the end of his speech, everyone supports Waiyaki even more.
Kabonyi’s insistence that he should lead his people and have their affection rather than Waiyaki again suggests that Kabonyi’s campaign is fundamentally selfish, motivated by petty personal interests rather than a genuine desire to serve his people. The fact that the younger people side with Waiyaki speaks to the way that young people are often more open to change than their older counterparts.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
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Kabonyi tells Kamau to take him home. He has suffered a humiliating public defeat. As they walk, Kabonyi tells Kamau he wants to kill Waiyaki, and he rages at Kamau for not supplanting Waiyaki earlier. Kamau blames Waiyaki for his father’s suffering.
Kamau’s blaming Waiyaki for Kabonyi’s personal humiliation suggests that Kamau is just as petty as his father, as both men attribute their own failures to someone else.
Themes
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Over the next weeks, schools continue appearing and hope rises throughout the ridges. The tribe puts all of its faith in Waiyaki, which he fails to see the danger in because he is too consumed by his passion for education. When the Kiama proposes an oath of “allegiance to the Purity and Togetherness of the Tribe,” Waiyaki takes it without considering the risks of such a foolhardy oath. He ignores Kabonyi and thinks only of education. Briefly, guiltily, he remembers that he forgot to call for reconciliation when he had the chance.
The noted dangers that Waiyaki cannot yet see foreshadow the trouble that being in a leadership position will cause him, particularly since he is always in the public eye. Waiyaki’s brief guilt suggests that he know he has lost a critical opportunity to create unity.
Themes
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon