The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Joshua worries about Waiyaki’s rising influence and the success of his schools. Many of his own followers are returning to their tribal customs, such as circumcision and taking multiple wives—Joshua does not understand why the latter is sinful, since it occurs in the Bible, but he accepts it as a “God-inspired assertion[] of the white man.” He builds two of his own schools to rival Waiyaki’s. He then holds an evangelistic meeting in Kameno and makes a few converts, giving him a small foothold against his opponents in their own village, who represent the “forces of Satan.”
Joshua takes the missionary’s teaching as God’s divine will, even when it seems to contradict the Bible. This suggests that Joshua has more allegiance to the white missionaries than to Christianity itself, raising the possibility that Joshua’s Christian practice is a poor representation of the religion as a whole.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki watches Joshua’s meeting from the doorway of his own hut. He recognizes that it is a challenge against his own influence, yet Waiyaki appreciates aspects of Christianity, especially its focus on love and sacrifice. He missed his opportunity to call for reconciliation between Kameno and Makuyu, but he tells himself he will make that call next time he has the chance. However, he wonders if this hope for unity is a betrayal of his own tribe. If he is supposed to be a savior, what is he supposed to save his people from? Even without answers to these questions, Waiyaki sees himself as the one who will lead his people to education, “to the light.” All he wants to think about is education, and as such, he has already resigned from the Kiama and been replaced by Kamau.
Waiyaki’s appreciation for Christianity’s teachings on love and sacrifice, even though he belongs to the Kiama, suggests that there are positive aspects to both Christianity and Gikuyu tradition. Rather than exclude one for the sake of the other, the two can be integrated together, taking what is useful from both. Waiyaki’s belief that he leads his people “to the light” suggest that he thinks of himself as a savior. However, his ignorance as to what he saves them from suggests that he dangerously lacks self-awareness and a clear vision of where he is going.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki briefly wonders if Nyambura would be at the Christian meeting but puts the thought out of his head. He walks down to the river and sees Nyambura off in the distance on the opposite side of the river. She looks unhappy.
Waiyaki and Nyambura most often meet at the river, which points to the way that their relationship represents the intersection of the two villages and two opposing ideologies.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Nyambura has been growing increasingly depressed. She is tired of Joshua’s zealotry and Christian practice, but she still loves the Christian God and cannot simply abandon it or rebel as Muthoni had. But she knows that she longs for Waiyaki and the surety he represents to her, and she feels that Christ cannot satisfy her if Waiyaki is not part of her life. Waiyaki will be her “savior,” her “black messiah,” and give meaning to her life. Lately, rather than attend Joshua’s church, she has been choosing to skip the gatherings and come pray at the river.
Nyambura’s appreciation for Christianity is tempered by her need for Waiyaki, for a “black messiah.” Like Waiyaki and Muthoni, Nyambura thus refuses to strictly adhere to one cultural force or the other. This again suggests that an integrated middle ground can exist between two opposing ideologies, even though it may be difficult to remain there.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Waiyaki watches Nyambura kneel and pray in a little clearing, unaware of him. The sight reminds him of the sacred hill he stood on with Chege. It seems as if “holy light” radiates outward from Nyambura. When she hears him watching her and looks at him, Waiyaki is afraid she will be angry, but she asks him not to run. She crosses the river and stands with him. They speak about their shared love for the river and about Muthoni. Waiyaki recalls carrying her to Siriana and her last words for Nyambura: she has seen Jesus.
Waiyaki sees “holy light” as Nyambura prays, suggesting that such holiness or purity may exist both outside of the white people’s Christianity and outside of the Gikuyu tribal traditions. Her crossing the river symbolizes her crossing the ideological divide between Makuyu and Kameno so that she can be with Waiyaki.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
In a burst of emotion, Waiyaki takes Nyambura by the hand and tells her he loves her and asks her to marry him. They embrace and weep together. Nyambura longs to accept, but she is filled with fear and refuses instead. She tells him she loves him, but they cannot marry. Overcome with emotion, she flees, leaving Waiyaki alone and confused.
Nyambura’s fear of Joshua keeps her from marrying Waiyaki even though she wants to. This is yet another example of how a group’s social expectations can limit the personal freedom and happiness of people in that group.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
After Nyambura leaves, Kamau emerges from where he has been watching in the brush. He burns with hatred and jealousy—not only does Waiyaki best him in leadership but also in love. Kamau himself hopes to marry Nyambura. He wanted to tell her he loved her for a long time but never found the proper moment. He would have done so now, if Waiyaki had not appeared and declared his love first. He resolves to make Waiyaki suffer.
Once again, Kamau’s rivalry and hatred for Waiyaki is grounded in personal animosity and jealousy. This delegitimatizes any claim Kamau makes of protecting the tribe’s purity, since his actions are obviously motivated by selfish pursuits.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon