The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On a small plain, two boys fight each other. Kamau, Kabonyi’s son from Makuyu, wrestles with Kinuthia, an orphan who lives with his uncle. They fight with sticks and wrestle in the dirt. Kamau gains the upper hand, pinning Kinuthia and pushing his face roughly into the ground as they exchange insults and threats. A younger boy, Waiyaki, Chege’s only son, runs up to them and tells them to stop fighting. Not long before, they all swore to be comrades. Kamau tries to resist, but Waiyaki is a natural leader with a powerful look in his eyes, even though he is not confident. Grudgingly, Kamau stops and lets Kinuthia get up.
Waiyaki’s ability to command Kamau, even though he is younger, foreshadows his natural capacity as a leader as an adult. The tension between Kamau and Waiyaki in this scene foreshadows their coming rivalry. Additionally, Kinuthia and Kamau’s fight points to the impending division within the tribe, and Waiyaki’s attempt to stop them fighting foreshadows his future aim to unify and reconcile the villagers to each other.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki’s father, Chege, is a renowned elder from Kameno. He is a widower, after the latest famine killed his wife and one of his daughters, though he still has one wife remaining. Chege is wise, and many villagers believe he is a seer, Mugo’s successor. For years, Chege warns the other villagers of the growing threat of the white people who are flourishing in the lowlands and spreading their railroad across the countryside. However, the villagers do not heed his warning, believing they are safe in the ridges. The white missionaries already moved into a nearby town, Siriana, and Joshua and Kabonyi, both from Makuyu, converted to the new religion. Still, no one in Kameno worries.
The villagers’ ignorance of Chege’s warning hints at the thematic tension between tradition and progress. Although Chege understands that his people must react and meet this new threat, the isolationist villagers want to simply ignore the problem and carry on with their traditional agrarian lifestyle. Joshua and Kabonyi’s conversion foreshadows the conflict between European Christianity and Gikuyu tribal identity.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Fearing that they will be lost in the forest once darkness falls, Kamau, Kinuthia, and Waiyaki gather their cattle and head for their homes. Waiyaki arrives at Chege’s hut as night falls. When Chege hears that Waiyaki took his cattle all the way out to the plain, he frets that that is too far from the village for his son to wander. Waiyaki realizes that his father fears for his safety and feels pride and appreciation toward his father for his concern.
This interaction and Waiyaki’s pride over Chege’s concern establish that father and son love each other. This is necessary, since Waiyaki will often reflect that he does not understand his father and even feels uneasy around him. However, that is not because he does not care for him or respect him.
Themes
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon