The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rejected by Nyambura, Waiyaki throws himself into his work and forwarding the cause of education. He goes to Siriana to find more teachers for his schools. The people’s spirit continues to rise, but Waiyaki does not have the foresight to see where it will lead. The Kiama’s power grows steadily, and all over the ridges, Kabonyi and his followers make people take their oath of tribal purity. Although Waiyaki is still committed to reconciliation, his failure to bring it up at the meeting now seems more serious. Joshua’s followers and Kabonyi’s followers each grow more committed to their own cause and hostile to each other.
The narrative’s continuous hints that threats mount against Waiyaki not only suggest that he is ignorant to what is happening around him, but also that people’s stirred passions can be powerful, even dangerous. The increasing divisions between Joshua and Kabonyi suggests that Waiyaki’s failure to call for reconciliation early on will have severe consequences.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
One day after school, Kinuthia tells Waiyaki that people are accusing him of becoming one of Joshua’s followers. Though Kabonyi fuels the accusations, the villagers know that Waiyaki recently went to Siriana to talk to the missionaries, and rumor has it that Waiyaki will marry Nyambura, Joshua’s daughter, an uncircumcised woman. Waiyaki brushes off the threat, but Kinuthia tries to convince him that these rumors are dangerous. He warns that Waiyaki’s name and influence give him great power but can also be his ruin. When Waiyaki admits he asked Nyambura to marry him, Kinuthia seems crestfallen.
Kabonyi’s accusation involves seemingly benign evidence—Waiyaki sat in church once, went to Siriana, and talks to Nyambura—yet carries severe ramifications. This demonstrates how a group demanding ideological purity can exert an excessive and even dangerous degree of control over a person’s behavior and decisions.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Weeks later, Waiyaki visits with an elder, one of Kabonyi’s associates. The elder talks of Waiyaki’s ancestors’ devotion and how they would never betray their tribe. At first, Waiyaki takes this as a praise, but he later realizes it is an unspoken warning for him. At the end of the year, Waiyaki only partially participates in the tribe’s rituals since he is so distracted by education. He realizes that, by neglecting to take part in the tribe’s rituals, he is losing his connection with the people. One night, someone sets fire to one of Joshua’s followers’ huts. Such violence has never occurred before between villages. Waiyaki senses that the Kiama was involved.
Once again, Waiyaki’s dwindling sense of connection with his tribe suggests that, although integrating two opposing influences may be beneficial, it also comes at cost. Although the tribe’s emphasis on ideological purity is in some ways dangerous, it also makes its people incredibly cohesive. By living by his own judgment, Waiyaki preserves his own sense of identity but sacrifices the close connections he could have with the other tribespeople.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
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