The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Waiyaki makes a second trip to Siriana and returns, announcing that he recruited more teachers for their children. The people love him all the more and Kinuthia becomes completely devoted to him. Although Kinuthia sympathizes with the Kiama’s thirst for action, something in Waiyaki’s eyes and voice assures Kinuthia that he is the man to lead their tribe, not only to education, but to political freedom. However, Kinuthia does not know the full scope of Waiyaki’s goals.
Although Kinuthia is loyal to Waiyaki, he does very little to protect Waiyaki from the Kiama. Rather, Kinuthia functions in the story to provide Waiyaki the self-awareness he does not naturally have. As Waiyaki blindly stumbles into Kabonyi’s plans, Kinuthia helps both Waiyaki and the reader understand the threats mounting against Waiyaki.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Two days later, Waiyaki lies in bed, unable to sleep. He senses something evil on the horizon yet clings to his goal of education. He questions whether he is actually a savior and yearns to call for unity and reconciliation. He has a vision of fertility and life in the tribe, renewed by education. Nyambura stands in the center of it all as the embodiment of new life.
Waiyaki’s vision mixes his desire to serve the tribe by providing education with his personal desire for Nyambura. This again suggests that his personal feelings taint his service and role as a savior and may even threaten them in the future.
Themes
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
As Waiyaki watches his vision, the elders and the children in the village begin pulling Nyambura apart into pieces, sacrificing her to the river. He realizes he himself is part of the crowd that is tearing at her. As the crowd throws Nyambura into the river, Waiyaki sees that it is Muthoni they have killed, not Nyambura. He sees Nyambura in the distance, but she will not let him touch her for fear of her father. Waiyaki is angry but remembers that he joined the crowd, “acceded to the ritual demands of the tribe,” and tore the body to pieces. He feels horror mixed with guilt that he failed to call for reconciliation in time.
The crowd tearing Muthoni to pieces symbolizes how she was caught in an identity conflict between her Christian family and her Gikuyu tribal culture. The fact that the crowd kills her and throws her in the river suggests that she ultimately died as a result of the divisions between Makuyu and Kameno, the Christians and non-Christians. Waiyaki’s participation in the killing suggests that, as a member of the tribe, he shares the blame for her death.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Joshua’s Christmas celebration and the tribe’s next initiation rites will occur soon, on the same day. The Kiama now regards uncircumcised women as traitors, symbols of the white people’s influence. Waiyaki rises from his bed, since it is only early evening. As he steps out of his hut, his mother asks him if the rumors are true about him marrying Nyambura. He tells his mother he will not but immediately feels guilty for it. His mother begs him not to marry her. She tells Waiyaki he must “fear the voice of the Kiama” and be careful not to make an enemy of the tribe.
Waiyaki’s mother tells him to “fear” the Kiama, which again suggests that the tribe, in its demand of ideological purity and strict conformance, is an oppressive force rather than something that genuinely helps and supports the people. The Kiama’s insistence that uncircumcised women are traitors elevates circumcision from a traditional rite to an essential mark of devotion to the tribe.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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