The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the middle of the night, Kamau summons Waiyaki for a mysterious meeting with the Kiama. At the meeting, Kabonyi accuses Waiyaki of betraying the tribe by visiting Joshua’s church, conspiring with the white missionaries in Siriana, and marrying Joshua’s daughter, Nyambura. Waiyaki insists that these are all false charges and that he has never spoken to Joshua. As the Kiama presses him, Waiyaki realizes that they are asking him to submit to their tribal purity, even if that destroys his vision for unity.
The Kiama’s demand that Waiyaki submit to their standard echoes Joshua’s oppressive conduct toward his family and followers, strictly controlling their actions and beliefs. This suggests that, fundamentally, there is little difference between the Kiama and Joshua’s Christianity—both can become oppressive and controlling systems, and neither is morally superior.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki tries to convince the Kiama that the ridges need to be united, and that Christians and non-Christians can come together. The elders insist that Waiyaki is not willing to fight the white people. They want a political leader—someone who will take action. When Waiyaki will not answer the question of whether he loves Nyambura, the Kiama reminds him that he took an oath of purity, which forbids him from marrying such a woman. As Waiyaki leaves, the elders call him a “traitor.” Kabonyi tells the elders he has been right about Waiyaki all along. They reflect that Nyambura turned him against the tribe and decide that all Christians must be circumcised “by force.”
The Kiama’s statement that they will circumcise the Christians “by force” reveals that they will turn to violence, even against their fellow villagers. This demonstrates the dangerous end of such groups that demand ideological purity and do not allow for integration or influence from outside the group. Where Muthoni and Waiyaki seek to integrate Christianity and Gikuyu tribal customs to create a peaceful, beneficial system, the Kiama seeks to rule through force.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon