The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The River Between can help.

The River Between: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Waiyaki stands on the sacred hill and feels very alone. He feels overwhelmed by forces he does not understand, forces moving all across the country, and he feels fearful. Waiyaki wonders if he should not have given up his position in the Kiama. He knows that not all of the white people’s methods or religions are evil—some of it is good and useful. But it must be integrated with tribal culture; it cannot be allowed to wipe away the traditions of the tribe, or the tribe will have no grounding. Muthoni tried to reconcile Christianity and tribal culture and died in her attempt. But female circumcision is too culturally important to suddenly abandon. If Christianity is to exist in their tribe, it cannot destroy their customs unless it provides new customs and identity in their place.
Waiyaki’s reflection on Christianity and tribal traditions presents the story’s ideal for integrating two such opposing ideologies. Waiyaki’s belief that Christianity can offer beneficial aspects and that Gikuyu cultural traditions can keep the people grounded suggests that, by integrating the two influences, the tribe could be stronger than ever. However, this would require both Christians and the Kiama to give up their notions of ideological purity and claim to being “right.”
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Feeling no more confident than when he arrived, Waiyaki decides to leave. He worries for Nyambura, left in his hut, and wonders if Kabonyi’s followers will try to take her. As he descends the hill, he looks to the other ridges and imagines working with their people. He suddenly feels the shame of a people who have been invaded and forced to serve foreign leaders. This sense of shame clarifies Waiyaki’s thoughts. He decides that next chance he gets, he will call for education for the sake of unity, and unity for the sake of political freedom. But he worries the people will ask him to forsake Nyambura.
Waiyaki’s sudden sense of shame reveals the emotional toll of colonialism. Not only do the Gikuyu lose their land to white invaders, but they must carry the shame of having lost it—having been conquered before they realized what was occurring. The shame that colonialism causes the Gikuyu to feel condemns such colonialist enterprise as unjust and exploitative. Waiyaki’s renewed desire to call for unity implies that the Gikuyu people will not be able to fight the white people so long as they are divided.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Kinuthia calls a meeting for Waiyaki at the river. People from all over attend, many still loyal to him as the Teacher. They cannot believe that Waiyaki would break his oath of purity and marry an uncircumcised woman. Kabonyi attends, determined to defeat Waiyaki. He burns with hatred for him and “identified this hatred with the wrath of the tribe against impurity and betrayal.” Kabonyi is convinced that he will lead his people to victory, though he does not actually know what that victory is, or where he will lead them. He does not realize that his people want to move forward into the future rather than backward into the past and into isolation.
Kabonyi’s identification of his own hatred with the “wrath of the tribe” suggests that he projects his personal feelings onto the whole tribe. Although Kabonyi’s vendetta against Waiyaki is based in petty jealousy, he interprets that as righteous anger against impurity. However, Kabonyi’s ignorance to the fact that the villagers want to move forward into the future rather than follow him backward into the past suggests that he will not be able to effectively lead the tribe.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Miriamu and Kinuthia fear for Waiyaki and Nyambura. Although Kinuthia tried to protect her, men had come and stolen Nyambura from the hut—she is now in Kabonyi’s possession. He knows that if the people turn against Waiyaki, his own life will be in danger as well. Waiyaki arrives and a hush falls over the crowd.
Kinuthia’s fear for Waiyaki, Nyambura, and his own life suggests that the people may be stirred up to such violence that they would kill their own fellow villagers—the ultimate act of division and disunity.
Themes
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Get the entire The River Between LitChart as a printable PDF.
The River Between PDF