The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Waiyaki feels that this is “the great hour of need.” He thinks of the prophecies and decides that his tribe needs him; Kabonyi will only bring destruction if he leads. Waiyaki speaks and defends himself against the recent rumors, calling for more education. Then Kabonyi rises and describes how Christianity is the white people’s weapon used to pacify the tribe while they take their lands. He insists that what the tribe needs is a leader who will take action—they don’t need education.
Waiyaki’s sense that his tribe needs him does not overshadow his desire to be with Nyambura ahead of serving and maintaining the peace. Although Waiyaki is true to himself by loving Nyambura, such action suggests that he is nearly as self-absorbed as Kabonyi.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki stands again and speaks of the tribe’s long history as well as their prophets and warriors. He argues that the tribe will never survive as long as it remains at odds with itself, divided between Makuyu and Kameno. Enraptured by his words, the crowd rises to kill Kabonyi where he stands, but Waiyaki stops them. He sits, marveling at his own ability to influence people. Kabonyi makes his rebuttal, but Waiyaki pays no attention, absorbed in his own power, until he hears Kabonyi mention the oath.
Again, though Waiyaki seems right about the tribe’s need for unity to fight for their political freedom, his self-absorption and interest in his own power reveals that he is too selfish to adequately lead and serve. Although he is supposed to act as the tribe’s savior, he struggles to see beyond himself and thus fails.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Kabonyi declares that Waiyaki has broken the oath by seeking to marry Nyambura, Joshua’s daughter, an uncircumcised woman. The crowd will not believe it, so Kabonyi presents Nyambura and challenges Waiyaki to deny her in front of all the people. The crowd warns Waiyaki not to break his oath. Waiyaki thinks that Nyambura, held by Kabonyi, looks like a sacrificial lamb. Waiyaki cannot deny her. The crowd turns against him, screaming about the oath. An elder announces that the Kiama will take Waiyaki and Nyambura away and punish them. The crowd agrees, feeling guilty for destroying their teacher and relieved of the responsibility of passing judgment.
Waiyaki chooses to remain true to himself rather than bow to the demand for ideological purity. Ultimately, this reveals that Waiyaki is not a selfless leader and cannot be the tribe’s savior. His inability to sacrifice his love for Nyambura tragically prevents him from reconciling the villages together or unifying the people to fight for their political freedom. This tragic ending demonstrates the danger of entrenched ideologies and the extreme difficulty of reconciling divided people.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
The ridges fall silent, “hidden in the darkness.” The river flows between Kameno and Makuyu, separating them. The rushing water is the only sound amidst the new stillness.
The ridges, which had been awakening, now fall silent, suggesting that the people are powerless to stop the colonialists’ spread across their land. Without unity, they are defeated.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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