The River Between


Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

When they are young, Waiyaki and his friends sometimes pretend they are the tribal giants of old—ancestral mythic figures who cleared the forests on the ridges for cultivation. When Waiyaki’s friends tell him that he cannot play the giant since he is not circumcised and has not been “reborn,” Waiyaki uses the “half-imploring, half-commanding” power of his eyes to convince them that he is such a giant. At first the older boys laugh at him, but Waiyaki is so convincing that they soon follow him. Waiyaki realizes he has the power to lead and “do daring things.” He goes home and tells his mother that he “must be born again.”
The young boys’ insistence on circumcision reveals how central circumcision is to their tribal identity. Throughout the story, circumcision for both men and women symbolizes adherence to traditional Gikuyu customs and identity—one cannot be a proper Gikuyu adult without being circumcised. Waiyaki’s ability to command with his eyes suggests that part of his power lies in his sincerity, which others cannot help but respect.
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Related Quotes
Waiyaki and the village perform the ceremony of his second birth, which will prepare him for circumcision. Although he wants to feel excited, he instead feels dejected and cries during the ceremony, which unsettles the others. However, the ceremony concludes and Waiyaki feels a “glow of pride,” knowing that he is “ready for initiation”; he will soon become a man.
Waiyaki’s unease and sense of dejection during his circumcision foreshadows his feeling that the traditional Gikuyu life and identity is not enough for him, and that he must integrate it with Christianity and the white people’s concept of education.
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