The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the sacred hilltop, Chege tells Waiyaki of Murungu, who created Gikuyu and Mumbi as the “father and mother of our tribe.” After them came Mugo the seer, who had visions of many butterflies arriving and “disrupting the peace and ordered life of the country.” Chege explains that although the villagers rejected Mugo, Mugo left and returned, disguised as someone else, and resettled in Kameno. Mugo is Chege’s and Waiyaki’s forefather—they are Mugo’s “offspring.” Mugo died on the very hill they now stand on.
Mugo’s prophecy that the butterflies, representing the white colonialists, would disrupt their “peace and ordered life” suggests that the arrival of white settlers will thwart the Gikuyu people’s ability to maintain their traditional lifestyle. This suggests that the villagers will have to adapt to the new environment created by the white invaders.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Chege sees fear in Waiyaki’s eyes but he continues to explain that the people in the ridges rejected his own warnings about the missionaries in Siriana, just as they rejected Mugo’s prophecy of the butterflies. Mugo also prophesied that a savior would come from their family, which can only be Waiyaki, since he is the last of their lineage. However, that savior cannot defeat the white people through war but must learn their secrets and use them to lead his own people to victory. Chege is old, and he is the only person who knows this prophecy other than, perhaps, Kabonyi. However, the prophecy will eventually come to pass. They must wait and bide their time.
Chege’s insight that Waiyaki must fight the white people with their own knowledge, rather than with weapons, suggests that he understands their world is changing and their old methods of dealing with problems will no longer work.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Waiyaki and Chege return to the village. Chege’s belief that Waiyaki will be their savior weighs heavily on Waiyaki, since he is still only a boy. He feels that weight transforming him into a man. Eventually Chege quietly sends Waiyaki away to study with the missionaries in Siriana and learn their ways. Kamau and Kinuthia join him, and together they study for several years under a missionary named Reverend Livingstone. Waiyaki’s influence grows among the missionaries as well, and they see him as a future leader for their church in Kenya.
Livingstone is the only named white character in the story, and he plays a marginal role. Although the colonialists represent the primary existential threat, they are mostly invisible, suggesting that these particular colonialists take a quiet, subtle approach to establishing themselves in Gikuyu territory and slowly wresting control away from the native people.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
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