The River Between


Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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

The River Between: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Joshua’s daughters, Nyambura and Muthoni, sit by the river and fill their water barrels. Nyambura thinks about how the villagers use the cold water to numb their bodies for circumcision. The thought makes her feel guilty, since Joshua, a Christian preacher, views female circumcision as a mark of “pagan” tribalism. However, as they are filling their barrels, Muthoni tells Nyambura she wants to be circumcised like the women of their tribe.
Joshua’s firm opposition to female circumcision establishes the practice as a symbol of adherence to tribal customs and identity, especially in opposition to Christianity and the white missionaries’ values. Muthoni’s wish to be circumcised, despite being a Christian, implies that she wants to integrate her Christian identity with her Gikuyu identity.
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Muthoni’s wish to be circumcised upsets Nyambura, since it goes against the missionaries’ teachings. Muthoni insists that although she does not want to abandon their religion, she does not feel that she can be a true woman without being circumcised like their tribe’s women have for countless generations. Muthoni begs Nyambura not to tell Joshua about this. She is planning to go to their aunt in Kameno, who will be able to organize her circumcision for her. Nyambura pities her sister and worries for her but knows that her mind is already made up. She feels “powerless[]” to help. As they return to Makuyu and hike up the hill, Muthoni’s water barrel slips from her grip and rolls back toward the river. Nyambura thinks it is a “bad omen.”
Muthoni’s sense that she cannot be a real woman unless she is circumcised demonstrates the importance of maintaining a grounded cultural identity. Because Christianity is so new to the Gikuyu people, it does not seem to have the tradition or history to provide Muthoni with a complete sense of identity. Her desire to be circumcised and maintain her Christian faith suggests that two seemingly oppositional ideologies can be integrated together to form a hybrid identity—although this may be incredibly difficult.
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Related Quotes