The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
All of the buildings in Makuyu are traditional thatched huts except for Joshua’s house, which is tin-roofed and rectangular, a symbol of the outside world’s encroachment into the ridges. Joshua carries on Livingstone’s work in the ridges, evangelizing to the Gikuyu people. When he first went to the missionaries, Joshua feared that his fellow tribesmen would attack him for his betrayal. But the more time he spent with the white people, the more he realized the backwardness of his own culture. The missionaries declare that Murungu, the Gikuyu God, is the “prince of darkness.”
Joshua represents the worst effect of a new ideology like Christianity on a tribal people, as he embraces it so completely that he rejects his own cultural identity. Joshua’s zealotry and belief that all Gikuyu customs are evil implies that Christianity, in this form, can be a destructive force, wiping away ancestral traditions that have existed for thousands of years. Notably, Joshua’s devotion to white people’s Christianity makes him subservient to the white missionaries, ultimately aiding them in their colonialist pursuits, suggesting that the religion can also be a colonialist tool.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Though Joshua once feared hell, now, because Christ made him a “new creature,” he does not fear hell,  Chege, or any of the vengeful tribesmen. When he returned to Makuyu to spread Christianity, many people initially converted. However, they soon went back to drinking, tribal dancing, and circumcision. Now, Joshua’s preaching grows more wrathful by the day, and he “observes the word to the letter” in his own home, seeing himself as a Christian example for all Makuyu’s people to look up to.
Joshua takes an oppositional stance against his fellow tribesmen, which sets up the idea that his daughters (especially Muthoni) feel torn between their Christian faith and Gikuyu culture. Joshua’s obsession with strict morality and making his family a perfect example to others suggests that Joshua is preoccupied with appearances, influence, and power.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Since the year had an unusually good harvest, the tribespeople sacrifice to Murungu. Joshua’s followers prepare for Christmas while everyone else prepares for the initiation rites and circumcision ceremonies. Joshua views female circumcision as the “unforgivable sin” and laments that his own wife, Miriamu was circumcised before they were married. He often beats her for it, believing that he is “punishing a sin” and “executing God’s justice.”
The contrast between the tribespeople’s harvest sacrifices and Joshua’s Christmas preparations reinforces the division between the two groups. It’s significant that Joshua beats Miriamu for something she has no control over, suggesting that he is both ruthlessly cruel and infatuated with his own power. Furthermore, that he justifies his violence as a sort of divine justice shows that Christianity—and religion in general—can be a destructive force.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Kameno’s people are restless and blame Joshua for the white people’s intrusion into their hills. There is rumor that the white people will build an outpost near Makuyu and establish their own government, forcing the villages to pay taxes. However, most villagers do not understand what government or taxes are, so they ignore the rumors. Joshua understands what this means, having learned from the missionaries, but he welcomes it. He believes the country’s ills are due to the “blindness of the people” and asks God to rain down judgment on them in the form of fire or a flood. Sometimes he thinks about beating the people into submission with a stick, forcing them to their knees. He decides to be patient and pray instead.
The villagers do not understand concepts like taxes or external government (since they have no parallel concepts of their own) and thus do not recognize the threat in time. Some characters in the novel (like Chege, for instance) argue that the Gikuyu people need a Western education so they can more easily recognize and resist the white colonialists and their efforts to dominate and administrate over the Gikuyu people. Joshua’s unpopular hope that the white people will take control again suggests that his Christianity makes him subservient to the colonialists, while his fantasies of beating the tribespeople into submission suggests he craves his own power.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
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