The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The River Between: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The harvests are strong, and the villagers sacrifice to Murungu. The old men, such as Chege, remember that strong harvests often precede famines, like the one that left him a widower. He thinks about those days, when Joshua and Kabonyi converted to Christianity and Chege severed his relationship with them. He resents that the Christians teach against the beautiful rites of the tribe, especially circumcision. He believes that Waiyaki is strong enough to learn from the missionaries without falling into their “cult.” However, Chege wonders if his son, the prophesied “black messiah,” might someday fail his destiny.
Chege’s fear that Waiyaki may someday fail foreshadows the story’s ending, where Waiyaki does indeed fail to unify the tribe or lead them against the white people. Chege’s resentment that Christians teach against the tribe’s beautiful traditions implies that he does not oppose the religion itself but merely the way some use it to destroy their tribal identity.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki will be circumcised in a few days and become a man. Chege knows that, when this happens, he will be able to trust that Waiyaki will do the work that Mugo started; Waiyaki will defeat the white people by using their own knowledge against them. However, Waiyaki himself feels disconnected from his village and their rites after the years he spent in Siriana. Though he remembers Chege’s vision for him, that vision seems more an “old man’s dream” than a reality now. Although he does not want to be like the white people, some of their ideas have taken root in his mind. He will undergo initiation and circumcision, but he does not feel he can fully abandon himself to the tribe’s beliefs any longer.
Waiyaki’s creeping feeling of disconnect reveals how important Gikuyu customs and traditions are, since they reinforce the group’s sense of community and identity. Likewise, Waiyaki’s sense that some of the white people’s ideas have taken root in his mind demonstrates how difficult it can be to sit between two cultures and two opposing ideological forces. This establishes Waiyaki’s need to integrate the two forces rather than exclude one for the sake of the other.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
On the eve of initiation, Kameno holds a tribal dance. Word of Muthoni’s rebellion against Joshua has spread across the ridges. Waiyaki cannot imagine rebelling against his family in such a way. He longs to know why she did what she did. The dance begins and all the villagers dance around the fire. For this single night, they can say anything that would otherwise breach their “strong social code”—they can sing about sex, though they are not allowed to act on their words. As he dances, Waiyaki wonders what Livingstone would say about such a scene.
Waiyaki’s inability to imagine himself rebelling like Muthoni did suggests that one’s social group—be it their family or their tribe—can exert a powerful force over their personal decisions. At the same time, although Waiyaki is the protagonist of the story, Muthoni’s boldness to defy her father and integrate the two aspects of her life arguably makes her the bravest character in the story.
Themes
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Although Waiyaki feels reservation at first, he sees Muthoni dancing beautifully and allows himself to be swept up in the spirit of the dance. He dances madly and blows a horn and shouts and sings. Soon, he and Muthoni are in the center of the circle, dancing face to face. For a moment, he loses himself in her gaze, but when he briefly looks away the moment passes.
Waiyaki’s initial reservation demonstrates the effect that living away from the tribe has had on him—without being immersed in the culture, he finds it difficult to maintain his connection to it. However, he does briefly lose himself in the dance, which suggests that his Gikuyu identity still exists within him, it is just not as easy for him to access as it once was.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
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Waiyaki leaves the dance feeling strangely and finds Muthoni at the edge of the forest. He self-consciously asks her why she rebelled, and Muthoni explains that she wants to be a Christian, but she also wants to be a Gikuyu women in the way of their tribe. They part, and for the rest of the night, Waiyaki is troubled by a vague that something is missing from his life.
Muthoni’s desire to integrate Christianity with her tribal identity suggests that the two ideological forces do not necessarily need to oppose each other. However, she can only integrate the two at great personal cost, demonstrating how difficult, even painful, it can be to exist between two worlds.
Themes
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
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