The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Kabonyi Character Analysis

Kabonyi is an elder from Makuyu and Kamau’s father. Kabonyi begins the story as a devout Christian and one of Joshua’s followers. However, he leaves the religion after Joshua disowns Muthoni for undergoing the tribal custom of circumcision and then callously upholds this decision even after she dies of an infection. Disturbed by Joshua’s behavior, Kabonyi wants to protect the tribe from the corrupting influence of the white colonialists, but he is jealous of Waiyaki’s influence and the way the villagers love him—Kabonyi believes that he should have their love instead. Furthermore, Kabonyi is the only person other than Chege who knows the old prophecies of a savior. He suspects that Waiyaki may be that savior, which infuriates him. Whereas Waiyaki believes education will save their tribe, Kabonyi believes they must fight with violence and preserve their traditional way of life. Kabonyi grows to hate Waiyaki so much that he wants to kill Waiyaki and works to undermine his influence and authority amongst the people. He creates the Kiama to defend tribal customs and oppose Christianity, and he forces all members, including Waiyaki, to take an oath of purity never to break tribal custom. He then accuses Waiyaki of breaking custom by wanting to marry Nyambura, an uncircumcised Christian. After slandering Waiyaki, Kabonyi claims that he is the tribe’s true savior. However, when Kabonyi turns the people against Waiyaki and defeats him, the ridges fall into silence, implying that Kabonyi cannot actually lead the people or defend them from the white colonialists.

Kabonyi Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below are all either spoken by Kabonyi or refer to Kabonyi. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The River Between published in 2015.
Chapter 3 Quotes

[Waiyaki’s] eyes were large and rather liquid; sad and contemplative. But whenever he looked at someone, they seemed to burn bright. A light came from them, a light that appeared to pierce your body, seeing something beyond you, into your heart. Not a man knew what language the eyes spoke. Only, if the boy gazed at you, you had to obey.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Kabonyi, Joshua
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Arise. Heed the prophecy. Go to the Mission place. Learn all the wisdom and the secrets of the white man. But do not follow his vices. Be true to your people and the ancient rites.”

Related Characters: Chege (speaker), Waiyaki, Kabonyi
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Joshua was such a staunch man of God and such a firm believer in the Old Testament, that he would never refrain from punishing a sin, even if this meant beating his wife. He did not mind as long as he was executing God’s justice.

Related Characters: Joshua, Miriamu, Kabonyi
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The River Between LitChart as a printable PDF.
The River Between PDF

Kabonyi Character Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the character Kabonyi appears in The River Between. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
On a small plain, two boys fight each other. Kamau, Kabonyi’s son from Makuyu, wrestles with Kinuthia, an orphan who lives with his uncle. They fight... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...the ridges. The white missionaries already moved into a nearby town, Siriana, and Joshua and Kabonyi, both from Makuyu, converted to the new religion. Still, no one in Kameno worries. (full context)
Chapter 5
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Chapter 8
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
On Sundays, Joshua preaches at his church in Makuyu, aided by Kabonyi. One Sunday, after a particularly long service, Nyambura returns home and realizes that Muthoni is... (full context)
Chapter 9
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 12
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the hatred Muthoni’s death aroused will break the villages apart. Within days, Waiyaki hears that Kabonyi has defected from Joshua and taken many followers with him. In response, the mission in... (full context)
Chapter 13
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...back. Kamau raises the possibility of forming a Kiama to “preserve the purity” of the tribe—Kabonyi developed the idea. Waiyaki worries that if a Kiama forms, the villagers will make him... (full context)
Chapter 16
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...he honestly believe the prophecy that Waiyaki would save their people? He also thinks about Kabonyi, who was once a fierce Christian but now just as fiercely opposes them. Chege said... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...him until he remembers how fearsome Joshua can be. He realizes he would not want Kabonyi to have seen him with Nyambura, and the thought irritates him—he feels like he is... (full context)
Chapter 18
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...Waiyaki seems the “reincarnation of [the tribe’s] former dignity and purity.” Most people love him. Kabonyi hates him, as he is jealous of Waiyaki’s success. Kabonyi views Waiyaki as an “upstart”... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...think their savior has arrived to awaken the people and lead them against the invaders. Kabonyi fumes. Though he meant to denounce Waiyaki for attending Joshua’s church, he sees that the... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Kabonyi rises to his feet to defy Waiyaki. He declares that teachers and education will not... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Kabonyi tells Kamau to take him home. He has suffered a humiliating public defeat. As they... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...Tribe,” Waiyaki takes it without considering the risks of such a foolhardy oath. He ignores Kabonyi and thinks only of education. Briefly, guiltily, he remembers that he forgot to call for... (full context)
Chapter 20
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...see where it will lead. The Kiama’s power grows steadily, and all over the ridges, Kabonyi and his followers make people take their oath of tribal purity. Although Waiyaki is still... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...Kinuthia tells Waiyaki that people are accusing him of becoming one of Joshua’s followers. Though Kabonyi fuels the accusations, the villagers know that Waiyaki recently went to Siriana to talk to... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Weeks later, Waiyaki visits with an elder, one of Kabonyi’s associates. The elder talks of Waiyaki’s ancestors’ devotion and how they would never betray their... (full context)
Chapter 23
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the night, Kamau summons Waiyaki for a mysterious meeting with the Kiama. At the meeting, Kabonyi accuses Waiyaki of betraying the tribe by visiting Joshua’s church, conspiring with the white missionaries... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...him from marrying such a woman. As Waiyaki leaves, the elders call him a “traitor.” Kabonyi tells the elders he has been right about Waiyaki all along. They reflect that Nyambura... (full context)
Chapter 24
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...he is no longer the Teacher. They charge that he has broken his oath. Furthermore, Kabonyi now claims he himself is the savior foretold by ancient prophecy. Kinuthia thinks that the... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...Waiyaki. Waiyaki decides he will return to that hill tomorrow, and then he will confront Kabonyi in front of all the people. (full context)
Chapter 25
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...Waiyaki decides to leave. He worries for Nyambura, left in his hut, and wonders if Kabonyi’s followers will try to take her. As he descends the hill, he looks to the... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...cannot believe that Waiyaki would break his oath of purity and marry an uncircumcised woman. Kabonyi attends, determined to defeat Waiyaki. He burns with hatred for him and “identified this hatred... (full context)
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...to protect her, men had come and stolen Nyambura from the hut—she is now in Kabonyi’s possession. He knows that if the people turn against Waiyaki, his own life will be... (full context)
Chapter 26
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...hour of need.” He thinks of the prophecies and decides that his tribe needs him; Kabonyi will only bring destruction if he leads. Waiyaki speaks and defends himself against the recent... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...itself, divided between Makuyu and Kameno. Enraptured by his words, the crowd rises to kill Kabonyi where he stands, but Waiyaki stops them. He sits, marveling at his own ability to... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Kabonyi declares that Waiyaki has broken the oath by seeking to marry Nyambura, Joshua’s daughter, an... (full context)