The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Nyambura Character Analysis

Nyambura is Joshua’s older daughter and Waiyaki’s love interest. Although she is older, Nyambura lacks her younger sister Muthoni’s courage or resolve. She disagrees with Muthoni’s plan to defy Joshua and be circumcised but maintains her love for her sister. After Muthoni’s death, Nyambura is overcome by loneliness and longs for a partner. She remembers Waiyaki’s kindness to Muthoni in her final days and realizes that she wants to be with Waiyaki, though she struggles to call it love. Nyambura comes to believe that Christ alone will not be enough for her—she must have Waiyaki, her “black messiah,” or she will never feel complete. However, when Waiyaki asks Nyambura to marry him, she refuses because she is afraid of her father, who would never approve, and she does not want to disobey him. Over time, Nyambura realizes that though she loves Christianity, she hates Joshua’s militant practice of it. She ultimately chooses to defy her father in order to be with Waiyaki, causing Joshua to disown her just as he did to Muthoni (he didn’t approve of her choice to undergo the tribal custom of female circumcision). However, because Nyambura is uncircumcised and a Christian, the tribe views Waiyaki’s love for her as a betrayal of his oath of purity. In the final meeting, Kamau and his followers capture Nyambura and present her before the crowd, challenging Waiyaki to denounce his love for her before all the tribe. When Waiyaki cannot, the crowd sees it as a great betrayal and turns on them both, leaving them to the Kiama, who will decide their fate.

Nyambura Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below are all either spoken by Nyambura or refer to Nyambura. 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 6 Quotes

“Father and Mother are circumcised. Are they not Christians? Circumcision did not prevent them from being Christians. I too have embraced the white man’s faith. However, I know it is beautiful, oh so beautiful to be initiated into womanhood. You learn the ways of the tribe. Yes, the white man’s God does not quite satisfy me. I want, I need something more.”

Related Characters: Muthoni (speaker), Nyambura, Joshua, Miriamu
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

Nyambura was not circumcised. But this was not a crime. Something passed between them as two human beings, untainted with religion, social conventions, or any tradition.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Nyambura
Related Symbols: Circumcision, The Honia River
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

Day by day [Nyambura] became weary of Joshua’s brand of religion. Was she too becoming a rebel? No. She would not do what her sister had done. She knew […] that she had to have a God who would give her a fullness of life, a God who would still her restless soul; so she clung to Christ because He had died on the Tree, love for all the people blazing out from His sad eyes.

Related Characters: Nyambura, Joshua, Muthoni, Waiyaki
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

Many teachers came from all over the ridge to see him, and many elders and children came to him with various problems. But in spite of all this Waiyaki was losing that contact with people that can only come through taking part together in a ritual. He was becoming too obsessed with the schools and the widening rift and divisions.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Joshua, Nyambura
Related Symbols: Kameno
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

“You must not [marry Nyambura]. Fear the voice of the Kiama. It is the voice of the people. When the breath of that people turns against you, it is the greatest curse you can ever get.”

Related Characters: Waiyaki’s Mother (speaker), Waiyaki, Nyambura
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 119-120
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

No! It could never be a religion of love. Never, never. The religion of love was in the heart. The other was Joshua’s own religion, which ran counter to her spirit and violated love. If the faith of Joshua and Livingstone came to separate, why, it was not good. […] She wanted the other. The other that held together, the other that united.

Related Characters: Nyambura, Waiyaki, Joshua, Reverend Livingstone
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The River Between LitChart as a printable PDF.
The River Between PDF

Nyambura Character Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the character Nyambura appears in The River Between. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Joshua’s daughters, Nyambura and Muthoni, sit by the river and fill their water barrels. Nyambura thinks about how... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division 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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...at his church in Makuyu, aided by Kabonyi. One Sunday, after a particularly long service, Nyambura returns home and realizes that Muthoni is absent. By evening she still has not returned,... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
As Joshua rages at Miriamu, who cannot find Muthoni, Nyambura finally admits that Muthoni has gone to their aunt in Kameno to be circumcised. Joshua... (full context)
Chapter 10
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...of him wonders if she was wrong to defy her father. Muthoni wishes to see Nyambura, though Joshua forbids it. However, when Waiyaki speaks to Nyambura about her sister, Nyambura immediately... (full context)
Chapter 11
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Muthoni dies in Siriana. Waiyaki returns to Kameno to inform Nyambura and Miriamu. Before she died, Muthoni had told Waiyaki to tell Nyambura that she “see[s]... (full context)
Chapter 15
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...see Kamau, but when he makes his way down to the Honia river he finds Nyambura instead. Though he had seldom thought of her over the years, as soon as he... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Nyambura knows that Joshua would be angry to see her standing with Waiyaki, but she has... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Waiyaki and Nyambura realize they are both walking to Makuyu, so they walk together. Waiyaki privately reflects that... (full context)
Chapter 16
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...children finish repairing the school, Waiyaki lets them go home early. He waits eagerly for Nyambura to arrive, but she never does, and he returns home disappointed. As he walks, Waiyaki... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
As he sits inside, Waiyaki is angry at Nyambura for not coming to see him until he remembers how fearsome Joshua can be. He... (full context)
Chapter 17
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...realizes, though he had not consciously meant to attend church, he was hoping to see Nyambura. (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...walking away, Kamau meets him. Waiyaki admits that he stopped to listen to Joshua preach. Nyambura passes by in the distance and Kamau remarks that she is beautiful. Jealousy grows in... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
After Waiyaki leaves Kamau, he and Nyambura meet in the forest. She apologizes for not coming to the school, and Waiyaki can... (full context)
Chapter 18
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the tribe—though he knows this could threaten his popularity. He hopes his actions will impress Nyambura. (full context)
Chapter 19
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki briefly wonders if Nyambura would be at the Christian meeting but puts the thought out of his head. He... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Nyambura has been growing increasingly depressed. She is tired of Joshua’s zealotry and Christian practice, but... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Waiyaki watches Nyambura kneel and pray in a little clearing, unaware of him. The sight reminds him of... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
In a burst of emotion, Waiyaki takes Nyambura by the hand and tells her he loves her and asks her to marry him.... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
After Nyambura leaves, Kamau emerges from where he has been watching in the brush. He burns with... (full context)
Chapter 20
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Rejected by Nyambura, Waiyaki throws himself into his work and forwarding the cause of education. He goes to... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...to Siriana to talk to the missionaries, and rumor has it that Waiyaki will marry Nyambura, Joshua’s daughter, an uncircumcised woman. Waiyaki brushes off the threat, but Kinuthia tries to convince... (full context)
Chapter 21
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In the weeks after Nyambura rejects Waiyaki’s proposal, she grows despondent and increasingly irritable toward Joshua. She resents him and... (full context)
Chapter 22
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...reconciliation. He has a vision of fertility and life in the tribe, renewed by education. Nyambura stands in the center of it all as the embodiment of new life. (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
As Waiyaki watches his vision, the elders and the children in the village begin pulling Nyambura apart into pieces, sacrificing her to the river. He realizes he himself is part of... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...of his hut, his mother asks him if the rumors are true about him marrying Nyambura. He tells his mother he will not but immediately feels guilty for it. His mother... (full context)
Chapter 23
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...by visiting Joshua’s church, conspiring with the white missionaries in Siriana, and marrying Joshua’s daughter, Nyambura. Waiyaki insists that these are all false charges and that he has never spoken to... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...who will take action. When Waiyaki will not answer the question of whether he loves Nyambura, the Kiama reminds him that he took an oath of purity, which forbids him from... (full context)
Chapter 24
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Nyambura sees Waiyaki in the church and her heart longs for him. She decides that Joshua... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
With Nyambura beside him, Waiyaki feels his yearning subside. He thinks of taking her and fleeing to... (full context)
Chapter 25
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Feeling no more confident than when he arrived, Waiyaki decides to leave. He worries for Nyambura, left in his hut, and wonders if Kabonyi’s followers will try to take her. As... (full context)
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Miriamu and Kinuthia fear for Waiyaki and Nyambura. Although Kinuthia tried to protect her, men had come and stolen Nyambura from the hut—she... (full context)
Chapter 26
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 uncircumcised woman. The crowd will not believe it, so Kabonyi presents Nyambura... (full context)