The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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

Waiyaki Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, Waiyaki is a young Gikuyu man from Kameno. Waiyaki’s father, Chege, believes that Waiyaki—a natural-born leader—is the prophesied savior who will rescue the Gikuyu from the white colonialists. Because of this belief, Chege sends Waiyaki to Siriana to study with the white missionaries and learn the white people’s knowledge to use it against them, though he cautions him not to become corrupted by their culture and vices. But after Siriana bans all Gikuyu children with “pagan” parents, Waiyaki and his friends Kinuthia and Kamau build a school in Kameno, determined to bring education to the Gikuyu children. This sparks a widespread education movement, and Waiyaki quickly becomes the most influential leader in the ridges despite being so young. The tribe calls him “Teacher” and thinks of him as their savior—the one who will lead them to victory against the white colonialists. Waiyaki sees that, more than education, the villages need to reconcile their differences. The people of Makuyu and Kameno (Christians and non-Christians, respectively) must unite to fight for their political freedom. However, Waiyaki misses his chance to call for unity because he is afraid of risking his popularity. At the same time, his rival, Kabonyi, tricks Waiyaki into taking an oath of purity to never break tribal custom. When Waiyaki falls in love with Nyambura, the daughter of the anti-tribal Christian preacher named Joshua, Kabonyi accuses Waiyaki of trying to marry an uncircumcised Christian woman and thus betraying the tribe. The tribe demands that Waiyaki renounce his love for Nyambura. When he will not, they take him away for judgment. The education movement in the ridges fail since the people have destroyed their savior, and the Gikuyu people fall prey to the white colonizers.

Waiyaki Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below are all either spoken by Waiyaki or refer to Waiyaki. 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 1 Quotes

The ridges were isolated. The people there led a life of their own, undisturbed by what happened outside or beyond. Men and women had nothing to fear. The [white people] would never come here. They would be lost in the hills and the ridges and the valleys.

Related Characters: Waiyaki
Related Symbols: Makuyu, Kameno
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
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 4 Quotes

The ridges slept on. Kameno and Makuyu were no longer antagonistic They had merged into one area of beautiful land, which is what, perhaps, they were meant to be.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Chege
Related Symbols: Makuyu, Kameno
Page Number: 16
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 9 Quotes

That night, a feeling that [Waiyaki] was lacking something, that he yearned for something beyond him, came in low waves of sadness that would not let him sleep.

Related Characters: Waiyaki
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

The knife produced a thin sharp pain as it cut through the flesh. The surgeon had done his work. Blood trickled freely on to the ground, sinking into the soil. Henceforth a religious bond linked Waiyaki to the earth, as if his blood was an offering.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Muthoni
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

“Take Siriana Mission for example, the men of God came peacefully. They were given a place. No see what has happened. They have invited their brothers to come and take all the land. Our country is invaded. This Government Post behind Makuyu is a plague in our midst.”

Related Characters: Kinuthia (speaker), Waiyaki, Kamau
Related Symbols: Makuyu
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

Schools grew up like mushrooms. Often a school was nothing more than a shed hurriedly thatched with grass. And there they stood, symbols of people’s thirst for the white man’s secret magic and power. Few wanted to live the white man’s way, but all wanted this thing, this magic.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Muthoni
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Circumcision was an important ritual to the tribe. It kept people together, bound the tribe. It was at the core of the social structure, and a something that gave meaning to a man’s life. End the custom and the spiritual basis of the tribe’s cohesion and integration would be no more.

Related Characters: Waiyaki, Reverend Livingstone
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 66
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:
Chapter 25 Quotes

For Waiyaki knew that not all the ways of the white man were bad. Even his religion was not essentially bad. Some good, some truth, shone through it. But the religion, the faith, needed washing, cleaning away all the dirt, leaving only the eternal. And that eternal was that the truth had to be reconciled to the traditions of the people.

Related Characters: Waiyaki
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

The land was now silent. The two ridges lay side by side, hidden in the darkness. And Honia river went on flowing between them, down through the valley of life, its beat rising above the sark stillness, reaching into the heart of the people of Makuyu and Kameno.

Related Characters: Waiyaki
Related Symbols: Makuyu, Kameno, The Honia River
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The River Between LitChart as a printable PDF.
The River Between PDF

Waiyaki Character Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the character Waiyaki 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
...his face roughly into the ground as they exchange insults and threats. A younger boy, Waiyaki, Chege’s only son, runs up to them and tells them to stop fighting. Not long... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Waiyaki’s father, Chege, is a renowned elder from Kameno. He is a widower, after the latest... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Fearing that they will be lost in the forest once darkness falls, Kamau, Kinuthia, and Waiyaki gather their cattle and head for their homes. Waiyaki arrives at Chege’s hut as night... (full context)
Chapter 3
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
When they are young, Waiyaki and his friends sometimes pretend they are the tribal giants of old—ancestral mythic figures who... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Waiyaki and the village perform the ceremony of his second birth, which will prepare him for... (full context)
Chapter 4
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
A few weeks after Waiyaki’s “second birth,” Chege tells him to leave the cattle with his mother; they are going... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki and Chege climb up to a sacred hilltop with an ancient tree, “the tree of... (full context)
Chapter 5
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
On the sacred hilltop, Chege tells Waiyaki of Murungu, who created Gikuyu and Mumbi as the “father and mother of our tribe.”... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Chege sees fear in Waiyaki’s eyes but he continues to explain that the people in the ridges rejected his own... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Waiyaki and Chege return to the village. Chege’s belief that Waiyaki will be their savior weighs... (full context)
Chapter 9
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Although Waiyaki feels reservation at first, he sees Muthoni dancing beautifully and allows himself to be swept... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Waiyaki leaves the dance feeling strangely and finds Muthoni at the edge of the forest. He... (full context)
Chapter 10
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
The next morning, Waiyaki sits naked on the riverbank with the other initiates. “The surgeon” makes the circumcision cut,... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Chege speaks with another elder, proud of Waiyaki for enduring circumcision and proving that his time amongst the white people has not weakened... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki visits Muthoni, who only grows sicker. He admires her courage, but a part of him... (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... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the survival of his people, but he will no longer speak. He also fears for Waiyaki and wonders if Siriana corrupted him, but he remains silent. (full context)
Chapter 12
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...building an outpost next to Makuyu, from which they will levy taxes. The elders distrust Waiyaki and wonder if his time in Siriana corrupted him. Joshua now explicitly bans any Christians... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Rather than return to the mission school in Siriana, Waiyaki remains in Kameno to look after Chege. He recalls the day they stood together on... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki fears that the hatred Muthoni’s death aroused will break the villages apart. Within days, Waiyaki... (full context)
Chapter 13
Colonialism Theme Icon
Months later, Waiyaki stands in the doorway of his office in the school that he, Kinuthia, and Kamau... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...people to invade and take control. He calls the outpost next to Makuyu a “plague.” Waiyaki listens with admiration. He thinks to himself that education will provide the Gikuyu with the... (full context)
Chapter 14
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Waiyaki’s new school, Marioshoni, develops quickly and soon has a considerable reputation across the ridges. In... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
At the same time, deepening divisions between villages worry Waiyaki. Some people want to maintain the old ways, while Joshua and his followers become more... (full context)
Chapter 15
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki lays awake at night, wishing that he had a companion to share his hopes and... (full context)
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki leaves his hut and walks out into the moonlight, yearning for someone to talk to.... (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 been lonely since Muthoni died. Though she obeys her father, she feels... (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... (full context)
Chapter 16
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
The next day, after the children finish repairing the school, Waiyaki lets them go home early. He waits eagerly for Nyambura to arrive, but she never... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Standing outside his own hut, Waiyaki remembers Chege and reflects that he never truly understood his father. Did he honestly believe... (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... (full context)
Chapter 17
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...tribe’s customs are bad” and that Christians cannot compromise on this belief in any way. Waiyaki sits in the audience, unsure of why he is there. He finds Joshua’s words unsettling,... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Now that he is in the Kiama, Waiyaki knows that the elders would view his sitting in Joshua’s church as a betrayal. Waiyaki... (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... (full context)
Chapter 18
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki’s life becomes busier, and his reputation grows. The villagers call him “the Teacher.” Soon, parents... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the meeting, people come from all over the country to see the school and hear Waiyaki speak. They are impressed by his students, who can read and write and speak a... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
In the afternoon, Waiyaki opens the formal meeting, speaking some words himself and inviting the students to sing songs... (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 defeat the white people. They must rise... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...suffered a humiliating public defeat. As they walk, Kabonyi tells Kamau he wants to kill Waiyaki, and he rages at Kamau for not supplanting Waiyaki earlier. Kamau blames Waiyaki for his... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...appearing and hope rises throughout the ridges. The tribe puts all of its faith in Waiyaki, which he fails to see the danger in because he is too consumed by his... (full context)
Chapter 19
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Joshua worries about Waiyaki’s rising influence and the success of his schools. Many of his own followers are returning... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki watches Joshua’s meeting from the doorway of his own hut. He recognizes that it is... (full context)
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... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...simply abandon it or rebel as Muthoni had. But she knows that she longs for Waiyaki and the surety he represents to her, and she feels that Christ cannot satisfy her... (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... (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... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...he has been watching in the brush. He burns with hatred and jealousy—not only does Waiyaki best him in leadership but also in love. Kamau himself hopes to marry Nyambura. He... (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 Siriana... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
One day after school, Kinuthia tells Waiyaki that people are accusing him of becoming one of Joshua’s followers. Though Kabonyi fuels the... (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... (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 his religious... (full context)
Chapter 22
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki makes a second trip to Siriana and returns, announcing that he recruited more teachers for... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Two days later, Waiyaki lies in bed, unable to sleep. He senses something evil on the horizon yet clings... (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... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...day. The Kiama now regards uncircumcised women as traitors, symbols of the white people’s influence. Waiyaki rises from his bed, since it is only early evening. As he steps out of... (full context)
Chapter 23
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In the middle of the night, Kamau summons Waiyaki for a mysterious meeting with the Kiama. At the meeting, Kabonyi accuses Waiyaki of betraying... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki tries to convince the Kiama that the ridges need to be united, and that Christians... (full context)
Chapter 24
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Days later, Kinuthia warns Waiyaki that the Kiama claims he is no longer the Teacher. They charge that he has... (full context)
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 and Livingstone’s... (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 Nairobi but decides... (full context)
Chapter 25
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki stands on the sacred hill and feels very alone. He feels overwhelmed by forces he... (full context)
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... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Kinuthia calls a meeting for Waiyaki at the river. People from all over attend, many still loyal to him as the... (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... (full context)
Chapter 26
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki feels that this is “the great hour of need.” He thinks of the prophecies and... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Waiyaki stands again and speaks of the tribe’s long history as well as their prophets and... (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 uncircumcised woman. The... (full context)