The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Makuyu Symbol Icon

Makuyu, one of the two Gikuyu villages where the novel is set, represents the white people’s Christianity as well as the way that they use religion as a means to quietly further their colonial efforts. Joshua and Kabonyi, both originally from Makuyu, are among the first villagers to convert to Christianity and submit themselves to the white missionaries’ authority, and Joshua even establishes a Christian church in the village. Although white people never enter the villages, Joshua’s church becomes the locus of white authority and influence in the ridges, particularly since Joshua is so loyal to the white missionary’s authority. While the Kiama and loyal tribespeople practice their traditional rites in Kameno, Joshua and his followers spurn those traditions in favor of Christian holidays like Christmas. Rather than practice tribal traditions like circumcision, the ultimate mark of Gikuyu tribal identity, Joshua and his people in Makuyu spurn such traditions as sinful “pagan” rites and substitute with Christian practices such as baptism, even though they have less history and thus less meaning for the Gikuyu people.

Given that Makuyu is a symbol of the white people’s Christianity, it’s particularly significant that the white colonialists build their first government outpost in the ridges behind Makuyu. This speaks to the way that the colonialists use Christianity as a front for their colonial efforts both to hide their true intentions and to gain the local people’s trust.

Makuyu Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below all refer to the symbol of Makuyu. 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 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 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 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

Makuyu Symbol Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the symbol Makuyu appears in The River Between. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...side by side, facing each other. A village called Kameno sits on one ridge, and Makuyu sits on the other. They face each other like rivals. The Honia river flows in... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the ancestors, Gikuyu and Mumbi, blessed the ridges and the Gikuyu lands. Both Kameno and Makuyu claim to be particularly favored by Gikuyu and Mumbi. Kameno’s claim appears stronger, since many... (full context)
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 with sticks and... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...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 4
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...ancient tree, “the tree of Murungu.” Waiyaki feels small in its presence. He turns toward Makuyu and Kameno and sees that, from this vantage, the ridges no longer look separate and... (full context)
Chapter 6
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...her mind is already made up. She feels “powerless[]” to help. As they return to Makuyu and hike up the hill, Muthoni’s water barrel slips from her grip and rolls back... (full context)
Chapter 7
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
All of the buildings in Makuyu are traditional thatched huts except for Joshua’s house, which is tin-roofed and rectangular, a symbol... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...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... (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... (full context)
Chapter 12
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
The elders in Makuyu fear that Chege is dying. The white people are building an outpost next to Makuyu,... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...ridges to reconcile. However, he wonders if the missionaries only came to divide Kameno and Makuyu against each other. (full context)
Chapter 13
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...for more white 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... (full context)
Chapter 14
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...more firmly allied with the white people and hostile to the rest of the tribe. Makuyu becomes the Christians’ village, while Kameno becomes the tribespeople’s village. In the middle of it... (full context)
Chapter 15
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...tribe and wishes he could be free of it. He thinks he will go to Makuyu to see Kamau, but when he makes his way down to the Honia river he... (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 Nyambura is not circumcised, though he thinks... (full context)
Chapter 16
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...if this disruption is also the white people’s fault, or if it’s a judgment on Makuyu’s “blaspheming” people. (full context)
Chapter 17
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...He finds Joshua’s words unsettling, since they imply that there is no middle ground between Makuyu and Kameno. He thinks of Chege’s commitment to the tribe and wonders if he is... (full context)
Chapter 18
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...find teachers from Siriana or Nairobi. He also feels compelled to call for reconciliation between Makuyu and Kameno—between Joshua’s followers and the rest of the tribe—though he knows this could threaten... (full context)
Chapter 19
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...on love and sacrifice. He missed his opportunity to call for reconciliation between Kameno and Makuyu, but he tells himself he will make that call next time he has the chance.... (full context)
Chapter 24
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...begs Waiyaki to flee for his life to Nairobi, Waiyaki decides he must go to Makuyu and warn Joshua of the coming violence. However, when he tries to do so, Joshua... (full context)
Chapter 26
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...tribe will never survive as long as it remains at odds with itself, divided between Makuyu and Kameno. Enraptured by his words, the crowd rises to kill Kabonyi where he stands,... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
The ridges fall silent, “hidden in the darkness.” The river flows between Kameno and Makuyu, separating them. The rushing water is the only sound amidst the new stillness. (full context)