The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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The Honia River Symbol Analysis

The Honia River Symbol Icon

The Honia river represents the ideological division between the neighboring villages Makuyu and Kameno. The river flows between both villages, dividing the ridges and keeping the people physically separated from each other. This separation reflects their deeper ideological division—Kameno advocates for tribalism while Makuyu embraces the white people’s Christianity. In fact, the river itself is where some of these core cultural and religious differences play out: it is where the tribalists perform their circumcisions and the Christians perform their baptisms.

However, despite the division that the river represents, it also symbolizes how the two villages are linked and even interdependent on one another. Both Makuyu and Kameno depend on the river for sustenance—watering their crops and animals—so if the river dries up, both villages will die out. Because the river is so central to the villages’ livelihood, it also plays an important social role in both societies, as it’s the primary meeting place for both. The river also takes on a spiritual significance for both villages, which use the river as a ceremonial site. In other words, the river reflects the common ground that people from both villages share, since they are all Gikuyu people. Just as Makuyu and Kameno are interlinked by their dependence on the river for agriculture and spiritual practice, their fates before the white people are interlinked as well. Either both villages stand against the colonists or both will be overrun, leading Waiyaki to recognize that the two villages must symbolically cross the river—overcome their ideological divisions—and “reconcile [their] antagonisms.”

The Honia River Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Honia River. 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 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 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:
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The Honia River Symbol Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Honia River 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
...ridge, and Makuyu sits on the other. They face each other like rivals. The Honia river flows in the valley between them, offering life and sustenance to both villages. People from... (full context)
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 the villagers use the cold water... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...up the hill, Muthoni’s water barrel slips from her grip and rolls back toward the river. Nyambura thinks it is a “bad omen.” (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, and Waiyaki feels a sharp... (full context)
Chapter 15
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...to Makuyu to 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... (full context)
Chapter 19
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...Christian meeting but puts the thought out of his head. He walks down to the river and sees Nyambura off in the distance on the opposite side of the river. She... (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...Joshua’s church, she has been choosing to skip the gatherings and come pray at the river. (full context)
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...afraid she will be angry, but she asks him not to run. She crosses the river and stands with him. They speak about their shared love for the river and about... (full context)
Chapter 21
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...Nyambura not to cause their family trouble by being with Waiyaki. Nyambura goes to the river hoping to see Waiyaki but knowing she will not. The river no longer gives her... (full context)
Chapter 22
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...the children in the village begin pulling Nyambura apart into pieces, sacrificing her to the river. He realizes he himself is part of the crowd that is tearing at her. As... (full context)
Chapter 24
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...stay and fulfill Chege’s prophecy of being a savior. Waiyaki and Nyambura go to the river and then return to his hut, where they meet Kinuthia. They feel emboldened together, but... (full context)
Chapter 26
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... (full context)