The River Between

by

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Gikuyu Term Analysis

The Gikuyu, also known as the Kikuyu or the Agikuyu, are the largest ethnic tribe in Kenya. In the story, both Makuyu and Kameno are Gikuyu villages, but the Gikuyu tribe also exists all across the country. Gikuyu also refers to a person—the Gikuyu tribe believe that Gikuyu was the first man, the father of the Gikuyu tribe.

Gikuyu Quotes in The River Between

The The River Between quotes below are all either spoken by Gikuyu or refer to Gikuyu. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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 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 8 Quotes

[Miriamu’s] faith and belief in God were coupled with her fear of Joshua. But that was religion and it was the way things were ordered. However, one could tell by her eyes that this was a religion learned and accepted; inside, the true Gikuyu woman was sleeping.

Related Characters: Miriamu, Joshua, Muthoni
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 33
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 11 Quotes

Circumcision had to be rooted out if there was to be any hope of salvation for these people.

Related Characters: Reverend Livingstone
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 54
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 17 Quotes

As the spiritual head of the hills, [Joshua] enforced the Church’s morality with new energy. All the tribe’s customs were bad. That was final. There could never be a compromise.

Related Characters: Joshua, Muthoni
Related Symbols: Circumcision
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Father, if you had many cattle and sheep
I would ask for a spear and a shield,
But now—
I do not want a spear
I do not want a shield
I want the spear and shield of learning.

Page Number: 90
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:
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Gikuyu Term Timeline in The River Between

The timeline below shows where the term Gikuyu appears in The River Between. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Colonialism Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
Long ago, the ancestors, Gikuyu and Mumbi, blessed the ridges and the Gikuyu lands. Both Kameno and Makuyu claim to... (full context)
Chapter 4
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...Waiyaki across several hills and tells him about how the women used to rule the Gikuyu people until the men overthrew them for their harsh treatment. (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.” After them came Mugo the... (full context)
Chapter 7
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
...encroachment into the ridges. Joshua carries on Livingstone’s work in the ridges, evangelizing to the Gikuyu people. When he first went to the missionaries, Joshua feared that his fellow tribesmen would... (full context)
Chapter 8
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...her fear of Joshua, though she loves him in her own way. Nevertheless, “the true Gikuyu woman” lays dormant inside her. Joshua suddenly rises and realizes that Muthoni is missing so... (full context)
Chapter 9
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
...explains that she wants to be a Christian, but she also wants to be a Gikuyu women in the way of their tribe. They part, and for the rest of the... (full context)
Chapter 11
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
In Siriana, Livingstone sees Muthoni’s death as confirmation of “the barbarity of Gikuyu customs.” Though Livingstone had arrived in Kenya as a bold young man “fired by a... (full context)
Chapter 13
Colonialism Theme Icon
...children” shiver inside. The three teachers discuss the white people’s ongoing “conquest” of the ridges. Gikuyu in neighboring lands have already been forced off their land or kept to work it... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Kinuthia points out that the missionaries in Siriana came peacefully so the Gikuyu would offer them land to build on, but they only paved the way for more... (full context)
Chapter 14
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...personal “mission.” The people respond eagerly, and “the ridges [are] beginning to awake.” All across Gikuyu country, “schools [grow] up like mushrooms” as the people see the value of white people’s... (full context)