The River Between


Ngugi wa Thiong’o

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Themes and Colors
Colonialism Theme Icon
Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity Theme Icon
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Unity and Division Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The River Between, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


The River Between tells the story of Waiyaki, a young Gikuyu man (one of the largest indigenous tribes in Kenya) who struggles to unite two neighboring villages against white colonialists. However, although colonization presents the largest threat to the Gikuyu and fuels the story’s tension, the white settlers themselves are nearly invisible in the novel. They are often spoken of but rarely seen—in part because the two villages, Makuyu and Kameno, are isolated…

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Christianity, Tribal Customs, and Identity

The River Between tells of two rival villages that struggle to unite rather than remain opposed. Chief among Makuyu and Kameno’s disagreements are how to respond to the white missionaries’ Christianity. The village of Kameno rejects Christianity and insists on “tribal purity,” fiercely defending traditional customs and identity. Meanwhile, the village of Makuyu embraces Christianity and spurns tribal tradition. However, two of the novel’s characters—a young man named Waiyaki and a young woman named…

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Tradition vs. Progress

The Gikuyu tribespeople in the ridges of Kenya live a traditional agrarian lifestyle and are isolated from the rest of the world. However, when white colonialists begin to spread across Kenya and even into the isolated hill-country, Waiyaki recognizes that the Gikuyu must be adapt themselves to this new threat or be overrun by it. Through Waiyaki’s mission to transform the villages, Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o suggests that the world is changing around the Gikuyu people…

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Unity and Division

Waiyaki feels convinced that the petty divisions and feuds between Kameno and Makuyu must end, since neither village is strong or large enough to resist the white colonialists on their own. Although educating children is critically important, Waiyaki also feels the that two villages must unite and face their common enemy together to strive for their “political freedom.” Waiyaki’s quest to unite Makuyu and Kameno against the white people suggests that a people under threat…

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