The River Between is set in the 1920s and 1930s in the Gikuyu community in Kenya. This region is where Ngugi was born and raised. The story is about the separation of the two villages, Kameno and Makuyu, in the region as the people struggle over their individual faiths and ways of life. The polytheistic followers of Kameno defend their rites and rituals against the monotheistic followers of Christianity. A Christian mission in Siriana threatens the Gikuyu way of life.
The story begins with a description of the traditions and history of the two villages represented by two mountain ridges. The river, Honia, runs between them. Chege guides Waiyaki through the region with a peripatetic lesson about the history of their people. Chege points out the bark of a tree which can be used as a salve for fresh wounds. The roots of a plant are good for a stomach ailment. Chege identifies another tree as one with poisonous fruit. These lessons bring Waiyaki closer to his father. He matures on this journey as the hidden things of the hills were being revealed to him.
At the beginning of the story, the ridges “slept on." Kameno and Makuyu were not antagonistic but had merged into one beautiful land. This opening journey sets the tone for the novel: Gikuyu and Mumbi are the “father and mother of the tribe,” and the mountains are the seat of Murungu. It is here that Chege explains the descendants from whom Waiyaki comes into the world. Waiyaki feels the full weight of responsibility from these lessons and this journey. It is here that he also learns the ancient prophecy about the white man and the dangers that he brings. In spite of this, Chege tells Waiyakai to go to the mission place in Siriana to learn the ways of the white man, but not his vices. These words are a challenge to Waiyaki throughout his life as he attempts to preserve and teach the ways of his tribe but to also understand and find some value in the ways of the white man, particularly in education.
The river, Honia, is the dividing line between the two villages. Its importance cannot be overestimated for the region. People draw their water from here. Cattle and goats rely on the water for their survival. It is called the “Cure.” It is life. The river is also the site where the girls and boys prepare their bodies in the cold water for their circumcisions. The cold...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Cook, David, and Michael Okenimkpe. Ngugi wa Thiong’o: An Explanation of His Writing, 1982.
Gachukia, Eddah. Notes on Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “The River Between,” 1976.
Killam, G. D. An Introduction to the Writings of Ngugi, 1980.
Killam, G. D., ed. Critical Perspectives on Ngugi wa Thiong’o, 1982.
Robson, Clifford B. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, 1979.
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