Interestingly, the primary conflict in the novel The River Between revolves around the rivalry between the locals themselves (i.e., the people living in Kameno do not share the same ideologies as those living in Makuyu), as opposed to that between the locals and the Christian missionaries. Ngugi, the author of the novel, notes that the rivalry between the two sides is deeply rooted in the past of the Kikuyu people, and it attracts significant attention when the ideologies of the white people, primarily through Christian teachings, are imposed on the Kikuyu people. Chege leads the conservatives in their endeavors and further emphasizes on the importance of keeping their traditional teachings and values alive. More often than not, he cautions his people to be on the lookout for the advent of the white people. He says:
Now, listen my son. Listen carefully, for this is the ancient prophecy...I could not do more. When the white man came and fixed himself in Siriana, I warned all the people. But they laughed at me. Maybe I was hasty. Perhaps I was not the one...
On the other hand, Joshua leads his clansmen in adopting the Europeans’ way of life. He is overzealous in spreading Christianity among his people.
Other forms of conflict evident in the novel ensue as a result of the rivalry or struggle between an individual and the Kikuyu community. For instance, Waiyaki fails to consult with the community’s elders before building more schools. Though his intentions were not ill, the elders feel undermined and resolve to punish him. Likewise, Muthoni resists Christian teachings and decides to get circumcised so that she can be accepted by the tribe.