The River Between Questions and Answers
by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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Explain the theme of conflict between tradition and Christianity in The River Between.

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Ngugi wa Thiong'o presents religion as generating a multi-layered web of interactions between traditional and modern approaches in colonial Kenya. Conflicts are unavoidable for those who try to embrace the Christian religion and British ways of life. Converted followers are pressured to denigrate their own Kikuyu cultural traditions and help perpetuate colonial rule. The character of Chege is eager for his son Waiyaki to benefit from the white people’s teachings, as he sees the knowledge gained from the British can be applied to improving their situation. Waiyaki manages to straddle both worlds to some extent. He participates in the clandestine continuity of his own cultural traditions. However, he suffers the double displacement of not being at home in either world. This is further complicated by his relationship with a Christian woman, Nyambura.

Joshua is a Christian who rejects Kikuyu traditions and tries to force his children to do likewise. When Muthoni considers genital cutting, her sister Nyambura opposes “circumcision” first because their father and the missionaries speak against it, and second because Jesus said it was a sin. This attitude shows that girls and women are not being encouraged to think for themselves. They are simply supposed to be obedient and devout. Although Muthoni decides to participate in the Kikuyu ritual, it leads to her death.

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