What does the ending of The River Between symbolize, and what insights are there?

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The River Between is a 1965 novel by Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. The narrative tells the story of two Kenyan neighboring villages in the Kikuyu community who are pushed further apart due to differences in faith. This story works with the backdrop of white colonist imperialism and deals with ideas of preserving traditions.

The protagonist, Waiyaki, is believed to be the subject a prophecy that a savior will arise to mend the relationship between the two villages. As a child, Waiyaki was able to break up a fight between two older boys. As such, his father decides to enroll Waiyaki in a Christian missionary school for his education.

The disagreement comes to a breaking point over the proposed circumcision of the young girl Muthoni. Her subsequent death causes the missionary school to expel students whose families uphold the tradition of circumcision.

Waiyaki then falls in love with the daughter of Joshua, a Christian convert. This relationship puts him on trial for abandoning and betraying the tradition of his people, which confirms he will not become the prophesized savior. The novel ends with Waiyaki in the hands of the Kiama who will ultimately decide his fate.

The ending symbolizes and provides insight on the best way to bring about change: from the bottom up. In order to enact change or bring about education, it must be done in a respectful way within the context of traditional thinking. Coming into a new group and aggressively changing culture from the top down will ultimately be unsuccessful. This is particularly poignant as the reader considers the ideas of white European colonists in Africa.

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