The River Between Essay

1558 words - 7 pages

The River Between, a Kenyan novel written by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, is set during a time of colonialism with British settlers in the country’s central region, with the Mau Mau Uprising as its supporting story arc. The story tells of two rivaling ridges in east Africa, due to their differences in faith. Kameno, home to tribe traditionalists, and Makuyu, now inhabited by reformed Christians and British settlers, provide the setting for the protagonist Waiyaki, who struggles throughout the story trying to unite the two ridges. Waiyaki, the young yet exceptional leader, is set to struggle as his father, Chege, tells him that he, because he is the last in his family line, is the one destined to unite the ridges.
Elaborating more on the Mau Mau Uprising, the story is set so that the main conflict is the British presence, so the opposing ridges, Kameno or Makuyu, have something to either embrace or oppose. This took place around the time the British colony of Kenya was striving for African decolonization, therefore explaining all the high tensions between Makuyu and Kameno, as well as the urgency to fight from the Kiama. The British presence was due to Kenya’s state of emergency, which was later lifted (not seen in the novel), and Kenya’s negotiation for independence successful in the late 1950’s.
The story line, however, took place in the midst of the rebellion, with the Kiama barely beginning to use brutal ways, such as burning huts of new Christian converts, plans of kidnapping, and so on. Waiyaki, as we are told from the beginning, has a prophecy of uniting the two ridges. He, however, encounters many struggles and opposition from both ridges. As a boy he was sent to Siriana, along with his two friends, Kinuthia and Kamau, to become educated. Whilst in Siriana learning “all the wisdom and the secrets of the white man”(Thiong’o 20) he realizes the only way to unify Kameno and Makuyu is through education. Though he is insistent in his belief that education is key to joining the ridges and fighting back the whites who have taken their land, he heeds his father’s advice: “but do not follow his vices. Be true to your people and the ancient rites.” (Thiong’o 20)
While on this path Waiyaki finds he is faced with two major obstacles and opponents who stand in the way of his ultimate goal. One would be Joshua, the head of the converted Christians in Makuyu and preacher, who has completely embraced the white mans ways and now adamantly rejects tribe traditions, especially circumcision of both men and women, which is the tribe’s ways of leading their youth into adulthood. Joshua, the firebrand preacher, is against circumcision so much so that he disowns his daughter, Muthoni, for running off and getting circumcised. He doesn’t even express grief upon hearing that Muthoni has died in the process. Even more so, he constantly begs for forgives from God for marrying his wife, due to the fact that she too is circumcised, even though she was circumcised before ‘she...

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