The River Between, tells the story about the separation of two villages of Kenya who were neighbors but differences in faith separated them. The bitterness between them caused much hatred between the adults of each side. The story tells about the struggle of a young leader to unite the two villages of Kameno and Makuyu through sacrifice and pain.

In the story a boy, Waiyaki, the son of Chege, was to be a great leader in the village of Kameno. Chege sent Waiyaki to Siriana, where the white men stayed, to gain knowledge of the white men’s advancements to help his village. Waiyaki dreamt of the day where he would be born again to be a man; “All his life Waiyaki had waited for this day, for this very opportunity to reveal his courage like a man” (p. 45). He was to be circumcised to be initiated to be a man and gain respect from everyone in his village.

Circumcision of both the men and women was the way of all tribes that had not embraced Christianity or the British educational system. To monotheistic followers it was an abhorrent practice; they were strongly against the female circumcision or female genital mutilation depending on how non-tribal, traditional followers viewed it.

In Kameno the inhabitants there are followers of the traditional tribal belief of polytheism. In Kameno, the inhabitants praised and respected all who went through the pain and got circumcised. The Kameno people did not want to accept the new faith and they strongly resisted the white men’s way of life. In Waiyaki’s earlier years his father lectured him to work hard for the community and do all he can to help keep the traditional way of life.

Unlike the traditional polytheistic followers of Kameno, the people of village of Makuyu were the followers of Christianity. Their leader Joshua, embraced the religion of Christianity after the white men settled in Kenya. In Siriana, there was the knowledge of white men; schools teaching the ways of white men flourished and hospitals helped the ill get better. Joshua was a strict Christian and he was strongly against circumcision and drinking. Joshua and his wife were circumcised before they became Christians, but Joshua repents hard for begin circumcised for it was a sin in his faith; “In fact Joshua believed circumcision to be sinful that he devoted prayer to asking God to forgive him for marrying a woman who had been circumcised” (p. 31). Circumcision was the main factor that separated the villages. The followers of Joshua were strongly against it.

Joshua’s daughter, Muthoni, was an ambitious girl. She wanted to be a woman in the tribal way even though she was a Christian. Muthoni went against her father and went to the circumcision rituals. When Muthoni came to the ceremony it surprised Waiyaki, knowing that Muthoni was Christian and she is of the new cult. Muthoni got circumcised; however, she did not heal well after the circumcision. She was taken to the nearest missionary hospital and soon died after. Rumors spread quickly saying that it was her father’s curse that caused her death because a girl dying from circumcision was rare. Muthoni’s death reached her family. Muthoni’s mother and sister, Nyambura, cried and strongly felt the pain of losing a family member; however, Muthoni’s father disowned Muthoni for getting circumcised and refused to feel anything for his deceased daughter. Livingstone, the head missionary from Siriana, knew of the tribal warfare from past missionaries so, he did not force Christianity to the villagers instead he wanted the faith to slowly blend in the land to avoid conflict with the natives. Livingstone trusted Joshua greatly but it shocked him when he got the word that it was Joshua’s daughter that died from circumcision. He was appalled that his own student’s progeny went thorough this forbidden practice of Christianity.

Waiyaki grew to be a noble person after his father. He became the headmaster of a school he established called Marioshoni. As time passes he established more schools in Kameno and taught the knowledge, the “magic” of the white men. He strongly pushed everyone to understand that only through education that his people can be stronger than before. He also had strong and intimate relationship with Joshua’s other beautiful daughter Nyambura. Even though he loved her Waiyaki could not marry Nyambura due to their differences in faith and that caused him a great deal of pain. Nyambura loved Waiyaki too, but she didn’t want to go against her father like her sister did; “Can’t you see we cannot marry?… Father will not allow it. I cannot disobey him.” (p. 107). Waiyaki struggled hard to unite the two ridges and went through many convictions especially from his own sides because of his education from Sirana. Waiyaki and Nyambura ware tested when Waiyaki went to Nyambura’s father’s house to save her. Nyambura admitted in front of everyone that she truly does love Waiyaki. After her daring confession of her love for Waiyaki, Nyambura was told to leave the house by her father. Joshua disowned her for betraying him, for loving a pagan. As they were out of the house Waiyaki told Nyambura to go back to her father’s house, but she refused and she stayed with him.

In Kameno there was a big gathering; people wanted to see if the rumors were true, they wanted to see if Waiyaki broke the oath, the oath to protect the purity and the traditions of the tribe. Kabonyi, a person from Kameno, who was always jealous of Waiyaki’s prominence, made Waiyaki stand trial before the Kameno people. Waiyaki and Nyambura’s love was yet tested again in front of a massive crowd. Waiyaki had so much respect from his people and there, in the gathering, he admitted his love for Joshua’s daughter and this shocked everyone. It was depicted as if Waiyaki broke the oath to keep the tribe pure from outsiders and their ideas. However, Waiyaki generalized that the oath never went against loving someone.

The story depicts the struggle between the followers of the monotheist faith and the polytheist faith. The pain and bitterness between these two people of the same origin causes more separation day by day. The story shows that religion can cause great ominous feelings between similar people of different faiths. The title of the story “the river between” is well thought out giving the theme of dividing two ways of life, the traditional, tribal way of life and the new introduced, Christian way of life; both struggling against each other.

In a way I can connect to the story in which my country, which was once East Pakistan, separated from West Pakistan due to exploitation, language differences, and genocide. Even though we were one country and with one religion there were still bitterness between us due to the difference of languages we spoke and our ways of life. There is still hatred and bitterness between us due to what happened and there are few that have forgiven and forgotten the pain and crimes of the past.

The River Between

By Ngugi Wa Thiong Cox & Wyman Ltd. 1965

152 pages.

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