60 pages 2 hours read

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

The River Between

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1965

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Chapters 1-5Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 1 Summary

Content Warning: This section of the guide contains discussions of male and female genital mutilation, as well as themes of colonialism and racism.

Narrated from a third-person omniscient perspective, Chapter 1 recounts the relationship between the remote villages of Kameno and Makuyu in Kenya. The villages are situated along two parallel ridges. A valley lies between them, and a river called Honia, meaning “cure” or “bring-back-to-life” (17), bisects the valley and separates the villages. Although the mutual need for the river binds the villages together and serves as their collective “soul,” the two populations have a contentious relationship. Their kinship and rivalry are deeply rooted in mythological tales that describe the actions of the first man and woman.

While their relationship is punctuated by fights and disagreements, the people of Kameno and Makuyu consider the rest of the world to be the outsiders. The geography creates natural barriers to invaders and outsiders, even confusing people who are native to the hilly region. These natural barriers preserve the villages’ isolation. Even when outsiders come to colonize other areas, Kameno and Makuyu remain insular. This mindset of keeping issues private is displayed in their proverb that states, “The oilskin of the house is not for rubbing into the skin of strangers” (18).