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The River Between: Comparative Character Analysis of Chege and Joshua


John Moono

The River Between is a 1965 novel by prolific Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o that was published as part of the influential African Writers Series. It tells the story of the separation of two neighbouring villages of Kenya caused by differences in faith set in the decades of roughly the early 20th century. The bitterness between them caused much hatred between the adults of each side. The story tells about the struggle of a young leader, Waiyaki, to unite the two villages of Kameno and Makuyu through sacrifice and pain. The struggle in the two villages is excercebated by them adopting two different beliefs. Kameno remains loyal to the ways of the tribe and are initially led by Chege and Makuyu has accepted the new religion Christianity and are led by Joshua

Chege is a leader in Kameno and the father of the protagonist of the text Waiyaki. Chege is a visionary leader and he is ahead of the times he is living in. He comes from the lineage of the seers. He foretold the prophecy of the coming of the white man but the people did not listen to him. Chege remains calm despite the rejection from his own people but passes on the button to his son whom he believe is the last in the lineage of seers. Therefore, He sends his son to learn the ways of the white man at Siriana Mission but warns him never to adopt their vices. He teaches his son the ways of the tribe and urges him to be very responsible because he harboured the greater responsibility of being the Messiah of the People of the Ridges. Chege dies at the time his son really needs his guidance and wisdom

When Muthoni the daughter of Joshua dies after undergoing circumcision, Chege is more unifying in approach than Joshua. He feels a bearevment should let people cast aside their differences and honour the departed with respect. Chege’s approach to matters in the text is one of more thoughtful than impulsive.

Joshua is the leader of the Christian community in Makuyu. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o uses the name Joshua as the leader of the Christian community in Makuyu just like in Biblical times when Joshua led the Children of Israel to the promised land of Canaan. Joshua is leading the Christian faithfuls in Makuyu to the promised land which is Heaven. He rules his family with an iron fist, that is no one needs to voice contrary opinions to the Christianity beliefs they have adopted as a family. He and his wife Mirriamu are both Circumcised yet he forbids the Daughter Muthoni from getting circumcised. Muthoni wants to get circumcised in order to attain full womanhood as did her mother Mirriamu.Joshua contends that circumcision is barbaric and unchristian therefore, no daughter of his will take part in any thing that is evil. This forces Muthoni to run away from home to her aunt in Kameno, so that she fulfills her desire of being circumcised. Joshua reacts irrationally to the news of Muthoni, running away from the house and her eventual death as a result of the wound of Circumcision. He calls his own daughter an evil spirit when she dies.

Looking at the two characters who are both leaders in their respective communities. Chege the author feels represents the thoughts of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Chege is more unifying and more of a peace maker than Joshua. Despite Christianity preaching both attributes, Joshua does not have those qualities in him. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o feels Africa can be a more progressive force if it does not follow the vices of the White man. Chege represents that particular thought as he warns his son when he is sending him to Siriana Mission. While he represents the destabilizing nature of the new found faith in the way Joshua and Kabonyi behaves throughout the text. Ngugi believes that the Education system in most African countries should be more practical through a hands on approach. This is represented in the way Chege teaches Waiyaki the ways of the tribe by physically take him into the forest and teach him about the Ridges. He despises the Western Education which is more Bookish than practical in the way Joshua behaves. He depicts Joshua being a theoretical christian who only preaches but can not do what he preaches. His failure to forgive his own daughter Muthoni is the clearest indication of this fact

The two characters are a complete opposite of each other and the message the author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is portraying to the African public. Chege is the ideal representation of the ideal African society. One that cannot be easily corrupted, ahead of the times it is living in, Unifying and Peaceful as well as being practical in both theory and practice. While Joshua is the depiction of the current state of affairs of the African continent. One that is full of confusion, Divided and at War with itself and not practical but merely good in theory.


Published by MyWritings

A Writer, A Diplomat in Waiting, Climate Change Advocate and a Football Administrator

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