Está en la página 1de 5

Change and Continuity in Ngugi Wa Thiongo s River Between

The main theme of the novel River Between is the sensitive issue of change and continuity in African life, as it has been present among the Kikuyu people as a consequence of colonization. In this work, Ngugi presents the difficulties of this question through fiction. This concise, fictitious work is based on historical and ethnographic realities. A comparison of the novels facts with the realities presented in Jomo Kennyattas Facing Mount Kenya, proves the plausibility of the background information. Some information regarding to tribal initiation and circumcision presented in Kenyattas work makes easier to place in time and also to understand better the events of the novel and the behavior of the characters. The style of the novel is simple and highly symbolic. Every element of the novel has its well-based role, nothing in it is useless or redundant. This kind of approach probably has a stronger impact on the reader and it is a good choice to make this phenomenon better known not only in Africa but outside of it. The concision of the language used, the tensed plot and the psychological struggles of the characters are means of an effective way to present the depth of this issue. The use of powerful symbols makes possible a telling and impressive presentation of a situation which does not have a simple explication, neither an easy solution. The question of change and continuity is concretized. The existence of the circumcision among Kikuyu people and especially the various possible attitudes toward this, make the question concrete. However, these attitudes (individual or characteristic for a group) may be symbols of how all kind of need for change or continuity could be approached. The phenomenon of circumcision is a highly sensitive question, thats why it is a wellchosen issue to present the difficult situation caused mostly by unexpected effects of colonization. The topic of circumcision is probably the best option to demonstrate how impossible is for the two sides (the Kikuyus and the white men) to understand each other, and how these misunderstandings create conflicts inside the tribe and how they cause psychological struggles within individuals. Circumcision is a very important tradition for Kikuyus, an essential part of one of their initiation rites. These rites influence profoundly every aspect of the tribes lives. This is an aspect of the phenomenon of circumcision which could not been understood by the colonizers. In the eyes of the white man circumcision especially clitoridectomy is derogatory for a human being, it is considered a barbarous and unhealthy custom. As Reverend Livingstone (the only one white man who has a name in the novel) considered circumcision had to be fought by all

means (56). This idea wasnt his first opinion, but in the end he become convinced of the correctness of it. On the other side, there is Chege, the prophet of the inhabitants and the father of the protagonist, Waiyaki, said: Circumcision was the central rite in Gikuyu way of life. Who would ever heard of a girl that was not circumcised? (37) As these opinions show us, the question of circumcision was a sensitive one within the plot of the novel (but not only), and made every member of tribe and the missionaries too, to adopt a firm attitude. But the custom of circumcision can be seen as the tip of the iceberg. Probably tension and mutual incapability of understanding was there in many other levels too. However, the novel does not focus on the misunderstandings between the tribe and colonizers. It presents the effects of the presence of white men within the tribe. Thats why it is interesting to analyze the possible reactions and attitudes within the Kikuyus. Almost every main character of the novel has a different coping mechanism and individual way to see things. Before the analysis of these characters it is important to present some of the most important symbols. The source of life, the river Honia has a significant role. It gives the title of the novel, it is present in the incipit and also in the last sentence of the novel. Its role is presented at the beginning of the novel: The river was called Honia, which meant cure, or bringing-back to-life. Honia river never dried: it seemed to possess a strong will to live, scorning droughts and weather changes. And went on in the same way, never hurrying, never hesitating. People see this and were happy. Honia was the soul of Kameno and Makuyu. It joined them. (1) The importance of the river is obvious. It is always present in the tribes life, cures them, supplies them, joins the two ridges, it is a sacred place where ceremonies can be held and were some of the characters go when they need to find their inner peace. The two ridges are the symbols of separation, of dissension. But the river unifies the two sides of it by being the common source of life. It is a stable phenomenon, it has been always there for them and will be there forever. Howerver it changes all the time, the water in it never stops, that why it is full of life: The two ridges lay side by side, hidden in the darkness. And Honia river went on flowing between them, down through the valley of life, its beat rising above the dark stillness, reaching into the heart of the people of Makuyu and Kameno (152). All these make it a valid symbol of Africa. There is another element of nature which is also a symbol for unification, not only between humans, but a sacred meeting place with the divinity.

There the ancient tree stood, towering over the hill, watching, as it were, the whole country. It looked holy and awesome, dominating Waiyakis soul so that he felt very small and in the presence of a mighty power. This was the sacred tree. It was the tree of Murungu. (15) Near the sacred tree introduced Chege his son, Waiyaki to some of his prophecies regarding the future of their tribe. This was the place and moment when the lounging for unity and a sense responsibility were born in

Waiyakis soul. The view from this secret and sacred place could be one of the reasons of it: The ridges slept on. Kameno and Makuyu were no longer antagonistic. They had merged into one area of beautiful land, which is what, perhaps, they were meant to be. Here told his father, that he might be the savior of their people. Salvation shall come from the hills. From the blood that flows in me, I say from the same tree, a son shall rise. And his duty shall be to lead and save the people (20). And here he got the ideas which led him become later on the respected Teacher. His father sent him to Siriana Mission, to learn the white mans magic: Go to the Mission place. Learn all the wisdom and all the secrets of the white man. But do not follow his vices. Be true to your people and the ancient rites. And these will give Waiyakis attitude. Regarding the question of circumcision there are three main opinions. One of it is the colonizers opinion, one of the tribes opinion (represented by the Kiama the elders of the tribe and Kabonyi) and the attitude of Joshua and his followers, who left the traditions of the tribe to become Christians. Waiyaki follows his fathers advice, as a devoted member of the tribe he studies at Mission place, and after the attendance to the school is forbidden for those who do not give up the tradition of circumcision, he is the one who makes schools for Kikuyu children. He believes in the unification the tribe, and he considers that the unity of the tribe is the only thing which gives them power against the white man. He believes in independent schools as the means of unification. Surprisingly he is successful and appreciated for his activity as the Teacher. It was the first peoples own school to be built since the break with Siriana. It had been Waiyakis idea and even now he could not understand fully how his idea had borne fruit so quickly. He saw it as something beyond himself, something ordained by fate. (67).The people of the tribe were opened for this solution: In starting self-help in education, Waiyaki had seen it as a kind of mission. It was a vision which he followed with hope and passion. He travelled from ridge to ridge, all over the country of the sleeping lions. He found a willing people. Yes, the ridges were beginning to awake. The trees, the birds and the path he trod, all knew him, knew a man destined to serve his country (67).

Despite his success and popularity, Waiyakis

destiny would change, because his will to unify the tribe

seemed to be stronger than his loyalty to the purity of the tribe. He questioned himself many times, he wasnt sure of the correctness of his deeds. Sometimes he had doubts regarding to his own schools, because he feared that he would teach not only the wisdom of the white people, but their vices too. Other times he become interested in the positive aspects of Christianity, once he even entered the church were Joshua was preaching. He also fall in love with the uncircumcised daughter of Joshua, Nyambura. These and the rivalry between Waiyaki and Kabonyi led him to lose popularity and in the end he had to defend himself in front of the Kiama. However, the reader can see a determined young man who simply is not fanatic enough to achieve every goal of him, but who has the best ideas to solve an almost unsolvable issue. The final of the novel is left open. This solution is also suggestive. As we cannot know the fate of Waiyaki, Nyambura and of the Kikuyu tribe, the future of Africa is also unknown. As we could see the different coping methods of the characters and groups in the novel, probably there are various responses to the challenges given by changes to the traditional societies of Africa, but only the future will decide which of them could be the solution. In the novel, there is another solution given by Muthoni, the youngest daughter of Joshua. She also blends the two ways of thinking: she is a Christian, a believer, but also wants to live as a part of the tribe, respecting the tribes rules: No one will understand. I say I am a Christian and my father and mother have followed the new faith. I have not run away from that. But I also want to be initiated into the ways of the tribe (44). For her it is not a question, if she can be in the same time a Christian and a woman in the tribe. She knew she had right. But indeed, none could understand her, and thats why she can be seen as a victim but her deed, can be interpreted as an act of sacrifice too. Her last words: tell Nyambura I see Jesus. And Im a woman, beautiful in the tribe (53) proves that she did find her solution, even if the price paid for it was too high. These attitudes (Muthonis sacrifice and Waiyakis willingness to serve his people) proves us that there might be solutions (different from the extremist ones) even for such difficult questions like the question of how to manage change within a traditional community, despite of the fact that the time presented did not favor them .

Intereses relacionados