Ngugi wa Thiong'o's "The River Between"
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Ngugi wa Thiong'o's "The River Between" "The River Between" is a novel by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, a Kenyan novelist, playwright and essayist (formerly known as James Ngugi). All through his literary career, Ngugi has revealed his unwavering concern with the struggle, of Kenya in particular and of the whole Africa in general, against colonialism and imperialism in all their shapes. "The River Between" is Ngugi's first novel in composition. It revolves around the life of a Kikuyu boy, Waiyaki, who is endowed with leadership potentialities that appear early in his childhood. His father, Chege, equips him with a knowledge of his tribal heritage and then sends him to a Mission school, advising him to learn the white man's wisdom and to avoid being contaminated by his vices. Due to the complications of the controversy about female circumcision, Waiyaki has to stop going to his Mission school, but his enthusiastic belief in the importance of education does not in any way wane, and he champions a campaign to establish local schools. Owing t his preserving efforts in this regard, he becomes a leader of his community, but the conflict between Christian converts and tribal purists precipitates his downfall. He is accused of contaminating the tribe because of his love relationship with an uncircumcised Christian girl, Nyambura.
Moreover, untranslated words inscribe cultural difference in yet another way, that is, by engineering a culture clash on the discursive level. The following example from the novel might illustrate this point. When addressing the Kiama in an attempt to impeach Waiyaki, Kabonyi, an intransigent tribal purist, regards as dangerous the leader who "is touched by the impurity, for he is still in a position to spread the Thahu to those close to him, to the stem and roots of the tribe". The native word "Thahu" here encodes cultural concepts by the English word "impurity", and in consequence a discursive clash can be discerned. Moreover, Ngugi draws heavily upon myths and legends in order to breathe life into indigenous culture. In "The River Between", the legend of Mugo wa Kibiro, a Gikuyu seer, is a telling example. Chege tells Waiyaki of the legend of this great seer of old, who had visions of the future and predicted the coming of the white man. Waiyaki, being the last descendant of Mugo wa Kibiro, is required to carry on, and that the legend thus becomes a narrative in the making. Chege expects Waiyaki to contribute the episode of resistance and liberation to this unfolding legend: "And so Chege waited and hoped.
Therefore, great hopes of liberation are invested in education, and Waiyaki's leadership becomes bound up with his role in spreading education. This role begins when Waiyaki is forced to leave the Mission school in the wake of controversy about female circumcision. The Mission officials decide that "the children of those who defied the laws of the church and continued with their tribal customs would have to leave Siriana". In reaction to this deprivation, Waiyaki initiates an ambitious project to establish local schools. The proliferation of these schools testifies to the Gikuyu people's enthusiastic belief in education as a weapon. These schools are fictional equivalents of independent schools, which Kenyans established in reaction to the restrictions imposed on education by the colonial government. Overall, it can be assumed that Ngugi's representation of the encounter between the West and Kenya and its concomitant culture clash in "The River Between" is ensconced in his early vision of a certain tradition of resistance. An impressive aspect of Ngugi's achievement is his vigorous elaboration of that tradition on the discursive level. The value of the novel resides not only in their projection of a phase of the encounter between West and Africa, but also in posing fundamental questions which the Arab World should ponder in the era of globalization. A.K.
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