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FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN NGUGI wa THIONG’O’S THE RIVER BETWEEN

May 9, 2012

FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN NGUGI wa THIONG’O’S THE RIVER BETWEEN
By James, b Chigozie
Department of English and Literary Studies
University of Nigeria, Nsukka

silvertongue

English: Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix.

English: Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom, either alone or in a community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance
(Article 18, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)
If everyone has “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” what then is religion. Right from time immemorial, mankind has always had the belief in one thing or the other. The intoxicative effect of this belief might influence him to behave in a particular way and manner either as an individual or as a group. E.B. Tylor simply sees religion as a “belief in spiritual beings.’’ In a nut shell, religion is a process whereby people reach beyond themselves to connect with the true and ultimate reality that will save them form the destructive forces of every day existence.
In tackling and unraveling the matrix of the text before us, Fredrick J. Streng in his Understanding Religious Life posits that:
The idea of religion as effective power,…stresses the recognition by religious adherents that their symbols, techniques and social expressions are not wishes, hopes or fantasies; rather, these are practical means of transforming life from unreality, from inauthentic existence to authentic existence ( 1985:3)
Individually or collectively, there is the belief that religion is a tool of transformation and as such there is also the craving for such religious tenets without restriction or obstruction. Thus, there is the need for freedom of religion otherwise called religious rights.
Religious rights entails that each individual’s belief in the different world religion be it Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or traditional worship should not be curtailed. In so doing, they are free to express their opinions and worship in the way and manner they deem fit without any fear or harassment. Religious rights should include at least the following:
. Every person has the right to determine his or her own faith and creed according to conscience.
. Every person has the right to the privacy of his belief to express his religious beliefs in worship, and practice.
. Every person has the right to associate with others and to organize with them for religious purposes.
Religious rights do not only include the right to worship alone but also the right to change belief.
How ever, it should be noted that in most cases, the urge to change religion or belief is always met with stiff opposition. This tends to lead to religious extremism. Extremism tends to flourish where there is less freedom to adopt and practice the religion of one’s choice. In the text before us-The River Between-we shall examine the rendition of the topic before us and how it affects the lives of individuals in the text. What we have in the text majorly is delineation and antagonistic behaviours built on the shoulders of religious dichotomy
. Like we said earlier, extremism tends to flourish where there is less freedom to adopt and practice the religion of one’s choice. This is exactly what we see in The River Between. The intolerance between the Traditionalists of Kameno and the predominantly Christians of Murungu is as a result of the huge difference and contrivance that exists between the two faiths. While the Traditionalists revel in circumcision which they consider to be the “way of life” is treated with disdain by the Christians of Murungu who see it as an “ unforgivable sin”. With this conception in their hearts, they see no intersection through which their supposed superior faith could meet with the other’s supposed inferior one. From above, we see that no group has a smooth operation of the right to worship as entrenched in the United Nations Chatter rather, each group treat the other’s with contempt and disdain.
Religious rights include the right to change one’s belief and stand. This is what we see in the case of Muthoni, Joshua’s daughter and Kabonyi. Muthoni’s case was met with stiff opposition from her Christian father. Despite this, she insists on change, on circumcision because she sees something in it which her father’s religion can not grant her. She has the right to self actualization and as such, such right should not be under mind, or denied her. Her right to circumcision should not also be denied her. Her change of belief is seen when she says:
I want to be a woman. I want to be a real girl…Father and mother are circumcised.
Are they not Christians? I too have embraced the white man’s faith. However, I
Know it is beautiful, oh so beautiful to be initiated into womanhood. You learn
The ways of the tribe. Yes, the white man’s god does not quite satisfy me. I want, I need Something more….(26)
The catalyst to change is embedded in her discovery that continuing in Christianity will not unzip the satisfaction she craves dearly for. She wholly affirms Streng’s disposition that; “the idea of religion as effective power (should be) practical means of transforming life unreality to reality, from inauthentic existence to authentic existence” (1985:3). In Muthoni’s case she yearns for the authentic existence.
However, following the dictates of one’s heart when it comes to religious rights, could be consequential. In fact, it is a double-edge sword which in operation would not only ricochet but also boomerang to the detriment of the individual. This is exactly what we find in Muthoni’s exercise of right. Her father, Joshua, would not hear of her daughter being circumcised. Her refusal to drink from the communal pool her father and others like him drink from, earns her an immediate disownment from her father. Just like Papa Nnukwu in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, she was rejected both in life and in death. just the same Eugene rejects his father’s religious stands, her father also rejects her even in death. He sees her as “an evil spirit sent to try the faithful.” With this he began to preach with “ vigour and a strange holiness danced in his eyes”
The paternal sorrow a man should show for the death of a daughter is not there, rather her death acts as a catalyst, a new zeal for greater missionary peregrination. The same is true of Eugene who feels no remorse over his father’s death simply because he is of another religious extraction and what he simply calls “Heathen”
As Lloyd Williams says:
…a religion which speaks only of religious ideals and moral truths, without touching on the concrete situation of man in his every day life, can give to man nothing but emptiness
It was to fill this gaping hole of nothingness that Muthoni sought band found fulfillment in the ways of the tribe. Sadly, her father like Eugene was far too blinded by his own self righteous and sheer bigotry to be able to look beyond his nose and empathize with his daughter. Like Joshua, Eugene’s Christianity is without humanity. His brand of Christianity does not include the well known Christian commandment, to honour one’s father. Kambili says:
Papa himself never greeted Papa Nnukwu, never visited him, but he sent him wads of naira through Kevin or through one of our Umunna members, slimmer wads than he gave Kevin as a Christmas bonus.( Purple Hibiscus:61)
The urge to see a befitting religious pillar to lean on is further seen in the text. Kabonyi, Joshua’s mate could not reconcile his stand with Christianity-his new religion- and for this he decides to return to traditional one.
Furthermore, in the text, Ngugi portrays the abuse of individuals’ rights to religion and to worship. The Kiama-the military arm of the traditionalists-bestow it upon themselves to see to it that every girl who has attained the age of circumcision is circumcised willy-nilly. This is against the religious rights of these girls as they should be free to choose where they want to belong. This dismal compellation is borne out of their belief that for the ridges not to be inflicted with punishment all and sundry should be circumcised. The persecution of those who fail to follow their religious track is captured thus:
Every thing dirty and impure was heaped on them. They were the impure things of the tribe and they would bring the wrath of the ancestral spirit on the ridges. A day would come when all these Irigu would be circumcised by force to rid the land of all impurities. (121)
As earlier stated, religious rights include the right to free association; however, this right was embraced with contempt in Waiyaki’s case. He was accused of betraying the tribe for visiting Joshua’s church. Waiyaki recognizes this right to free association and to assert himself, he asks his friend, Kinuthia, “what is wrong in going there?” When called by the Kiama and the issue of associating with those they see as the enemies, was raised, Waiyaki further stresses his right to associate.
In conclusion, the right of freedom otherwise called religious right is an inalienable right of the individual and as such on no account should it be curtailed.

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