A theme is the main subject or agenda pushed by an author or writer. The river and the source has the following themes:
- The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. (online dictionary)
- The story revolves around Akoko. The buck stops with women in the fight against oppressive testosterone. It is upon women to tap into their innermost strength to transform the world it what they imagined. Akoko, being on the losing end in a male dominated family fought her way to earn her father‟s love. She had to put her feet on the ground to make the world recognize her.
- Aloo, the family spokesman said that Akoko‟s hard work had been incorporated into a saying that women sending their children on errands would mention her. She did not show any female shyness when she was introduced to her husband to be. With her head held high, Akoko stirred into Owuor Kembo a feeling that had not earned vocabulary among the Luo – love.
- Akoko did not subject the chief to monogamy. She was okay with him marrying as many women as her wealth could manage. It was the chief‟s decision, despite growing outcry, to remain faithful to his wife. We are not told of any arm-twisting but sure as the sun rises in the east,
- Akoko build Chief Owuor Kembo to stand in her defence and love her unconditionally. I don't want to explain how she did it, and I don't want to sound melodramatic about it. One thing that is for certain is, women have the power to change oppressive traditions to accommodate them.
- Otieno Kembo treated his wives like sluts. He thought he would do the same to Akoko, short as she was; she had the height in confidence. She stood him down on various occasions. She earned his fear and she cherished it. The difference between Akoko and Otieno‟s wives are, she was daring where the wives were submissive, she was confident where they were shy and she was loving where they were just doing their duty to their husband.
- Many women in oppressive regimes choose to me dutiful. To ask little, oppose little and take in as much as they can. (Read Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Sun‟s). In most occasions, women wait until it is too late to do too little.
- Akoko stood before the DO and DC to fight for her infant grandson birthright in Kisumu in defiance to Otieno Kembo. She did not have to use men to right a wrong; she did what any mother would do in the face of uncollapsible wall. She forwarded the case before the white man herself, defiant like Mekatilili before the British who were conscripting young Giriama men into a war they knew little about. She knew her days in Sakwa were over, she therefore packed, having won the war, and went away.
Let me shift gears and burrow into other characters that bore a mark on feminism in the book.
- First on the list is Vera. Vera as a young lady broached a question which by standards of the time would have brought the earth to a standstill. Even in some societies today, such acts are despicable. She asked her father for permission to go out on a date with Tony Muhambe. This was an atrocity that could lodge a fishbone in any father. Her mother of course intervened in the matter but this act alone marked Vera as a woman daring to stand against forces that had defined her community. She turned down Tony‟s proposal for marriage! Who does that? She therefore decided to live unmarried life! This alone would have earned her father shame that would have landed him hanging on a tree in a banana plantation shame written over his face. A girl‟s destiny was determined by her father. Vera did the despicable and her dad was okay with it. Wandia Mugo the wife of Aoro sigu is a significant woman too. She did ask Aoro to marry her!
- Further on in the book, she becomes the first Kenyan woman to earn a doctorate in Medicine. Men should swallow a hard pill on this! A woman! A doctor! A doctor Woman! Basically, the trendsetters in the book are women who stand out to live a life they dreamed about to stand down regimes that are oppressive and to disapprove those who thought that they cannot.
- Women have been joyriding on the affirmative action but it's time they should ditch the tomfoolery and proactively stand out equal to the task and look down upon regimes that reward them with sugarcoated buffoonery of half-baked men opportunity called affirmative action.
The naming ceremony of Akoko sets the bar very high on how a simple function like naming can take astronomical grounds call in all levels of spiritual intervention. The Luo name according to:
- season-Adoyo, the will of the dead- Obanda, intervention by the ancestors- Akello and the characters exhibited by the child- Akoko.
- Secondly the Nak ceremony has to be performed to both genders. The ceremony has its rituals which are to be obeyed. Nak cannot be performed to the second born before it is done to the first.
- The ritual involves the removal of six lower teeth.
- Marriage is a significant cultural event. Before marriage, a jawangyo (spy) is sent to look around for ladies of marriageable age who can make a good wife.
- Fascinating enough, the society looks more on the basis of what you are marrying from more than what you are marrying to. It only lies with the father of the girl to decide where her girl is getting married to. This puts women at a disadvantage; men too are not given the vantage to marry who they want. If the Jawang'yo has found a suitable mate, the negotiations begin in earnest. Bride price ones determined, the wedding follows and has to be a mock struggle like an eagle stealing a chick-pun intended.
The brutality of tradition is seen as the backbreaking industry of Akoko is unnoticed. Tradition notices a woman who grows a generation than the one who ensures food sustainability. Tradition does not recognize love but instead looks at a woman who is loved as a witch. Akoko is accused as a witch by her Maro, mother-in-law, which draws her wrath. When her husband and boys die, Akoko is left groundless. She has to fight using external forces because her tradition does not recognize a woman who has no sons or husband. She would have secured her life if she had chosen to be inherited by Otieno Kembo according to the dictates of tradition.
After Obura's death things in Sakwa are untouched by the influences outside. Like the fictional ridges in Ngugi Wa Thing‟o‟s book The River And The Source- Kameno and Makuyu, Sakwa remains behind like Kameno.
In her agony and loneliness, Nyabera decides to join the Christians in Aluor. She is drawn by the rumour that, the white man's religion recognizes people like her. She is later join by her mother and her daughter Awiti and her nephew Owuor Sino. The family of Akoko is baptized into Christianity. Akoko is named Veronicha, Nyabera-Mary, Awiti-Elizabeth and Awour-Peter. Akoko seems at home with the new religion. She takes to faith as she has embraced the ups and downs of the life she lived. She counsels Awiti and strengthens her in patience and love. She reprimands Nyabera and reminds her to rely on internal
comforts when Awiti joins college.
Peter Owour wants to become priest but what stands between him is the return back home to take his rightful position as the chief of Sakwa. He struggles with indecision fearing Akoko would not like his decision. Nyabera and Owour join Akoko in the garden but the visionary already knew what was cooking. She readily blesses peter and renames him Peter Owuor Kembo after her husband's.
Peter joins the seminary. The element of sacrifice is evident here. Akoko sacrifices her only chance to go back to her matrimonial home for Peter's sake. She forgets about grandchildren roaming in her homestead and chooses to live a lonely life. To her life is giving happiness and finding happiness in generosity. Her element is sometimes construed today as a generalization that Luos forget their homeland and build big houses and mansions in the cities away from home. To Akoko, Alour was home just like any other, times had changed and so was she.
Christianity imparts reason, discipline in the generation Akoko built. Her reflection is seen in the eyes of Elizabeth Awiti and Wandia Mugo as they model their family on Christian virtues. Margaret ogolla mentions little on colonialism but focuses her attention to the independence of Kenya. She relishes the new freedom gained. She portrays her characters as the people who recognized that with independence came the responsibility of building a better society. Mark works extra hard to provide for his family. He takes evening lessons to double his efforts and also rise in ranks. He knows that, with independence better skills are required to build the country. These opportunities are also exploited by Aoro sigu, Vero, Wandia Mugo and the postcolonial generation. She does not portray the society as the one mired with corruption but hope.
Mothers were given the responsibility to train children that is why Akoko has greater responsibility in training her children. She ensured that they knew the value of hard work by indulging them in work. '….. his mother's adage that the sun should never rise and find a man still asleep.' Pg 52. “Stupidity in a woman was a sin only greater than stupidity in a man..”pg65
Formal education came through by the Missionary. The disparity in gender is clearly felt as young people joined higher system of education. Many boys joined high school than girls. There were higher dropout rates among girls than boys. Awiti and Peter studied hard to follow their vocation. They took different paths; Peter studied for priesthood while Awiti took to teaching. They had learned the value of education given that resources were awarded according to one‟s occupation.
Mark made sure that all his children had decent education. He struggled to convince Becky to finish her A- levels despite her reluctance. The Aoro's too dedicate their resources to educate their children. Wandia Mugo excels in education to become a doctoral degree in medicine
In another twist, Nyabera is given the name Odero after her dead grandfather Chief Odero
Gogni. Obura after escaping home meets with death at the hands of the Germans in Tanzania. The death of Obura represents deprivation. Everyone feels for this loss. Though Obura was the only one who everyone looked up to, this death also creates an opportunity for Owang‟Sino as the next heir-to-the-throne.
Owuor Kembo's health fails him and he soon dies leaving the chieftaincy in the hands of his son Owang‟Sino. This death signifies a change of guard as everyone looks for the leadership of the promising young Owang‟sino.
When Owang‟Sino chokes on the bone of fish, Akoko is at loss. She loses her sense of direction and is left without a pole to hold on to. She has to rely on her own instincts, her inner power and wisdom to forge a life of her destined future. This death represents despair and confusion. It determines a turning point from the decadent tradition of male property ownership to woman self-reliance-feminism.
Nyabera is surrounded by death. All her children die save for one-Awiti. Nyabera's life brings about a change of course as she moves away from hope in ever diminishing life of childbearing and walks on the path of appreciation of individual life and what Were has to offer. The death of Akoko represents transition. She had become the light and cushion and hope everyone looked up to. Her death is a seal of the new bond she found in the union of Mark and Elizabeth. It is a blessing in sadness that after all is said and done; she has fulfilled her life as a father/mother to a generation of change. Fate had made her grow wiser and her decisions transformational.
When Elizabeth loses her first to ignorance, we learn the sad reality that, with the new education, few get to learn about the basics of child bearing and caring. The young couple is so ignorant of the early signs of pregnancy that they take it as malaria-a common mistake. Becky‟s death wakes the sad reality of HIV/AIDS as it pops its head in Africa. Becky‟s lifestyle and mannerisms exposed her to the ugliness of life. A lesson that students have to learn that life in itself has monsters and limitations to any choice one chooses to live.
Awiti and Mark's death finally rests the life that begun in Sakwa many year ago, pulsated through the caves of Aluor almost finding a waterfall in the death of Akoko but picked up to Nakuru culminating in Wandia and Aoro.
Many will argue that death is not much of a theme but recurrent topic. Majorly, I argue that death is as much a theme and a strong one because theme is what recurs in a story. Having said that, I believe that, death offers lessons of perseverance and the will to survive despite the prevailing circumstances. Death also re-evaluates and opens up other avenues in life that have been unexplored.
The River and The Source brings about a situational type of change. The characters we come across in the book are open-minded individuals who are visionaries. They embrace change and accommodate radical views moderately.
Akoko involves the white administration in securing the custody of her grandson. The way the colonial administration handles the matter is profoundly unimaginable. The DC involves the traditional customs and regulations to resolve the matter amicably instead of descending on Sakwa with guns and clubs. This raises some hope in Akoko and her confidence in the white administration. The subtle British influence on the matter and the knowledge of traditional culture shows that the DC understood the importance of coercion as opposed to use of radical force. He knew it was just a matter of time.
Petro Owuor‟Sino and Elizabeth Awiti start the white man's education after leaving Yimbo. They learn Arithmetic and religion and successfully secure careers based on education and not a transition from childhood to adulthood where the only obligation was marriage. The new education offers opportunities and diversifies. Regardless of the education, owuor remembers that he has great responsibility as the chief of Sakwa. This responsibility makes him uncomfortable but soon he is given blessings by his grandmother to pursue what his heart desires.
Change requires sacrifice. Akoko knew how much she sacrificed to make Owuor pursue his padre education but she was happy that she was embracing this new life leaving the little about traditional obligations behind. Nyabera sacrifices her love for Awiti and lets her join a Teacher Training College.
The marriage negotiations of Elizabeth are a fascinating spectacle. For the first time, the women are directly involved in this age old custom. Akoko makes sure that the marriage does not take the aspect of selling a girl to her potential husband but a custom that has to be obeyed. In this context, the little Mark Anthony gives is just a way of appeasing chik and not dowry per se.
It comes as a surprise that Akoko serves Kong‟o during the negotiations. Many would have expected that since she was a Christian, Akoko would not indulge in traditional practices, which in some churches are condemned to witchcraft but to Akoko. Change is about embracing the new and the old alike.
7. PARENTING/ RESPONSIBLE PARENTHOOD
Akoko taught her children to value and appreciate work. She reprimanded them on idling, of obura she says, “It seems I don‟t give you enough work. Only an idle mind can think of such nonsense……. Now go and help the herdsmen with their task.” (Pg 49)
Akoko teaches her children to wake up early (pg 52). When Obura ran from home, Akoko thought that he had overslept. She had taught him to wake before the sun rose. On Nyabera, “(Akoko) she believed that a young woman had to be intelligent, fast on her feet and hardworking.” (Pg65)
Akoko and Nyabera brought up Awiti and Owuor Sino in a loving way. They were given
education at the mission station and baptized to Christian. Akoko gave her kin space to make choices and she approved of them. “I had also hoped that you would marry and provide many sons to ensure the continuity of Owuor Kembo: but no I will not stand in your way” (pg126)
Nyabera learned the art of consolation from her mother. When Akoko dies, she takes it in
gracefully to console Elizabeth Awiti who was inconsolable. (Pg154)
Mark and Elizabeth worked hard to take care of their children. When Aoro misbehaves in school, “Since when did you see breakfast walking in here by itself?” Mark says as he sends his boy Aoro to go and look for food for himself. Mark wanted Aoro to learn perseverance and hardwork. “……his mother rushed out to her son. Mark walked into the bathroom and returned with a basinful of water….” (Pg189) Mark displays principals of a strict disciplinarian who values hard work though he loves his children. Elizabeth checks Mark‟s anger by bringing in some kind of motherly tenderness where Mark shows relentless brutality.
Aoro and Wandia Mugo also are exemplary parents. They are much caring especially to Daniel who suffers Down‟s syndrome. They take in Alicia and Johnny Courtney, the children of Becky after Becky passes on. In love and guidance, the Aoro's help shape the destiny of the Courtney‟s “Johnny you are the most lovable person I know. I couldn't love you more if you were my son, but never blame the colour of your skin for anything” Wandia told (Johnny pg 303)