My literature lesson today looks at ‘change’ and its influence on the plot and the characters in the novel. To begin with, we need to bear in mind that ‘change’ refers to a situation that becomes different from the previous. Change begins, in this society, when Akoko’s father breaks tradition by asking for thirty head of cattle as Akoko’s bride price. This is two and a half times the normal dowry.
You can get the full plot summary of the text here
Change is also seen when Chief Owuor Kembo refuses to take another wife as was tradition for a chief. He is contented with a monogamous marriage which is against the society’s expectations.
Obura, who is the Chief’s heir, goes against tradition by disobeying his parents’ wishes and running away to fight in the white man’s war in Tanganyika.
A change in situations
There is also change when for the first time in many years, Sakwa is without a Chief. This happens after the death of Owang’ Sino which leaves a baby – Owuor Sino – as the rightful heir. As Owuor is too young to rule, Otieno Kembo is, temporarily, given the seat. This change of leadership brings misery to Akoko because Otieno starts to plunder his late brother’s wealth and later Akoko’s. Akoko decides to take matters into her own hands to stop this madness from Otieno.
Akoko undertakes a very treacherous journey from Sakwa to Kisuma and discovers that life has changed considerably in other parts of the country. Akoko discovers that the place is no longer called ‘Kisuma’ but ‘Kisumu’ and that money has been introduced by the white man called ‘pesa’. Akoko also discovers a white Chief who is more powerful than the one in Sakwa. She also learns of the ‘Sirikal’ which is in charge of everything.
A Break from Tradition?
Change also comes in the form of a new religion that is different from the traditional beliefs. Christianity, which is brought by the white man, offers shelter to the needy, oppressed and neglected people. Akoko and her daughter, Nyabera leave their matrimonial homes and join the new faith in Aluor Mission. Akoko, later, breaks tradition by being buried at the mission instead of her matrimonial home as tradition required.
Peter Owuor Kembo also breaks tradition by refusing to take up the Chiefdom and instead, opts to become a priest. Other descendants of Akoko like Tony and Vera follow in his footsteps as they take up the new religion.
Change is seen in the marriage between Mark and Awiti. A ‘jawangyo’ (a go-between) is not involved and the parents are the last people to be informed. A token is given instead of a bride price and the couple goes to live far away from home – Nakuru. The marriage between Aoro and Wandia breaks language and tribal barriers while Becky and John Courtney break racial barriers.
There is change in the morals of people as evidenced at Vera’s university. People become more promiscuous, for example, Becky changes men ‘like clothes’ and HIV/AIDS spreads like wildfire.
Change is also seen in education where more and more girls are given the opportunity to attend school and succeed in areas that were thought to be for boys only. Vera, for instance, excels in school and becomes an electrical engineer, Awiti becomes a teacher and Wandia becomes a doctor and later, a professor.
Women as Agents of Change
In this text, change has been predominantly steered by women like Akoko, Nyabera, Awiti and Wandia. They have been used as instruments of change in society and their roles have, significantly, led to the success of others around them.
For more readings on the major themes in the Margaret Ogola’s ‘The River and the Source’, click here