"Kaa's Hunting"

Notes on the text

These notes, by Alan Underwood, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of The Jungle Book, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[July 31 2008]

[Page 45, verse heading] Maxims of Baloo Four rhymed couplets in the style of "The Law of the Jungle" (The Second Jungle Book, p. 29) which does not include these lines. Collected in Songs from Books as a Chapter Heading to “Kaa’s Hunting”.

Peter Keating (p. 96) notes that:

"The Law of the Jungle" is the first of Kipling's experiments in a type of poetry with which his name would become closely, and sometimes embarrassingly, associated. Its purpose was to inculcate fundamental values and beliefs by means of epigrammatic lines which would be easily memorised. Within the context of the Jungle Books Kipling's main concern was to compose moral precepts which had a suitably ancient or primitive feel to them. Baloo, we are told: 'always recited them in a sort of sing-song.'

If Kipling had an ancient model in mind, it may have been the Biblical Proverbs: nearer at hand there were such varied examples as Walt Whitman and Martin Tupper for him to draw on. In comparison with some of his later poems of this kind, the "laws" of the jungle are of limited or indirect relevance to human life: the original title of "The Law of the Jungle" was the more specific "The Law for the Wolves". However, two of what Kipling calls "rulings" are particularly important. First, the assertion that all communities are compact units, in which individualism must thrive but never be allowed to fragment the whole: "For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack." Secondly, the insistence that the well-being and safety of a community rest on all of its members accepting the primacy of "The Law" and "obeying" it. Those who are outside the law are portrayed as the "Bandar-log" or monkeys whose "Road-Song"
[see the note on page 84 below] is one of Kipling's more flamboyant rhythmic exercises.
[Page 45, line 5] heavy-browed Sanbhur a large Indian deer, genus Rusa. The best known of the five species within this genus, Rusa unicolor is a very massive animal standing as much as 54 inches at the shoulder, with, in the case of some stags, antlers up to 45 or 50 inches in length.

[Page 45, line 6] fubsy fat, chubby (P.H.).

[Page 46, line 1] revenged himself on Shere Khan the tiger Omitted in First American but present in To-day and the First English Edition.

[Page 46, line 3] The Law of the Jungle see the note above.

[Page 46, line 8] The Hunting Verse not to be found in Kipling's "The Law of the Jungle", nor written in verse.

[Page 46, line 25] Mang the Bat See Kipling's list of names.

[Page 46, line 27] water-snake the Acrochordinae, aquatic snakes frequenting fresh water and estuaries.

[Page 49, line 22] Hathi
See Kipling's list of names. Almost always followed in the Jungle Books by 'the wild elephant'. The wild Indian elephant is not, though, included in Sterndale's list of animals in Seoni. He gives the native name as Hati.

[Page 50, line 22] Bandar-log
See Kipling's list of names. These would have been langurs (right, as drawn by Lockwood Kipling). At one time the phrase Bandar-log passed into the English language, meaning an undesirable group of people.

[Page 53, line 24] What the Bandar-log think now the jungle will think later This is reminiscent of the phrase once commonly used: 'What Manchester thinks today England will think tomorrow', a boast from the glory days of the Liberal Party, which was particularly strong in that city, and the Manchester Guardian. Consciously or not, Kipling had English politics at the back of his mind when writing this, as in his American adaptation in “A Walking Delegate” (The Day’s Work page 54, line 26): 'What the horses o’ Kansas think to-day, the horses of America will think tomorrow'. Kipling had a low opinion of politicians, particularly Liberal politicians.

[Page 55, line 6] the flight of the Monkey People through tree-land Lockwood Kipling, who had observed the monkeys closely, and - unlike Baloo - had a certain affection for them, wrote (pp. 68-69):

'At one moment a creature is in tranquil meditation on the creation of the world or the origin of evil, at the next it has thrown itself backward apparently into illimitable space, but at the right instant a bough is seized and the animal swings to another and another with infallible certainty'.
[Page 59, line 14] Kaa the Rock Snake See Kipling's list of names. Kaa is referred to later as 'Rock python' or 'python'. The Indian python is Python molurus.

[Page 60, line 24] Kaa was rather deaf Snakes have no external ear or eardrum, but possibly the ear is sensitive, not to airborne vibrations, but to those transmitted through the inner ear from the ground. (ORG)

[Page 63, line 1] Ikki The porcupine. See Kipling's list of names.

[Page 64, line 26] Cold Lairs
See Kipling's list of names. According to R L Green in the ORG, the mostly likely origin for the ruined city is Chitor in Mewar (right): 'more ruinous and overgrown, more isolated – and perhaps improved with the aid of a building or two from Amber'.

Kipling visited the abandoned cities in 1887 and described them briefly in letters XI and III in Letters of Marque (From Sea to Sea. Of Chitor he wrote (vol 1 p. 96):

... over all — over rent and bastion, split temple wall and prone pillar — lay the 'shadow of its beauty while it flourished in its pride.' The Englishman walked into a stately palace of many rooms, where the sunlight streamed in through wall and roof, and up crazy stone stairways, held together, it seemed, by the marauding trees...
[The passage quoted by Kipling ('shadow of its beauty...') is from The Embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to the Court of the Great Mogul, 1615-1619", published in 1899, for the Hakluyt Society.]
[Page 66, line 11] By the Broken Lock a reference to Bagheera’s escape from captivity in the King’s cages at Oodeypore (Udaipur).

[Page 71, line 5] dewanee, the madness rabies, or - as Kipling called it - 'hydrophobia'.

[Page 77, line 27] full-power, smashing blows This is apparently an error by the author. A note in KJ 180, December 1971, page 1 quotes from Stephen Hawys in his book Mount Joy (Duckworth, 1968), which includes an account of collecting and packing some large pythons: 'I learned that any box intended to carry a snake must be softly padded on the inside because a snake’s nose, like a shark's, is an ‘Achilles heel’ and a snake with a bruised nose is as good as dead from a Zoo’s point of view'.

[Page 81, line 17] a python’s powers of fascination In this story these are exerted strongly over hundreds of monkeys, together with Baloo and Bagheera but not over Mowgli. ORG comments that: 'It is widely believed that snakes can exercise a paralysing attraction over their victims, but there appears to be no scientific evidence for this.'

[Page 83, line 8] by Mother Wolf’s side in the home-cave In To-day and the First American Edition this reads: 'put down in the home-cave. See the note on page 7 line 17.

[Page 84] Road song of the Bandar-log
four verses of eight, eight, nine and four lines, collected in Songs from Books.

Peter Keating comments (p. 96):

The rhythm of the lines follows the movements of the monkeys as they swing through the trees, reach for the moon, or drop to earth with their regular taunt thrown at anyone who is not with them: 'Brother, thy tail hangs down behind!' So perfectly are sound and sense blended that even the curve of the monkey's tail, of which they are so proud, is reproduced in the movement of the lines. In the poem's final stanza, the monkeys continue to play, but the rhythm collapses into a clumsy prose which reflects the emptiness and vanity of their boasts.

They may seem as light and graceful as flying-fish as they "scumfish" through the trees, but they are really the "scum" of society, feckless, irresponsible, lacking individuality, capable only of acting as a pack, dreamers who will never be doers. They are not only outside the Law: they are beyond it, and its enemies ... in the Jungle Books the chattering Bandar-log are only silenced by Kaa the python's sinister hypnotic dance of death. For Kipling, as for Conrad, civilisation is a fragile crust which barely manages to keep suppressed the destructive powers of darkness...
The mysterious word 'scumfish' occurs in the first line of the final quatrain:

'Then join our leaping lines that scumfish through the pines...'
This was the subject of a lively correspondence in KJ 243, 244. 246, and 247 in 1987 and 1988, initiated by Lord Ferrier, who asked: 'What ... is the derivation and meaning of the expressive but strange word, 'scumfish'?'

One correspondent quoted a Chambers' Dictionary definition as an alternative spelling to the Scots word Scomfish, meaning 'to stifle' or 'disgust'. While allowing that it is not easy to see how this meaning fits into the "Road Song of the Bandar-Log", he noted that Kipling had a fine ear for an expressive word, and that the scum of 'scumfish' fits nicely with the concept of the Bandar-log.

Another correspondent noted that: 'a dictionary, published in New York in 1900, gives one meaning of 'scum' as a verb, 'to pass swiftly, to skim'. Flying-fishes, I believe, when pursued by a predator, fling themselves out of the water to escape, touching down at intervals. There would be a certain resemblance to a troop of monkeys leaping from branch to branch in a forest... '

Another offered an entirely different meaning: 'to be stifled or smothered by over-wrapping—by, say, an anxious mother', while John McGivering suggested that the word as used by Kipling may have started as a mis-print for 'skirmish'.

George Webb, the Editor of the Kipling Journal, finally laid the issue to rest by commenting that:
My own guess, which is simply that Kipling liked the sound of the word and thought it expressive in describing the way monkeys swing and rush through treetops, was strengthened by a conversation I had with Lord Ferrier after he had written the letter above. Had I, he asked, ever heard monkeys scurrying through leafy trees overhead? (Yes, often.) Did I recall that although they might well be invisible from below, they could be identified at once by the highly characteristic noise of their movement through the foliage — a smoothly scurrying, skimming, brushing sound? (Certainly, though I had not thought of it for years, I now remembered clearly.) Was 'Scumfish' not a very adequate piece of onomatopeia for this? (Yes: why not?) — Ed.]

[F. A. U.]

©F A Underwood 2006 All rights reserved