The Judgement of Dungara

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First printed in The Week’s News of 28 July 1888 as “The Peculiar Embarrassment of Justus Krenk” and sometimes listed as “The Embarrassment of Justus Krenk”; Martindell has 21 July and ‘Justice’ (sic) Krenk. It was then collected the same year as “The Judgement of Dungara” in In Black and White and the English edition of Soldiers Three.

The story

Justus Krenk, and his wife, German missionaries, have established themselves in the country of the Buria Kol, a wild shameless people who worship a God called Dungara. They see their mission as to convert the Buria Kol to Christianity, to dress them respectably, and inculcate regular working habits. The local adminstrator, Gallio, is rather sceptical, but allows the missionaries to get on with their work. It is, however, much resented by Athon Dazé , the priest of the Temple of Dungara.

After a devoted campaign they make forty converts and plan to introduce them to the administrator and his chief at a formal ceremony, all dressed symbolically in new white garments. Athon Dazé has suggested weaving clothes for them out of a plant that grows plentifullyon the hillsides, which yields a soft silky fibre. The great day comes, they don their new clothes, and are drawn up in ranks for the ceremony. Then they start to writhe in agony, strip, and rush into the river. The garments have been made of a poisonous fibre. Athon Dazé declares that this is the judgement of Dungara, and they never return to the Mission.


Harold Orel (page 100 etc.) quotes from Edmonia Hill’s article in The Atlantic Monthly of April 1936, saying that this story: had its origin in a statement that A (her husband, Aleck) made at the dinner table concerning the Nilgiri nettle, which has most persistent stinging qualities.

Some critical comments

Edmund Gosse, writing in 1893, observes (p.281):

The relapse of the converted Indian is a favourite theme with this cynical observer of human nature. It is depicted in (this story) with a rattling humour worthy of Lever…

Angus Wilson (p.92) likens this to:

a disaster as great as Dan and Peachey’s kingdom… but there is a difference, for “The Man who would be King” (Wee Willie Winkie) ends in horror, while the Krenks are driven out by a rather schoolboyish joke (a sort of tribal Stalkyism)…

J M S Tompkins points to this story and “The Sending of Dana Da” (later in this volumes) as two of his early tales of revenge with malicious and farcical counterstrokes (p.121) and reminds us (p.231) that:

…C. S. Lewis has pointed out that Kipling was the first writer of fiction in England to deal with that large and often passionate area of experience that includes the relation of a man to his work and to the men whose work interacts with his.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved