Kaa’s Hunting

(Notes edited by F.A. Underwood and John Radcliffe)


This story was first published in Today on March 31 and April 7, 1894 with illustrations by H.R. Millar and in McClure’s Magazine, June 1894. Collected in The Jungle Book, 1894.

The story

Dated before Mowgli left the wolf pack, i.e. during the years covered in “Mowgli’s Brothers”, the story begins with Baloo teaching Mowgli the Law of the Jungle. He shows Bagheera how Mowgli can recite the master words which enable him to communicate with every kind of creature. Baloo is very pleased with him, because the young wolves, also his pupils, will learn only what applies to their own kind. But Baloo and Bagheera also discover that Mowgli has been associating with the Bandar-log, the monkeys, who are leaderless, without Law, ‘evil, dirty, shameless’, and shunned by the Jungle people.

Then Mowgli is kidnapped by the monkeys and carried away through their high roads in the trees to Cold Lairs, an ancient ruined city. To save him, Bagheera and Baloo seek the help of Kaa, the giant python, who is dreaded by the Bandar-log. Kaa follows them to Cold Lairs, and saves their lives when they are overwhelmed by the great numbers of monkeys. The great python swiftly overcomes the Bandar-log, and Mowgli is released. Kaa then fascinates and hypnotises the terrified monkeys by a dance of death, which even casts a spell on Bagheera and Baloo until Mowgli pulls them away.

Critical responses

J M S Tompkins (p. 66) suggests that in “Kaa’s Hunting” ‘the fable and the play-world are inextricably fused’:

The Bandar-log, the monkey-peoples, who sympathize with Mowgli when he is under punishment and abduct him into the tree-tops, are primarily figures in a thrilling and grim story. The green roads through the trees, along which they take Mowgli, his presence of mind when he gives the master-word to Chil the Kite and bids him mark his trail-this is the stuff of the play-world, raised to an exciting pitch by wonder. But very early and easily, before the adventures begin, the Bandar-log– irresponsible, chattering, without law or shame or memory – are seen as the antithesis to jungle-righteousness, and their dangerous futility is brought out by their doings at Cold Lairs. The adult reader can find the Bandar-log elsewhere in Kipling’s writings and read how Frankwell Midmore [in “My Son’s Wife” in A Diversity of Creatures] was saved from one tribe of them. He has a clue in their self-comforting cry: `What the Bandar-log think now the Jungle will think to-morrow’; but this, in its immediate meaning, is not beyond the child, and at no time does the allegory press too hard.

Baloo and Bagheera, fighting for their lives in the moonlight at Cold Lairs, are the beloved beasts in peril, the companions of the man-cub in the play-world; when they become the mouthpieces of the Law, and Mowgli has to learn that sorrow never turns aside punishment, it seems to the child a suitable law in this sort of world; the types and morals are fully absorbed into the story.

Philip Mason (pp. 309/10) notes, in relation to thi story, that no-one has better understood Kipling’s ability to link an ancient magic with words than Andre Maurois:

He had said that apart from Swift, whom they read only for Gulliver, and Defoe, whom they read only for Crusoe, French readers who are not specialists read only three English writers, Shakespeare, Dickens and Kipling. Kipling, he wrote, had a `heroic conception of life, a heroic pessimism’, but that was not enough to touch men’s hearts. The true secret of his hold on men was his `natural and permanent contact’ with `the oldest and deepest layers of human consciousness’. Modern men, he continued, are still the men of the most distant epochs. `Our forests are still sacred groves, our towns temples of the Roman Emperor.’ As the embryo goes through every stage in the development of its species, so the human child, in the course of childhood and adolescence, lives again through the magical beliefs of its ancestors. And it was Kipling’s secret that he brought this perennial process, which dies for most of us so sadly early, to a perpetual resurrection. In some of his verse, writes Maurois, `the need for rhythm is so primitive and strong that sometimes whole verses are pure rhythm, metrical onomatopoeia, songs of a savage world.’

Consider, in the light of this, one of his creations, Kaa, whom the monkeys fear so much that `the whisper of his name makes their wicked tails cold.’ `I was singer to my clan in that dim red Dawn of Man’, Kipling had written long ago, and who but a tribal bard would have made one of Mowgli’s guardians – almost a parent – a serpent thirty feet long?

Mark Paffard (p. 93) also notes the echoes of Jonathan Swift in Kipling’s account of the Bandar-log:

In ‘Kaa’s Hunting’ there is an unmistakable similarity between the Bandar-log who kidnap Mowgli and the Yahoos of Gulliver’s Travels. Both are species of monkeys, and therefore stand for men, and both are portrayed as idle and senseless because they lack any organisation or any code of social conduct. As a satire on democracy, Kipling’s story is both less caustic and less ambivalent than Swift’s, for the line of satire does not waver as it does with Swift, between ideas of democracy and of humanity as a whole. There is no danger of Mowgli’s perceiving himself as Bandar-Log, though the comparison is readily applied in another story [“Tiger! Tiger!”] to the native villagers that he encounters.

Jad Adams (p. 100) stresses the centraility, to Kipling, of the Law of the Jungle:

The Law was not a piece of exotic window-dressing but was integral to the work: Kipling once explained to a literary admirer of The Jungle Book: ‘When I had once found the Law of the Jungle, then all the rest followed as a matter of course.’

And Angus Wilson (p. 126) comments on the role of the Law for Mowgli:

Into this world comes the lovable, strong, highly intelligent wolfcub boy, Mowgli, who learns the simple Law which in more complicated form he will have later to follow in human society. And, by his superior human intelligence and compassion, eventually also wins mastery in the animal world. The Law of the Jungle is absolute and can be followed by the animals with comparative ease, for they do not know tears or laughter, the things that make man’s life both more glorious and more complex and far more painfully burdensome among human beings than has ever been known in the Eden of Kaa and Baloo, however bloody and terrible many of the deeds that happen in the jungle.

…”Kaa’s Hunting” contains one of the most horrible scenes in all Kipling’s work – and that work contains many such. It is the picture of the Bandar Log monkeys. swaying helplessly towards their doom in the great ruins of the King’s palace in a hypnotic trance induced by the coiling and looping of Kaa, the python’s body and his “never stopping, low humming song”. It is made more terrible by the jungle fact that, were it not for Mowgli’s human unsusceptibility to the snake’s enchantment, Baloo and Bagheera, Kaa’s erstwhile co-hunters, would inevitably sway towards their death with the monkeys. For, in the jungle, all alliances – and bear, python and leopard have hunted together to rescue Mowgli – break up when the kill is on. It is made, indeed, even a little too horrible by a certain relish with which Kipling recites the awful fate of the frivolous, mischievous monkey folk.


©F A Underwood and John Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved