Toomai of the Elephants

(Notes edited by Alan Underwood and John Radcliffe)


First published in St Nicholas Magazine, December 1893, collected in The Jungle Book, 1894.

The story

Kala Nag (Black Snake), a wise old elephant, has been taken up to the Garo hills to help in the yearly drive to catch wild elephants and break them in. His driver, Big Toomai, takes no pleasure in the work, but Little Toomai, his ten year old son, delights in the camp life. When the wild tuskers are being driven into the Keddah (the stockade) Little Toomai sits high on a post shouting and waving, and when a driver drops the end of a rope, he slips down among the feet of the elephants at peril of his life and throws it up to him.

Little Toomai’s father is angry with him, but Petersen Sahib, who is in charge of all the elephant catching, hears of it, and tells him that one day he may become a hunter too. But when he asks if he can go again into the Keddah, Petersen Sahib tells him he can go into all the Keddahs—’when thou hast seen the elephants dance’. By that he means ‘never’, because although flattened ‘dance-floors’ had sometimes been found deep in the hills, no man had ever seen the elephants dance there.

At the end of the season the hunters set off for the plains,
and at night, at the first camp on the way, Little Toomai sees Kala Nag slip out of his pickets, and down the road in the moonlight. He runs after him, and the elephant picks him up, puts him on his back, and plunges into the jungle. Deep in the hills they come to a clearing where there are many many elephants. Soon they start to stamp their feet up and down, making the ground tremble, until dawn.

At daybreak they all disperse, and Kala Nag takes little Toomai back to the camp. When the tale is told, Little Toomai is saluted, not only by the hunters, but by the elephants themselves. He has seen the elephants dance, and one day he will be Toomai of the Elephants.

Elephant Boy

This film, starring Sabu in his film debut, and made by London films in 1937, was based on Kipling’s story.


©F A Underwood and John Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved