15 January 2016

Rudyard Kipling: heredity and exceptionality

There was a feast by the blazing campfires in front of the lines of picketed elephants, and Little Toomai was the hero of it all.

And the big brown elephant catchers, the trackers and drivers and ropers, and the men who know all the secrets of breaking the wildest elephants, passed him from one to the other …

Machua Appa, the head of all the drivers of all the Keddahs* … leaped to his feet, with Little Toomai held high in the air above his head, and shouted: ‘Listen, my brothers. Listen, too, you my lords in the lines there [addressing the elephants], for I, Machua Appa, am speaking! This little one shall no more be called Little Toomai, but Toomai of the Elephants, as his great-grandfather was called before him.

What never man has seen he has seen through the long night, and the favour of the elephant-folk and of the Gods of the Jungles is with him. He shall become a great tracker. He shall become greater than I, even I, Machua Appa! … Aihai! my lords in the chains,’ — he whirled up the line of pickets — ‘here is the little one that has seen your dances in your hidden places — the sight that never man saw! … Make your salute to Toomai of the Elephants! … Aihai!’

And at that last wild yell the whole line flung up their trunks till the tips touched their foreheads, and broke out into the full salute — the crashing trumpet-peal that only the Viceroy of India hears …

But it was all for the sake of Little Toomai, who had seen what never man had seen before — the dance of the elephants at night and alone in the heart of the Garo hills!
Rudyard Kipling’s story ‘Toomai of the Elephants’, from which the above extract is taken, was originally published in 1893, and then reprinted in The Jungle Book published in 1894. It provides an illustration of the fact that ideas of heredity and exceptionality were current, and generally accepted, at the end of the nineteenth century.

* Keddah = enclosure to trap wild elephants

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.