Kim’s Game

I have a brother called Kim (Hiya) and in the book I am writing now (‘Jungle Studies’) I will have some sharp things to say about Rudyard Kipling the creator of Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera and Akhela, as well as about his close friend, Baden-Powell, founder of concentration camps and of the Scouts.

It was in the Scouts that my brother and I endured various militaristic drill sessions, were forced into a peculiar form of (mild) child-labour collecting newspapers, beer bottles and doing ‘bob-a-job; (which I liked because I worked for a certain elderly woman called Mrs Chandler, one-time girlfriend of Ned Kelly) and it was as Scouts and ‘cubs’ that we learnt of “Kim’s Game”. This game was a memory test where you would be shown a tray of objects (I would now call them trinkets of course) and after a minute these were covered up and you had to list as many as you could remember. I forget what the reward was, if any. Our troop happily was not a site of paedophilia or of any crazy rafting accidents, as seems to be the scare story about Scouting for Boys today, but it was certainly not the ‘make-a-man-of-him’ routine for which my rough and tumble action figure of a father had hoped. In my case it taught me horticultural skills and an appreciation of mushrooms. Later on, returning to the town where I grew up, I was pleased to find the old Guide Hall had become the State’s (Victoria, Australia) first Hindu temple. Kipling and Baden-Powell have other connections in this book too, some of which I will trace. But Kipling’s Jungle Book offers only a title or a metaphoric code. The jungle itself, is mostly ignored, and Jungle music – beyond some discussion of ADF – is avoided as well: and this is not a book about the forest as such, or of forest people (I have written elsewhere on Colin Turnbull’s work, The Mountain People, and owe him a better review for his greener book). I am more interested in the jungle as powerful trope. My copy of Kipling’s book begins with Lisa Makman’s pithy (even pith-helmeted) passage on jungles which well deserves citation:

“The term “jungle”, derived from the Hindi word jangala, entered the English language only in the eighteenth century; today it evokes dangerous terrain: impenetrable equatorial forests, menacing urban landscapes, and overall mayhem (as in, “it’s a jungle out there”). Even as jungles have gained a new designation – rain forest – and we have learned of their life-sustaining role in the biosphere, the word continues to conjure images of imperial adventure: the white man cutting his way through the bush to hunt big game, or Tarzan swinging from a vine. We owe our deep associations of jungles with mystery, threat, and the struggle for survival in large measure to Rudyard Kipling (Makman, intro to Kipling 2004:xv)”

I want to underline the collision here between forest danger and the urban menace, remember that the big-game hunter could be a sociologist or anthropologist, and suggest that the stalking metaphor for the trinket collecting of social science factification might be the character Kaa, who also had some wisdom, let us not forget: ‘The jungle is large and the Cub he is small. Let him think and be still’ (Kipling 2004:33). Kaa is a storyteller too, not just an old snake: ‘I also have known what love is. There are tales that I could tell that…’ (Kipling 2004:42). My copy of Hobson-Jobson, that amazing compendium of Anglo-Indian loan words, without which magical realism, Midnight’s Children, Merchant Ivory and so much more, would not be the same, offers “Jungle” as derived from Sanskrit, chiefly used in medical discourses, ‘the native word means in strictness only waste, uncultivated ground’. Therein we read a citation from Valentia, in the year 1809: ‘The air of Calcutta is much affected by the closeness of the jungle around it’ (Yule and Burdell 1886/1996:470). I have also elsewhere written on the bad reputation of Calcutta, and here treat of it again, with Kipling in mind… So, on to urban stories, both critical and evocative, for we be of one blood, ye and I.

The picture is of UFO’s over Berlin at night, or maybe they were Euro bees, sorry, memories just a bit shaky…



5 thoughts on “Kim’s Game

  1. Your scouting memories remind me that Deptford Town Hall was the birth place of the Woodcraft folk – the anti-scouts. Woodcraft folk were set up in opposition to Baden Powell’s militarist and imperialist leadership. They are definitely not rough and tumble. Last year I took a group of young people on a residential to a WCF site and saw them in action – nothing more macho than snapping twigs for a fire which they proceeded to sit and sing around – “Where have all the flowers gone…”


  2. yep, strange folk. I remember seeing anthro dept founder Prof Brian Morris marching (well, semi-organized almost in-line wandering) with the woodcrafters at an anti-war demo against the planned invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. At teh smae demo, a communist party comrade from Australia took great pleasure in being at a peace rally to advocate war (on Blair). You gotta agre with the analysis, by George(!).


  3. Ah, and I had the aborted pleasure of being a Brownie (not to be confused with Girl Guides – I think the distinction was that we did not have such lovely cookies), where we learned important wilderness survival skills such as sewing and doing dishes. No fires from dry brush, no makeshift tents, no learning about poisonous snakes – but lots of arts and crafts.

    Your image, however, makes me think of Kipling’s other famous collection – the oh-so-instructive Just So Stories, that I think all anthropologists (Best Beloveds that they are) were raised on (where we get histories not just of India and the jungle, but of Australia, Africa, and all sorts of other exotic locales)- and the story of how the Leopard got his spots. This story is coincidenally the story of how the Ethiopian get his skin colour, and without giving anything away, we do have the great quote of “Oh, plain black’s best for a nigger”… (Kipling, 1992:57)

    But the leopard’s spots are still a better image than urban (jungle) camouflage.


  4. Well hellooooo-hoo-hoo-hoo from a wandering fieldworker in the proverbial Indian jungle. I’ve just finished a film with a foreigner settled over here, basically framing his jungle paradise, for some (confidential) intended ‘ecological’ project, backed by a lot of european jet-setters’ money. Of course, when he asked me to make a film in the jungle for him, i jumped at the chance.

    There we found monkeys on the vines, peacocks, ripe mangoes falling, symphonic birdsong, banyans and jackfruit, other mysterious exotica, springs, and sparkling sunlight. Didn’t see any mushrooms, despite Prof. Brian Morris’ unforgettable comment in a 2nd year religion course lecture, that the only difference (in a certain classification system in Africa) between mushrooms and animals is that mushrooms don’t get up and run away!

    Saw no tigers, of course, and despite constantly looking up into the trees for any slippery characters they also never appeared. It was the red soldier ants who kept us in check, biting hard, and marching all over the camera to see what this spying machine was about, not letting us stay in one spot for long. The jungle seems fragile (next to the diggers working on a nearby development), and defensive, aware of intruders, biting between their toes. Yet it seems always ready to redefine itself, re-routing throughout any deserted old houses, or other human dreams.

    Take the dream of a jungle for instance. I had expected denser undergrowth, and more danger, but we didn’t need machetes, not even my swiss army knife. And those soldier ant bites didn’t even swell up or anything. I questioned whether this was jungle at all. My companion informed me that technically, as we are in the sub-tropics, this was actually forest, not jungle. What? Only forest???


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