Molti mi hanno chiesto perché mi chiamo Boris Limpopo: sono di padre africano e mamma russa. Ero un bambino molto curioso. Ai miei genitori piaceva molto questa storia di Kipling.
THE ELEPHANT’S CHILD
In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had
no trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot,
that he could wriggle about from side to side; but he couldn’t
pick up things with it. But there was one Elephant–a new
Elephant–an Elephant’s Child–who was full of ‘satiable
curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions. And
he lived in Africa, and he filled all Africa with his ‘satiable
curtiosities. He asked his tall aunt, the Ostrich, why her
tail-feathers grew just so, and his tall aunt the Ostrich spanked
him with her hard, hard claw. He asked his tall uncle, the
Giraffe, what made his skin spotty, and his tall uncle, the
Giraffe, spanked him with his hard, hard hoof. And still he was
full of ‘satiable curtiosity! He asked his broad aunt, the
Hippopotamus, why her eyes were red, and his broad aunt, the
Hippopotamus, spanked him with her broad, broad
hoof; and he asked his hairy uncle, the Baboon, why melons tasted
just so, and his hairy uncle, the Baboon, spanked him with his
hairy, hairy paw. And still he was full of ‘satiable curtiosity!
He asked questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or
felt, or smelt, or touched, and all his uncles and his aunts
spanked him. And still he was full of ‘satiable curtiosity!
One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes
this ‘satiable Elephant’s Child asked a new fine question that he
had never asked before. He asked, ‘What does the Crocodile have
for dinner?’ Then everybody said, ‘Hush!’ in a loud and dretful
tone, and they spanked him immediately and directly, without
stopping, for a long time.
By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird
sitting in the middle of a wait-a-bit thorn-bush, and he said,
‘My father has spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my
aunts and uncles have spanked me for my ‘satiable curtiosity; and
still I want to know what the Crocodile has for dinner!’
Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, ‘Go to the banks of
the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with
fever-trees, and find out.’
That very next morning, when there was nothing left of the
Equinoxes, because the Precession had preceded according to
precedent, this ‘satiable Elephant’s Child took a hundred pounds
of bananas (the little short red kind), and a hundred pounds of
sugar-cane (the long purple kind), and seventeen melons (the
greeny-crackly kind), and said to all his dear families,
‘Goodbye. I am going to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo
River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the
Crocodile has for dinner.’ And they all spanked him once more
for luck, though he asked them most politely to stop.
Then he went away, a little warm, but not at all astonished,
eating melons, and throwing the rind about, because he could not
pick it up.
He went from Graham’s Town to Kimberley, and from Kimberley to
Khama’s Country, and from Khama’s Country he went east by north,
eating melons all the time, till at last he came to the banks of
the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with
fever-trees, precisely as Kolokolo Bird had said.
Now you must know and understand, O Best Beloved, that till that
very week, and day, and hour, and minute, this ‘satiable
Elephant’s Child had never seen a Crocodile, and did not know
what one was like. It was all his ‘satiable curtiosity.
The first thing that he found was a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake
curled round a rock.
”Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child most politely, ‘but have
you seen such a thing as a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?’
‘Have I seen a Crocodile?’ said the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, in a voice of dretful scorn. ‘What
will you ask me next?’
”Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘but could you kindly
tell me what he has for dinner?’
Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake uncoiled himself very
quickly from the rock, and spanked the Elephant’s Child with his
scalesome, flailsome tail.
‘That is odd,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘because my father and
my mother, and my uncle and my aunt, not to mention my other
aunt, the Hippopotamus, and my other uncle, the Baboon, have all
spanked me for my ‘satiable curtiosity–and I suppose this is the
So he said good-bye very politely to the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, and helped to coil him up on the
rock again, and went on, a little warm, but not at all
astonished, eating melons, and throwing the rind about, because
he could not pick it up, till he trod on what he thought was a
log of wood at the very edge of the great grey-green, greasy
Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees.
But it was really the Crocodile, O Best Beloved, and the
Crocodile winked one eye–like this!
”Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child most politely, ‘but do you
happen to have seen a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?’
Then the Crocodile winked the other eye, and lifted half his tail
out of the mud; and the Elephant’s Child stepped back most
politely, because he did not wish to be spanked again.
‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile. ‘Why do you ask
”Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child most politely, ‘but my
father has spanked me, my mother has spanked me, not to mention
my tall aunt, the Ostrich, and my tall uncle, the Giraffe, who
can kick ever so hard, as well as my broad aunt, the
Hippopotamus, and my hairy uncle, the Baboon, and including the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, with the scalesome, flailsome
tail, just up the bank, who spanks harder than any of them; and
so, if it’s quite all the same to you, I don’t want to be spanked
‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile, ‘for I am the
Crocodile,’ and he wept crocodile-tears to show it was quite
Then the Elephant’s Child grew all breathless, and panted, and
kneeled down on the bank and said, ‘You are the very person I
have been looking for all these long days. Will you please tell
me what you have for dinner?’
‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile, ‘and I’ll
Then the Elephant’s Child put his head down close to the
Crocodile’s musky, tusky mouth, and the Crocodile caught him by
his little nose, which up to that very week, day, hour, and
minute, had been no bigger than a boot, though much more useful.
‘I think, said the Crocodile–and he said it between his teeth,
like this–‘I think to-day I will begin with Elephant’s Child!’
At this, O Best Beloved, the Elephant’s Child was much annoyed,
and he said, speaking through his nose, like this, ‘Led go! You
are hurtig be!’
THIS is the Elephant’s Child having his nose pulled by the Crocodile. He is much surprised and astonished and hurt, and he is talking through his nose and saying, ‘Led go! You are hurtig be!’ He is pulling very hard, and so is the Crocodile: but the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake is hurrying through the water to help the Elephant’s Child. All that black stuff is the banks of the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River (but I am not allowed to paint these pictures), and the bottly-tree with the twisty roots and the eight leaves is one of the fever-trees that grow there.
Underneath the truly picture are shadows of African animals walking into an African ark. There are two lions, two ostriches, two oxen, two camels, two sheep, and two other things that look like rats, but I think they are rock-rabbits. They don’t mean anything. I put them in because I thought they looked pretty. They would look very fine if I were allowed to paint them.
Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake scuffled down from the
bank and said, ‘My young friend, if you do not now, immediately
and instantly, pull as hard as ever you can, it is my opinion
that your acquaintance in the large-pattern leather ulster’ (and
by this he meant the Crocodile) ‘will jerk you into yonder limpid
stream before you can say Jack Robinson.’
This is the way Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snakes always talk.
Then the Elephant’s Child sat back on his little haunches, and
pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose began to stretch.
And the Crocodile floundered into the water, making it all creamy
with great sweeps of his tail, and he pulled, and pulled, and
And the Elephant’s Child’s nose kept on stretching; and the
Elephant’s Child spread all his little four legs and pulled, and
pulled, and pulled, and his nose kept on stretching; and
the Crocodile threshed his tail like an oar, and he pulled, and
pulled, and pulled, and at each pull the Elephant’s Child’s nose
grew longer and longer–and it hurt him hijjus!
Then the Elephant’s Child felt his legs slipping, and he said
through his nose, which was now nearly five feet long, ‘This is
too butch for be!’
Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake came down from the bank,
and knotted himself in a double-clove-hitch round the Elephant’s
Child’s hind legs, and said, ‘Rash and inexperienced traveller,
we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension,
because if we do not, it is my impression that yonder
self-propelling man-of-war with the armour-plated upper deck’
(and by this, O Best Beloved, he meant the Crocodile), ‘will
permanently vitiate your future career.
That is the way all Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snakes always talk.
So he pulled, and the Elephant’s Child pulled, and the Crocodile
pulled; but the Elephant’s Child and the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake pulled hardest; and at last the
Crocodile let go of the Elephant’s Child’s nose with a plop that
you could hear all up and down the Limpopo.
Then the Elephant’s Child sat down most hard and sudden; but
first he was careful to say ‘Thank you’ to the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake; and next he was kind to his poor
pulled nose, and wrapped it all up in cool banana
leaves, and hung it in the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo to
‘What are you doing that for?’ said the
”Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘but my nose is badly out
of shape, and I am waiting for it to shrink.
‘Then you will have to wait a long time, said the
Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. ‘Some people do not know what is
good for them.’
The Elephant’s Child sat there for three days waiting for his
nose to shrink. But it never grew any shorter, and, besides, it
made him squint. For, O Best Beloved, you will see and
understand that the Crocodile had pulled it out into a really
truly trunk same as all Elephants have to-day.
At the end of the third day a fly came and stung him on the
shoulder, and before he knew what he was doing he lifted up his
trunk and hit that fly dead with the end of it.
”Vantage number one!’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.
‘You couldn’t have done that with a mere-smear nose. Try and eat
a little now.’
Before he thought what he was doing the Elephant’s Child put out
his trunk and plucked a large bundle of grass, dusted it clean
against his fore-legs, and stuffed it into his own mouth.
‘Vantage number two!’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.
‘You couldn’t have done that with a mear-smear nose. Don’t you
think the sun is very hot here?’
‘It is,’ said the Elephant’s Child, and before he thought what he
was doing he schlooped up a schloop of mud from the banks of the
great grey-green, greasy Limpopo, and slapped it on his head,
where it made a cool schloopy-sloshy mud-cap all trickly behind
‘Vantage number three!’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.
‘You couldn’t have done that with a mere-smear nose. Now how do
you feel about being spanked again?’
”Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘but I should not like it
‘How would you like to spank somebody?’ said the Bi-
‘I should like it very much indeed,’ said the Elephant’s Child.
‘Well,’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, ‘you will find
that new nose of yours very useful to spank people with.’
‘Thank you,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘I’ll remember that; and
now I think I’ll go home to all my dear families and try.’
So the Elephant’s Child went home across Africa frisking and
whisking his trunk. When he wanted fruit to eat he pulled fruit
down from a tree, instead of waiting for it to fall as he used to
do. When he wanted grass he plucked grass up from the ground,
instead of going on his knees as he used to do. When the flies
bit him he broke off the branch of a tree and used it as
fly-whisk; and he made himself a new, cool, slushy-squshy mud-cap
whenever the sun was hot. When he felt lonely walking through
Africa he sang to himself down his trunk, and the noise was
louder than several brass bands.
THIS is just a picture of the Elephant’s Child going to pull bananas off a banana-tree after he had got his fine new long trunk. I don’t think it is a very nice picture; but I couldn’t make it any better, because elephants and bananas are hard to draw. The streaky things behind the Elephant’s Child mean squoggy marshy country somewhere in Africa. The Elephant’s Child made most of his mud-cakes out of the mud that he found there. I think it would look better if you painted the banana-tree green and the Elephant’s Child red.
He went especially out of his way to find a broad Hippopotamus
(she was no relation of his), and he spanked her very hard, to
make sure that the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake had spoken the
truth about his new trunk. The rest of the time he picked up the
melon rinds that he had dropped on his way to the
Limpopo–for he was a Tidy Pachyderm.
One dark evening he came back to all his dear families, and he
coiled up his trunk and said, ‘How do you do?’ They were very
glad to see him, and immediately said, ‘Come here and be spanked
for your ‘satiable curtiosity.’
‘Pooh,’ said the Elephant’s Child. ‘I don’t think you peoples
know anything about spanking; but I do, and I’ll show you.’ Then
he uncurled his trunk and knocked two of his dear brothers head
‘O Bananas!’ said they, ‘where did you learn that trick, and what
have you done to your nose?’
‘I got a new one from the Crocodile on the banks of the great
grey-green, greasy Limpopo River,’ said the Elephant’s Child. ‘I
asked him what he had for dinner, and he gave me this to keep.’
‘It looks very ugly,’ said his hairy uncle, the Baboon.
‘It does,’ said the Elephant’s Child. ‘But it’s very useful,’ and
he picked up his hairy uncle, the Baboon, by one hairy leg, and
hove him into a hornet’s nest.
Then that bad Elephant’s Child spanked all his dear families for
a long time, till they were very warm and greatly astonished. He
pulled out his tall Ostrich aunt’s tail-feathers; and he caught
his tall uncle, the Giraffe, by the hind-leg, and dragged him
through a thorn-bush; and he shouted at his broad aunt, the
Hippopotamus, and blew bubbles into her ear when she was sleeping
in the water after meals; but he never let any one touch Kolokolo
At last things grew so exciting that his dear families went off
one by one in a hurry to the banks of the great grey-green,
greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to borrow
new noses from the Crocodile. When they came back nobody spanked
anybody any more; and ever since that day, O Best Beloved, all
the Elephants you will ever see, besides all those that you
won’t, have trunks precisely like the trunk of the ‘satiable
I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
I let them rest from nine till five.
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men:
But different folk have different views:
I know a person small–
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends ‘em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes–
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!