The Kudu Horn
|The Greater Kudu, or
"The kudu is a species of antelope
which ranges from South Africa to Ethiopia. A kudu bull may stand over five feet high and
is colored from a reddish gray to almost blue. In addition to the beast’s reputable sense
of hearing, its keen sight, sense of smell, the great speed make it a difficult animal to
Frederick Selous, in his classic work, A
Hunter’s Wanderings in Africa, 1881, described the kudu as "perhaps the
handsomest antelope in the world."
Following a tradition stretching back
more than 85 years, the troop is often called to assembly with the traditional sound of
the kudu horn at many Wood Badge courses and Junior Leader Training Conferences .
It may seem strange that the horn of an
African antelope, a type used by the Matabele as a war horn in the 19th century, should
call Scouts and Scouters together in America and in many countries around the world. But
it was just such a horn that roused the first Scouts ever called together. In the summer
of 1907, Baden-Powell held his first experimental camp on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbor.
Retrieved from his African trophies, the kudu horn entered Scout service.
Brownsea Island, Poole
Harbor, England — August, 1907
"The day began at 6 a.m. when
Baden-Powell roused the camp with the weird notes from the long, spiral horn of the
African koodoo — the war horn he had picked up on his expedition into the Somabula Forest
during the 1896 Matabele Campaign."
"As a colonel in southern Africa
during 1896, Baden-Powell commanded a flying column in the Matabele Campaign. It was on a
raid down the Shangani River that he first heard the kudu horn. He had been puzzled by the
speed with which alarms were spread amongst the Matabeles, until one day he realized that
they were using a war horn of great carrying power. A code was used. As soon as the enemy
was sighted, the alarm was sounded on the kudu — taken up right and left — and, thus,
carried many miles in a very short space of time.
"When he assembled the first Scouts
at Brownsea, Baden-Powell remembered the kudu horn he had brought back with him from the
Matabele Wars, and used it too add a touch of adventure and fun to the camp.
"After Brownsea Island the kudu horn
was returned to B-P’s home and was silent for 12 years, while the movement it had
announced was fashioned and spread throughout the world. Then, in 1919, Baden-Powell
entrusted the horn to Gilwell Park for use in the first scoutmaster training
Gilwell Park, Epping Forest,
England — September 8, 1919
"The first scoutmaster’s training
camp held at Gilwell started on 8 September. It followed the pattern B-P had used with
boys at Brownsea twelve years before. The patrol system was again put to the test with
nineteen participants divided into patrols and living a patrol life. The instruction took
the same form as on Brownsea. Each day a new subject was introduced and covered in
demonstrations, practices and games. The Matabele Koodoo horn that had called the boys
into action in Brownsea was used for all signals."
Ten years later, at the age of 72,
Baden-Powell brought the kudu horn with him to open the Third World Jamboree. That the
kudu is a challenge to sound is seen clearly in his experience at Arrowe Park. The
results, however, was as impressive as any could ask.
Arrowe Park, Birkenhead,
England — July 28, 1929
"The opening day of the Third World
Jamboree started with a heavy rain that increased during the day; but by the appointed
hour … the weather had turned "windy and fine." B-P had brought with him to
Arrowe Park the old koodoo horn of Matabele War days he had used to awaken campers at
Brownsea for the world’s first Boy Scout camp and to open the first scoutmasters’ course
at Gilwell Park. Now he lifted it to his lips to blow a blast that would reverberate over
the vast parade ground in front of him. But, in his excited state, his lips refused to do
his bidding. The sound of the horn was only a feeble "pfft.
"Nevertheless, as if called to
action by the koodoo horn, the March Past got under way, with contingent after contingent
swinging by the saluting base, with the flags of practically every civilized country in
the world snapping in the brisk wind, with the grandstands’ thousands of onlookers
greeting each nation with enthusiastic applause."
The Kudu’s Call
To this day, the kudu is still used to
call Scouts together in training courses around the world. To all who follow in the
Founder’s footsteps, it is a summons to live Scouting at its best.
Adapted from John Thurman, The Gilwell
Book, British Boy Scout Association, and William Hillcourt, Baden-Powell: Two Lives
of a Hero, Boy Scouts of America, 1964.
The line drawings of the Greater Kudu and
the Kudu Horn are from Frederick Selous, A Hunter’s Wanderings in Africa, 1881. The
drawing of Brownsea is from a sketch by Baden-Powell, as is the Scout Badge which he drew
for the first edition of Scouting for Boys, 1908.
Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to: Lewis P. Orans
Copyright © Lewis P. Orans,
Last Modified: 2:50 PM on October 13, 2012