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On the Structure and Affinities of the Composite Bow
Part 3 of 17

Many of the Western Esquimaux bows appear not to be of drift wood, but of wood of better quality, though Beechey describes bows from Kotzebue Sound as being of drift pine. He, however, mentions bags of resin "which appeared to be the natural exudation of the pine. From their constantly chewing it, it did not seem difficult to be had." In all probability they have fairly easy access to living trees, and frequently make their bows of the live wood.

Many bows from the western regions of North America have strips of horn, or ivory, or whalebone between the backing and the "body" and occasionally strips of hide are added; the backing is moreover frequently tightened by the insertion of small plugs. The wood is often painted over with various designs, and these bows also often exhibit the shape characterised as the "Tatar" shape, of which the specimen figured (Plate V, Fig. 2) is a good example. The two ends are bent suddenly away from the general line and are straight, the angles or "elbows" being emphasized in the unstrung state.

The close cross binding occurs most frequently at the "elbows," which, when the bow is strung, have to withstand a somewhat severe strain; but, as seen above, in many cases extends more or less towards the central "grip."

The "Tatar" shape is doubtless derived directly from the Asiatic Continent, ready access being afforded by the narrow Behring's Straits. It extends certainly as far as Hudson Straits. Capt. Beechey mentions [4] the close resemblance between bows of St. Lawrence Island, Behring's Straits, and those of the Tchuktschi. He lays stress upon the many points in common to be observed in the two races. Capt. Belcher[5] also points out the connection between the peoples of Arctic Asia and America He says, "The bows of the Esquimaux are either in one single piece steamed to form, or at times composed of three pieces of drift wood, and it has always appeared to me that their object has been to produce a form very similar to the strung bow of the Tartars, and totally dissimilar to the tribes of Indians on the American shores southerly." Dr. King, in his description of the Esquimaux, writes,[6] "The Esquimaux of Behring's Straits bestow much care in giving the bow the proper form, and for this purpose they wrap it in shavings soaked in water, and hold it over a fire for a time; it is then pegged to the earth in the form required. By the assistance of the sinews at the back the bow preserves its elastic power, and by slackening or tightening them it is rendered weak enough for the child or strong enough for the most powerful man, and when fast girded it causes the implement, when unstrung, to turn the wrong way. They have also the power of altering the length of their bowstring to their pleasure by twisting the several strings, often 15 or 20 plaits, of which it is composed. Some of the warlike tribes of Behring's Straits muffle with fur the horns of their bows to deaden the noise of the string against them."