The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Articles > The Journal of the Antropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland > On the Structure and Affinities of the Composite Bow > Part 15
On the Structure and Affinities of the Composite Bow
Part 15 of 17

The practice of combining two kinds of wood, i.e. forming "backed" as opposed to "self " bows, became very popular in England, when introduced from France, and has continued to the present day. Usually a thin strip of ash, elm, or hickory was glued upon the back of a yew bow, when the best quality of the latter wood was not obtainable. Occasionally the two pieces were ingeniously united together by a groove and dovetail throughout their length. These bows must, however, be regarded as varieties of the "arcus" or plain bow, and not related to the "composite" bow.

Steel bows have been made in imitation of composite bows of Asiatic origin. Anuchin says, "Composite bows from the Greeks spread to Italy in the XV and XVI centuries, where their form was imitated in bows made of steel, as also in India and other Eastern parts."

One more kind of bow deserves mention, as particularly interesting from the locality in which it is found. W. M. Moseley, in his "Essay on Archery," says, "The Otaheite bows are very long, and consist of one piece only, on the back part of which there is a groove containing a pretty thick cord. The cord reaches the whole length, and is fastened very strongly at each end. This contrivance is found very serviceable in assisting the strength of the bow, and acts in some measure as a spring." He also compares this to the sinew backing of the Esquimaux. I have never seen a specimen of a South Pacific bow reinforced with a cord in this way, but this passage seems to offer a far more rational explanation of the groove, which forms so characteristic a feature in the bows from the Tongan group, than that given by Captain Cook,[23] who says of them, "On the inside is the groove in which is put the arrow, from which it would seem that they use but one." Very likely this may have been a secondary use of the groove; Cook in fact figures an arrow in situ, but then this could hardly have been sufficiently desirable to have given rise to the groove. The ends of most Tongan bows are carved to form slightly raised channels, whose hollows are in continuation with the groove along the backs of the bows, see Fig. 23; the outer ends of these raised channels form the shoulders upon which the bow-string rests when the bow is strung. The form of these channels, and their continuation into a groove along the back of the bow, is very suggestive of their having been intended for a cord to lie along, the groove being necessary in order to prevent the cord slipping away when the bow was bent. The cord could have been wound round the shoulders in the same way as the bow-string. The groove along the back varies very much in depth in different specimens, in some being deep enough to contain an arrow, while in others it is very slightly marked indeed and incapable of serving a useful purpose. Possibly, in the case of these latter, when the cord reinforcement went out of use, and the deep groove became no longer necessary, the latter was still from force of habit carved along the back, though far less deeply, in some specimens being a mere narrow indented line; the raised channels in some specimens no longer exist. I do not know of any Otaheitan bows which have grooves, or which appear to be intended to be used with a "backing" cord, but it is possible that the bows which Moseley described as from Otaheite were really bows of this Tongan form, and perhaps from that group of islands. This form of reinforcement must have been independently evolved in the South Pacific, as the only other races using a "free" backing are restricted to North America and the easternmost parts of North Asia. The case should therefore be regarded as one of analogy rather than of homology. Bows from Guiana and Peru frequently have a groove or furrow running along the back, often fairly deep, and the Chunchos of Peru are said to insert a spare arrow into the groove and hold it there with the bow hand. There is no evidence, so far as I know, of a cord reinforcement being used in South America (though it is common to see bows with a spare bow-string fastened to them). This may appear to go against my remarks in the case of the Tongan bows, as we have in South America bows in which a groove is used solely for the insertion of an arrow, with no record of its having been otherwise used; but I think that nevertheless the fact of there being specimens of reinforced bows on record from the South Pacific, coupled with the very specialized form of the groove in many of the Tongan bows, gives support to my suggestion. [24]