After the bow was shaped and finished smoothly on the belly, the sinew was applied to the back, which had been left rather rough. As backing for his bow, Ishi used either the dorsal fascia obtained from a deer, or he teased out the long tendons, bama. from the hind legs. These strips were from eight to fourteen inches long, and when dry were about the thickness of parchment.
Preparatory to using this tissue he soaked it in warm water for several hours. The back of his bow, the side having the sap wood on it, he smeared thickly with glue. In his native state he made this glue, so he said, by boiling the skin of salmon and macerating it while hot. While with us he was very enthusiastic over our common liquid glue and disdained the use of hot furniture glue. He permitted this coating of glue to dry. Now, having his sinew wet, he chewed these strips until they were soft and pulpy and then carefully laid them in parallel lines down the back, overlapping the ends as he went. This process required a great deal of tissue and much patience. Having applied the sinew, he bound it on with ribbons of maple bark running spirally about the bow. This he removed after the expiration of "one sleep."' As the sinew dried, it contracted and tended to draw the ends of the bow into a reversed position. After this had happened, he applied more glue to the surface. Several days later, when all the backing was thoroughly dry and hard, he filed and scraped it very smooth, filing the overlapping margins level with the edges of his bow.
Strips of sinew during the process of "backing" were folded over the nocks of the bow. He now served or wrapped the ends of the bow with strips of tendon, covering the nock proper and running about an inch down the limb. Here he let his work rest for days or weeks, exposing it to the sunlight and permitting the wood to season fully. During this waiting period he made the bow string or chalman'i. The tendons used in this were of a finer quality than those used before and were obtained from the outer, more slender group of tendons in the deer's shank. These he stripped far up into their origin in the muscle bundles, tearing them free with his teeth.
If fresh, he simply chewed this tissue and teased it apart into threads no larger than floss silk. If dry, he soaked it in warm water before chewing it. He then proceeded to spin a string by fixing one end of a bundle of tendon strips to a stationary point and rolling the other end between his fingers in a single strand. As he progressed down the string he added more threads of tendon to the cord, making a very tight, simple twist one-eighth of an inch thick. When about five feet long, he twisted and secured the proximal end, leaving his twisted cord taut between two points. The last smoothing-up stage he accomplished by applying saliva and rubbing up and down its length. The finished bow string was now permitted to dry. Its final diameter was about three thirty-seconds of an inch. After it was dry he formed a loop at one end by folding back some three inches of string, tapering it by scraping, and serving two of the three inches securely with more tendon. He seemed to have no idea of splicing, nor did he know any clever knots. Moreover, he never used glue at this point. In fact this loop was the weakest part of his string and not infrequently came apart, when, in disgust, he would tie a single loop knot and forego the finished effect of the unknotted self loop. Nor had he any idea of serving his string with any binding at the nocking point, where the arrow rests.
At this stage, Ishi was ready to string the bow. He designated the end of the stave which grew uppermost in the tree as the chunna. "face," and over the nock in this end he slipped the loop of his string. To fail to shoot with this end uppermost, he said, would cause the arrow to miss its mark.
In stringing the bow for the first time, he seated himself, placing the upper nock behind his left heel, the belly toward him, the handle against his right knee, the lower limb upward in his left hand. In this position he bent the bow and fastened the string about the other nock. His method of securing the string was as follows: he wound it twice around the nock, passed under the bowstring, turned backward and wound in the opposite direction several laps, then fixed the end by a couple of slip knots. Usually he made his string with a tapering extremity which rendered it easier to fasten. Then he cautiously drew his bow and observed its bend. On cold days, Ishi warmed his bow over a fire before attempting to brace it. The ideal bow, to his mind, curved in a perfect arch at all points, and at full draw represented a crescent. The center bent with the limbs and was the bow's weakest point. A forty-five inch bow he drew twenty-five inches. No yew wood could stand such an arc without backing. In fact he broke two bow-staves, testing them at my request, prior to the application of sinew.
Where the contour showed the bow too strong, he filed or scraped it on the belly side, thus gradually distributing the bend evenly along the bow. About the middle he bound a ribbon of buckskin, making a hand grip some five or six inches wide. This buckskin thong was about half an inch wide and ran spirally about the bow, not overlapping, fastened at each end by an extra wrapping of string or sinew.
Ishi showed no tendency to anoint his weapon with grease, nor to apply any protective coat, though later he learned the value of shellac in preserving his backing from dampness. The great aversion he had to shooting while any fog or moisture was in the air rather indicates that his bow was without the coverings of fat, wax, or resin so frequently used by archers in other parts of the world.
Usually Ishi made no effort to decorate his bow, though he spoke of painting it, and led me to infer that this was done only after the implement had shown some peculiar virtue, or had figured in some deed of valor. The one bow he embellished while with us he marked with three green transverse stripes just above the handle and below the nocks, and three long snaky lines running down the back. He said that red also was an appropriate color.
When finished and seasoned, these bows pulled, or "weighed," when drawn to twenty-five inches, between thirty-five and fifty pounds. His favorite hunting bow weighed forty pounds.
When not in use he kept his bows in a leather quiver, or wrapped in a cloth. The tail of a mountain lion was considered an admirable cover for a bow. The bow was always laid in a horizontal position. To stand a bow upright, according to his theories, was to keep it working; if left standing it would "sweat" and become weak. If a child touched a bow, it brought bad luck. Nor should a child step over it while it lay on the ground, for this would cause it to shoot crookedly. If a woman touched Ishi's bow, it was a serious contamination. The bow must be washed and cleaned with sand. He was most careful not to keep his bow strung too long but furnished the loop with a bit of cord, which extended from nock to loop, and served to keep the bowstring from getting out of place while the bow was unbraced. After unstringing he often gave his bow a slight bend backward to restore its straightness; this is considered very bad practice by English archers.
A good bow was one whose string made a high musical note when tapped with an arrow or snapped with the fingers. It should sing the note "tin, tin, tin." This was the "chief's bow." One whose note was dead and unmusical, Ishi treated with contempt.
By placing the upper end of his braced bow at the corner of his open mouth and gently tapping the string midway between the end and center he caused clear musial notes to be produced. This sounded like our jew's-harp, and by altering the shape of the buccal cavity he was able to create a series of tones sufficient to form a melody relating to a story of wonderful deeds with the bow. He sang of a great archer who dipped his arrow point in the sea, then in the fire, drew a mighty bow, and shot at the sun. His arrow flew like the north wind, and entering the door of the sun, put out its light. Then all the world became dark, men shivered with cold, and from this time they grew feathers on their bodies to make them warm.