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Notes on Indian Archery
by F. R. Lee
From: The Archer's Register for 1903-1904, pp. 261-269.
Part 4 of 4
Andaman Islands.

So much has been so well written about the Andamanese in the Badminton "Archery," that I can only supplement it by a few stray notes. I have never myself seen the jungle Andamanese shooting, but the Government Chaplain at Port Blair told me they can hit a tree trunk a foot in diameter at 80 yards. If this is so, it is good shooting. But another informant considers they are poor long-range shots, and says that if twenty men shot together at such a tree, perhaps one arrow might hit it on the first occasion, and a few more on the next, all of which goes to prove that their power of calculating elevation is deficient. They are very skilful in shooting fish.


Through Upper India we find the composite horseman's bow—I was going to say in use—but in the remoter parts of Rajputana one can still purchase specimens of it. I have procured them also at Taipur and Alwar. I will not describe their appearance and construction—that has already been thoroughly done in the Badminton "Archery." The description, however, of the old French traveller Chardin may be quoted: "Les arcs de Perse son les plus beaux et les plus estimés de tout l'orient. La matière est de bois et de corne mis l'un sur l'autre et couverts de nerfs, et par dessus une peau d'arbre très lesse et unie." This traveller gives a vivid account of the practice of shooting with the bow from horseback. On my last visit to Rajputana I procured a steel bow. Its general shape was that of the composite bow. I cannot imagine it made for use, it is so slow in oast as to be practically useless. As a parade weapon it might have a value. The arrows of Rajputana are perfect, similar to those formerly made in Persia. The shafts are of the most beautiful bamboo, stiff and well seasoned; the feathers, which are long, narrow, and balloon-shaped, are tied on with silk. In some specimens in my possession the nocks are of ivory, and the space between the feathers painted with crimson and gold. The points are of exquisite shape, not barbed, but of fine steel and very sharp. Similar ones are to be seen in the Indian Museum at South Kensington, the Tower, and the Royal United Service Institute at Whitehall. I have only seen this bow used once in India, near Jaipur, and then not skilfully. The Mongolian loose and a glass thumb-ring were employed, and the archer missed a tree two feet in diameter at forty paces. From this I infer that the Pax Britannica and the new conditions of war have produced the inevitable result. The Rajputs of to-day have deteriorated in the use of weapons of skill and the practice of chivalrous exercises. In Vol. I., chap. xxiv., of Tod's "Rajputana," the story of their prowess with sword and bow is graphically 'described by an eye-witness. The real break with the past, so far as skill in the use of bow, lance, and sword is concerned, began after the Sepoy Mutiny. The Arms Act was so rigorously enforced that, except in native states, the knowledge of the bow and the practice of fence died of inaction. Up to the time of the introduction of the rifle the bow in the hands of an expert was superior in efficiency to the "Black Bess" musket. Here is an account of what is perhaps the latest use of the composite bow in Indian warfare. The incident was seen and described by Sergeant-Major Mitchell, of the 93rd Highlanders: "In the force defending the Shah Najeef (at Lucknow) there was a large body of archers on the walls armed with bows and arrows, which they discharged with great force and precision.....One poor fellow of the 93rd, named Penny, of No. 2 Company, raising his head for an instant a little above the wall got an arrow right through his brain, the shaft projecting more than a foot out at the back of his head.....But one unfortunate man of the regiment, named Montgomery, of No. 6 Company, exposed himself a little too long to watch the effect of our volley, and before he could get down into shelter again an arrow was sent straight through his heart, passing clean through his body and falling on the ground a few yards behind him. He leaped about six feet straight up in the air, and fell stone dead."

F. R. Lee.
Rangoon, Burma.