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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter III: Forms of the bow and their distribution
Chapter III
Forms of the bow and their distribution
Part 2 of 3

Many varieties of the single-stave wooden bow exist in the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, one of the most Peculiar of which is used by the natives of the Andaman islands. This bow will be noticed at some length, both on account of its intrinsic interest and also because the laborious researches of Mr. M. V. Portman have enabled the present writer to give a more complete account of the manufacture of writer to give a more complete account of the manufacture of the bow and method of using it in vogue among the Andaman Islanders than, perhaps, has been hitherto published of any other savage race. Mr. Portman has been engaged in studying this race for fourteen years, and being an accomplished photographer, has taken many hundreds of pictures of them in their various occupations. He describes them as being the only race of pure negrito blood in the world. They are now, however, taking to Indian customs, and, moreover, dying out, so that in the interests of ethnography it is to be hoped that Mr. Portman will publish his unique record of an interesting race which is doomed to disappear. He has kindly given permission for the reproduction of a selection from his photographs--from which we can actually see the bow made before our eyes--and also allowed the use of his unpublished notes, so far as they relate to archery. The manufacture only of the bows and arrows is dealt with in this chapter.[3]

22. A South Andaman bow; B. North Andaman bow.
22. A South Andaman bow;
B. North Andaman bow.
(Coll. C. J. Longman)

The Andaman bow presents somewhat the appearance of a two-bladed paddle, the limbs each consisting of a thin blade tapering to a point at the upper and lower ends respectively, and being merged into a round handle in the centre Two forms of this bow exist, viz. the North Andaman bow, in which the upper limb is much more bent than the lower; and the South Andaman, in which the limbs are nearly even, but are somewhat S-shaped when unstrung.

23. Andaman Islander barking tree
23. Andaman Islander barking tree
(From a photograph by Mr. Portman)

Several different woods are used for bow-making, the important point being that the piece of wood selected should be nearly the same shape as the finished weapon; that is to say, bent in the case of the Northern, and straight in the case of the Southern, bow.

24. Roughing out the bow
24. Roughing out the bow
(From a photograph by Mr. Portman)

Having selected a suitable tree and barked it, the native then cuts it down with his adze and proceeds to rough out his bow with the same weapon. By degrees the bow begins to assume its peculiar paddle shape, the ends are pointed, and the 'waist ' is cut out for the handle.

25. Shaping the bow
25. Shaping the bow
(From a photograph by Mr. Portman)

The bow is now ready for finishing. The bowyer sits on the ground, and takes hold of the end of the bow between the first and second toes of his left foot. He discards his adze, takes the tusk of a boar, which has been sharpened with a Cyrena shell, in his right hand, and steadying the bow with his left, smooths it all over, pushing the tusk from him as he works. When the surface of the bow has been smoothed, it is ornamented with dog-tooth patterns, the edge of the Cyrena shell being artificially serrated for the purpose When finished, the bow is waxed all over. Should the bow be some time in the making, the worker occasionally leaves the wood soaking in water for a few hours to soften it and make it easier to work. A bow does not ordinarily take more than four days to make. Finally, each end is wound round for about two inches with fine twine, to make a projection on which the bowstring is to rest. As the bows are not made of seasoned wood, they do not last long, but soon split, and, indeed, their shape is not one which is likely to stand much work.

26. Finishing the bow
26. Finishing the bow
(From a photograph by Mr. Portman)

The next thing is the string, which is made of yolba fibre (Anadendron paniculatum), which is spun by being rolled on the thigh. The string is then carefully waxed with beeswax, and finished with a whipping of twine and a knot where the arrow is held. The string is first slipped on to the upper or

27. Stringing the bow
27. Stringing the bow
(From a photograph by Mr. Portman)

bent end of the bow, which is then reversed and placed on the ground against a stone, or in a nick, and the lower end (as in the figure) is pulled down. The stringing and unstringing are done at the lower or straight end of the South Andaman bow. The shafts of the arrows are made from bamboo, with a foreshaft of hardwood, as is commonly the case in the Pacific Islands. The butt of the arrow is often scored with the Cyrena shell, though not invariably. This would depend on the particular release practised by the artificer. If he used the primary release from between the forefinger and thumb the scoring would give a better hold. l he largest game pursued with the bow in the Andamans is the wild pig, and for this

28. Straightening arrows
28. Straightening arrows
(From a photograph by Mr. Portman)

purpose heavier and stronger arrows are needed; they are made from branches of trees and are straightened by hand and tested by eye--a rough test in use two thousand years ago by the ancient Greeks, as their coins testify. When moderately straight they are stuck-in the ground round a low fire to dry slowly. The English archers' test of straightness by spinning an arrow with the right hand on the nails of the second finger and thumb of the left is probably not known, and even if it were, it is to be feared few Andaman arrows would go through the ordeal successfully.

It is hard to say how this peculiar form of bow arose. The broad flat shape of the limbs must offer more resistance to the air than the same amount of wood in a cylindrical form, and, in fact, the bow is not a good one. A somewhat similar shape is occasionally found among the Oregon Indians and also among the composite bows of the Eskimo. The Eskimo cannot command the use of live wood, but depend on drift wood; and if this came to them in the form of a thin plank, the requisite strength could only be obtained by making the limbs broad.

It is, however, important to note that both the Oregon bow and the Andaman bow are reflex when strung --that is to say, they are drawn in the reverse direction to the curve which the bow assumes when unstrung. If the bow were thick, unless the wood were of wonderfully elastic and compressible character, this must result in fracture; it would, therefore, be a necessity to make the blade thin, and the only way to get the requisite strength would be to broaden it. Given therefore, the intention to make a reflex bow,

29. Oregon Indian bow
29. Oregon Indian bow
(British Museum)

30. Eskimo bow
30. Eskimo bow
(British Museum)

31. Paddle-shaped bow from the Shiré River
31. Paddle-shaped bow from
the Shiré River
(British Museum)
32. New Hebrides bow
32. New Hebrides bow
(Coll. C. J. Longman)

the paddle shape is probably the best form for a single stave bow. Both in the case of the Oregon Indians and in that of the Andaman Islanders true composite bows, which are always reflex, are to be found in sufficient proximity to make it possible that these bows, both in their recurving and in their flattened limbs, are, in fact, a reminiscence of the composite bow.

A very curious bow of this form was obtained by Major von Wissman from the Shiré River in South-East Africa, the main difference from the Andaman bow being the central mid-rib, which suggests that it may have been copied from a leaf. This bow is in the Berlin Ethnographical Museum, but Herr von Luschan, the director of the museum, tells me that Major von Wissmann obtained it from a Portuguese who had seen an Andaman bow. It is possible, therefore, that it is not a native Shire form. A somewhat similar bow from the same district is, however, in the British Museum; and Dr. Livingstone found this form near Lake Nyassa.

The upper limb of the South Andaman bow, which is much more bent than the lower limb, recalls a similar form in various parts of the world. It occurs in greater or less degree in Africa, in New Guinea, in the New Hebrides, and also in Japan. In the Japanese bow the upper limb is far weaker than the lower, the handle or centre of resistance being about one-third the way up. In the New Hebrides bow the weak upper limb is also associated with the S-shaped curved lower limb, which is found in the North Andaman. All these examples, however, suggest our old friend the primitive ' gardener's ' bow made from a growing stick weaker above than below, and it is possible that they represent an accidental peculiarity of shape which has survived from the days when bows were made after the gardener's fashion, and has been reproduced with no conscious reason after the methods of manufacture have been improved.

A very widely distributed peculiarity of the single-stave wooden bow, and one which is somewhat difficult of explanation, is a longitudinal groove or furrow sometimes running down the back, and sometimes the belly, of the bow. Major von Wissmann found this groove e in some of the bows of tribes south of the Congo, and says it is characteristic of the Ba Kuba. Herr Ratzel in this fact sees evidence in favour of his theory of common arrow bound indescent between the African negroes and the Melanesians, because a similar feature is common in Melanesian bows. The peculiarity is, however, too widely spread to afford much support to this theory. The most marked example is in the Tongan bow, in the back of which is cut a deep furrow in which an arrow is carried. This practice cannot be favourable to the straightness of the arrow, but as it is only used for shooting rats at very close quarters that may be immaterial. It also exists in the bamboo bows of New Guinea (not in those made of palm-wood), in the Fiji bow, in the New Hebrides bow, and in the Friendly Islands. In the Pitt Rivers collection at Oxford is a Veddah bow with the same groove, and it is a common feature in the hard-wood bows of South America. There is also in the Berlin Ethnographical Museum a Bhil bow with a groove down the back, and in the Dresden Museum is a South American bow, in which a plaited fibre cord is tightly bound into the groove down the back, evidently to reinforce the spring of the bow after the fashion of the composite form. In the Solomon Islands bows are frequently decorated with two parallel grooves down the belly, filled with black resin.

33. End of Tongan bow, with arrow bound in groove
33. End of Tongan bow, with arrow bound in groove
(British Museum)

General Pitt Rivers suggests that the object of the groove is to carry a spare arrow. In the case of the Tongan bow it undoubtedly is used to carry all arrow, which is tied into the furrow while the bow is not in use. This practice, however, does not seem to obtain elsewhere, and only in the Tongan case and in the South American above quoted is the groove of any practical value, while in all cases where a furrow is artificially cut it must weaken the bow.

34. New Guinean Bamboo Bow
34. New Guinean Bamboo Bow
(Coll. C.J. Longman)

The simplest explanation of a phenomenon which has been much discussed, and apparently the only one which covers all instances, will be found by going back to natural causes. The earliest form of the bow, as we have seen, is a growing stem of suitable size. The first improvement would be to take a thicker stem and split it in two; in the centre where the pith runs up we should at once have a natural furrow, and this is, in fact, the furrow still observed in the bamboo bows, interrupted at intervals by the joints of the cane. In the case of bows made from wood in which no natural joints occur the furrow would be continuous. When the bowyer's craft advanced beyond the method of splitting a stave in two, and men learnt how to fashion bows from thick trunks of trees, the furrow was often continued for decorative purposes, and in the two cases we have mentioned it was turned to practical account.

35. Veddahs with bows and arrows
35. Veddahs with bows and arrows
(From a photograph)
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