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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter VI: Savage Archery
Chapter VI
Savage Archery
Part 2 of 2

The Eskimo arc weaker and less skilful archers than the Red Indians. They are, for the most part, a peaceful race, and use their bows and arrows mainly for killing reindeer, rabbits, and wild birds. Their bows are stiff, but the materials of which they are made are so poor that they seldom shoot at a longer range than twenty yards. Their bows are, however, occasionally capable of throwing an arrow fair distances, as Sir E. Belcher[8] says that one of the most powerful of the tribes in the neighbourhood of Cape Lisburne shot 176 yards, carefully measured. He adds that this was the extreme range obtained by any native between California and Icy Cape.

An interesting method of hunting with the bow and arrow is still carried on by the Ainus of Sakhalin, who habitually kill troth bears and deer with these weapons. Both these animals are now getting scarce in Yesso, where the Ainus have consequently few opportunities of hunting. But game is still plentiful in Sakhalin, where the Russians, who have a penal settlement on the island, interfere but little with the natives and their pursuits. Mr. Howard,[9] who recently lived some weeks in an Ainu village in Sakhalin, gives an interesting account of one of these deer-hunts, at which he assisted. He started at early dawn with a dozen Ainus from the village where he was staying. In two or three hours they arrived at a plateau, in the c centre of which was a large lake, where the Ainus told him to conceal himself behind a rock. The Ainus also concealed themselves in open order over a considerable stretch of ground, and then, by means; of an artificial call resembling the note of a doe in distress, they succeeded in attracting the attention of a herd of deer. When the deer came in sight the Ainus exhibited the heads of a buck and two does which they had brought with them, skilfully imitating the natural motions of the animals, while they themselves were hidden in the bush. The accompanying illustration from a Japanese drawing representing a hunt of this description is kindly lent me by the Rev. J. Batchelor, from his work on the Ainus of Yesso. The stratagem was completely successful, the herd following their leader close up to the spot where the Ainus were concealed. At this moment every Ainu let fly, and three bucks fell, while two others were wounded. One buck had the arrow-head of sharp steel, procured from Japan, in his heart, and another in the pericardium; but none of the three was quite dead, and two fought gallantly before they finally succumbed. The Ainu bows are stiff weapons about four feet long, with short arrows about eighteen inches in length, which with their sharp heads are effective enough at twenty to thirty yards. Sometimes they poison the heads, especially when they attack bears; and Mr. Howard, as a special favour, was initiated into the method of preparing this poison. This affair was considered a great mystery, and was carried on in the sacred corner of a hut which was set apart for the use of the chiefs. The head arrowartificer first cut up and pounded to powder some roots of monkshood. The arrow-artificerpowder was then boiled a long time in about a quart of water, till more than half the water was boiled away; the residue was then strained through a piece of rag, and evaporated further to a pulpy consistency.

87. Japanese drawing of an ainu deer hunt.
87. Japanese drawing of an ainu deer hunt.

The next ingredient was the bodies of six spiders, which were pounded and treated in a similar way in a smaller vessel. The gall bladders were then cut out of three foxes, and the contents extracted and also boiled down. Each of these substances was placed in a sea shell, and various incantations performed. They were carefully mixed, and more ceremonies performed. The Ainu then dipped a piece of grass into the compound, and lightly touched Mr. Howard's tongue with it. Mr. Howard says that 'the sensations at the point of contact were of a pricking, acrid pungency, then through the mouth and fauces excessive dryness. A few minutes afterwards the part of the tongue touched seemed non-existent, for all sensation in it had ceased.'

88. Ainu poisoned arrow. I (a) bamboo arrow-head, (b) ditto, scooped out to hold poison; 2, bone in which the arrow-head is fixed; 3, reed shaft; 4, complete arrow (Batchelor)
88. Ainu poisoned arrow.
1. (a) bamboo arrow-head, (b) ditto, scooped out to hold poison;
2. bone in which the arrow-head is fixed; 3, reed shaft; 4, complete arrow

Few races have the bow more frequently in their hands than the Andaman Islanders, who teach their children to shoot at an early age with small bows and arrows. The Rev. J. G. Wood[10] says that they attain great skill, and can make fairly sure of a man at sixty or seventy yards. Even this does not imply any extraordinary accuracy, judged from an English standpoint; but the evidence of Mr. Portman, whose authority on the subject of the Andamanese is indisputable, is less favourable. In a letter dated May 5, 1893, he writes to me as follows:--

The Andamanese are of two kinds --Jungle-dwellers and Coastdwellers, the former of whom, of course, use the bow most. The jungles being very thick, arrows are never shot to any distance' and the Coast-dwellers only use them in shooting fish in surf at very close quarters. The length and weight of the arrows and the absence of feathers prohibit shooting at long distances. Most Andamanese could hit a man at thirty yards, but they are not good shots. They can judge direction fairly, but at a hundred yards have no idea of elevation or windage. I have been under fire at the Little Andaman in a boat about a hundred yards from shore. The arrows hissed into the water round the boat like hail, but not a man was hit.

Mr. Portman also tells me that the Andamanese shoot the pigs which inhabit the jungle with the bow and arrow. For this purpose they make a stouter and longer arrow than they generally use. The ordinary arrows are made from bamboo, with a hardwood foreshaft, but the pig-arrows are cut from the branch of a tree.

I cannot find any instance of remarkable skill in archery among the natives of the Pacific Islands, and, indeed, the rudeness of the weapons employed would render any accuracy of aim impossible. Mr. Eilis,[11] however, reports that the natives of Tahiti can shoot to a great distance. He says that when he was there archery was a sacred game. The natives put on a special dress when they practised it, and did not shoot at a mark, but merely tried who could shoot farthest. The arrows used were made of small bamboo-reeds, and were very light and durable. They were pointed with ironwood, about two feet six inches to three feet long, and neither barbed nor feathered. Mr. Ellis says that the archer bent on one knee and drew the arrow to the head, the bow being so loosely held that it fell to the ground when the arrow was discharged. In spite of this wretched style of shooting, and of the fact that the arrows had no feathers, Mr. Ellis says that the distance reached was frequently three hundred yards. This seems incredible, and it is hardly possible to doubt that the measurement was most inaccurate.

In Tonga, Mr. W. Mariner[12] reports that a curious form of hunting with the bow and arrow is in vogue. It is, in fact, a game called fanna gooma, or rat-shooting. A party of chiefs having determined on a day's sport, they send some attendants along the path they have determined to follow, with instructions to chew betel-nut as they go, and spit out the particles on the path. This attracts a number of rats, and about ten minutes afterwards the sportsmen set forth, armed with bows and arrows, along the same path. The sportsmen are divided into two parties, who walk in single file, each man being followed by a man belonging to the other side. Whenever a man shoots, whether he kills a rat or not, he changes places with the man behind him, the party that first kills ten rats winning the game. Mr. Mariner does not state what percentage of shots are successful, or at what distances the T ongans shoot. They use, however, very long, featherless arrows, about six feet long, and probably discharge at very close quarters.

I have not been able to obtain any reliable accounts showing that any natives of Africa possess extraordinary skill with the bow, though some shoot fairly well if we take into consideration the inferiority of their weapons. As we have already seen, the more warlike races, such as the Kaffirs, do not use the bow; while the weaker races, such as the Bushmen and the forest tribes of Central Africa, rely more on the poisoned heads of their arrows than on the force or accuracy with which they can shoot them. Many tribes, however, still use the bow in hunting as well as war, and I am indebted to Mr. F. Jackson, who has spent a long time in East Africa, for an interesting account of a trial to which he put some native archers. In the month of May 1885 he invited some of the Wasania tribe, who are an offshoot of the great Waboni tribe, and who live almost entirely by hunting with the bow, to give an exhibition of their skill. This tribe lives on the coast, a little north of Lamu. At first they demurred, on account of the risk of injuring the edges of their iron arrow-heads, which are exceedingly sharp and well-kept, against the buffalo's skull and horns which Mr. Jackson proposed as a target. However, eventually several of them agreed to take the iron heads out and shoot with headless arrows. They fired four or five arrows each at the buffalo's skull and horns, which Mr. Jackson put up at a distance of sixty yards, carefully measured. All the arrows went remarkably close to the target, but only one struck it, all the other arrows passing just to leeward. It is possible that if the heads had been on the arrows they would have made their way better through the cross-wind, and that more would have struck the target. Their shooting struck Mr. Jackson as being fairly accurate at that range, and this opinion will probably be shared by archers, though tile performance is not one which upholds the stories of almost magical skill which are sometimes told about tribes who habitually use the bow. Mr. Jackson tells me that in this part of Africa the natives smear their iron arrow-heads with a vegetable poison which, when fresh, is very deadly, though its power fails in a short time when it becomes dry. A human being will die in twenty minutes after being wounded, and even an elephant will be practically paralyzed in a short time. The Wasania and the Wakamba shoot their poisoned arrows into an elephant and track him at leisure, knowing that they will find him in an hour or two in a helpless condition. The Wanderobo, on the borders of the Masai country, kill the elephant by smearing a spear with the same poison; creeping up from behind, they plunge it into him, and follow him till they find him paralysed.

Captain Grant, in writing on the native tribes of Equatorial African,[13] says that the Unyamwezi can put an arrow into a leaf at thirty or forty yards, and can send an arrow 150 yards. This distance seems credible enough, and though the measure of' accuracy at short range which Captain Grant gives is somewhat vague, the feat is not improbable, especially when one remembers that leaves in tropical countries are sometimes large.

The Rev. Mr. Dale, of the Universities Mission in South East Africa, tells me that the natives whom he has seen shooting in the neighbourhood of Zanzibar are very bad shots. They seldom shoot at a greater range than twenty or thirty yards, and are not at all accurate. A favourite game with them is to put an arrow in the ground and shoot at it from a few feet off. The attraction of this pastime seems to be gambling rather than archery, as the man who succeeds in splitting the arrow takes the arrows belonging to the losers.

The Bushmen rely entirely on their poisoned arrow-heads, us they could kill neither man nor beast merely by the penetration of the arrow from their weak little bouts. The Rev. J. G. Wood[14] says that forty yards its their extreme range, and that they prefer ten or twelve. He quotes a test which Mr. Burchell applied to a Bushman. He set up an antelope-skin about seven feet square at some twenty yards, and at the first shot the Bushman missed it clean. He struck it, however, at a second attempt. The Bushmen use both vegetable and animal poisons. The former are chiefly obtained either from the bulb of the Amaryllis toxicaria or the juice of one of the Euphorbias. Animal poisons are of several kinds, amongst them being the matter from the poison-gland of several kinds of snakes; they also, like the Ainus, use the juices from a large black spider. The most terrible poison of all, however, is made from the body of a grub called the N'gwa, or K'aa, which drives any unfortunate being, whether human or otherwise, who is wounded by it raving mad before he dies in agony. A full account of this poison, with which the Bushmen even attack and kill the lion, is to be found in Mr. Woods's book mentioned above. The poison used by the Wa Nyika and other tribes in East Equatorial Africa is prepared from the stem and root of a tree which Dr. T. R. Fraser and Dr. J. Tillie[15] have identified as belonging to the genus Akokanthera, though the species has not yet been determined. It appears to cause death by arresting the action of the heart.

One of the most famous and deadly arrow poisons is the wourali, or curare, which is manufactured by the Indians in Guiana. One of the journeys of the well-known naturalist, Charles Waterton,[16] Noms undertaken with the object of obtaining some of this poison and discovering the secret of its manufacture. Mr. Waterton says that it is used by all the tribes between the river Amazon and the Orinoco, but that the Macoushi, in Essequibo, make a stronger poison than any other tribe, and that the Indians come from long distances to buy it. As in the case of the Ainus, the process is surrounded by mystery, and partakes to some extent of the nature of a religious ceremony. The principal ingredient in the mixture is the wourali vine which the Rev. J. G. Wood identifies as Strychnos toxifera, and says is allied to the tree which furnishes strychnine. He also says[17] that this tree e is of the same genus as the upas-tree, from which the Dyaks of Romeo, who, like the South American Indians, use the blow-pipe, obtain the poison for their arrows. The next ingredient is the root of the hyarri, a papilionaceous plant; and, thirdly, the stems of two bulbous plants which contain a glutinous juice. Here, again, we find poison from the fangs of snakes introduced, and also the bodies of two kinds of ants. I he whole is then pounded, and boiled till it is reduced to a thick syrup. When these tribes are in search of birds they seldom carry their bows, but use their blow-pipes, from which, Mr. Waterton says, they can send their light, poisoned arrows to a height of three hundred feet. He does not, however, give any details in support of this general statement. If it is accurate, the range of the South American blow-pipe exceeds that of the sumpitan of Borneo, which the Rev. J. G. Wood says will not send an arrow more than seventy or eighty yards, and not more than forty yards with any effect.

For war, and also for hunting the larger animals, the Indians of South America use the bow poisoning their arrows with wourali. In this way they kill the tapir, the sloth, the panther, and the puma, which are the largest animals in their forests. Mr. Waterton recounts an experiment which was carried out on an ox which sufficiently shows the deadly nature of this poison. Three poisoned arrows were shot into the beast, which weighed from nine hundred to a thousand pounds. In order to test the effect of the poison thoroughly, the arrows were planted, one in each thigh, and the third into the extremity of the nostril, thus avoiding vital parts. The poison seemed to begin to take effect in four minutes, but he remained still for fourteen minutes, when he advanced a pace or two, staggered, and fell. He never rose again, and in five-and-twenty minutes from the time of his being wounded he was dead. Mr. Waterton adds that his flesh was very sweet and savoury at dinner.[18]

Many and marvellous talcs have been told of the feats performed with the composite bow in the hands of Turkish and Persian archers. There can be no doubt, however, that this bow is capable of very strong shooting, and the fact that Mr. Muir, the Edinburgh bowmaker, was able to attain a slightly greater distance in shooting with a Turkish bow than he ever reached with one of his own manufacture, proves conclusively the power of the weapon. In this connection mention may be made of the marvellous shot said to have been made by Mahmoud Effendi with a Turkish bow and a very light arrow' both of which are now in the possession of the Royal Toxophilite Society, though an apology is due to the gentleman for introducing him into a chapter dealing with savage archery. Roberts,[19] whose book was published in 1801, thus describes the incident:--

In the year 1795 Mahmoud Effendi, secretary to the Turkish Ambassador, a man possessing very great muscular power, shot an arrow with a Turkish bow four hundred and eighty-two yards, in the presence of three gentlemen, members of the Toxophilite Society, now living, who measured the distance, and to whom he observed that the present emperor (Sultan Selim) could shoot farther than any one of his subjects.

He goes on to say that the said Sultan, in the year 1798, shot an arrow 972 yards 2 3/4 inches in presence of Sir Robert Ainslie, then English Ambassador at the Ottoman Porte. Roberts does not give his authority for the latter feat, and it seems incredible. Mahmoud Effendi's shot, however, is undoubtedly well attested. It appears from another account that the arrow flew out of the ground over one or more hedges, and these obstacles may have caused some inaccuracy of measurement. It is, however, difficult to dispute the substantial accuracy of the statement in the face of the evidence.

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