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Home > Books > Arab Archery > Appendix 1. Reinforced Bows
1. Reinforced Bows

AT FIRST glance this bow might seem to be identical with the composite bow which is described on page 13 but we believe that there is a fundamental difference. In all probability, the mu'aqqabah was essentially a wooden bow, of the general type and nature of wooden bows, which was strengthened by the addition of horn and sinew. That is to say, specifically, that inasmuch as the wood was the chief component it would be too thick to be bent acutely without fracture unless it were well over five feet in length—even nearer to six feet—and the bow would be nearly, or quite, straight when it was unbraced. Such bows have existed elsewhere at various times and, while they often show some reflexion, or bending toward the back when unbraced, the curve is gradual, regular, and conservative—more like the arc of a large circle; it is never the sharp, angular, and exaggerated reflexion which is one of the dominant characteristics of the true composite bow.

Why the reinforced bow was "used only by experts and those who live near water," is obscure. The first phrase may imply that their greater strength would require the well developed musculature of an expert to control them adequately. The second may refer to atmospheric humidity. Although too much dampness may soften the sinew and thus reduce the power of either a reinforced or a composite bow, too much dryness can make them weak and also brittle, chiefly by destroying the colloidal nature of the glue. In our personal collection of composite bows from Korea, China, and India are several which have been utterly ruined by the dryness of the air in our steam-heated American houses. Some have almost completely lost their cast and some have broken when they were drawn because of separation and buckling of their component parts.

The process of treating bows by heat was described in the eighteen-thirties by a Turk named Mustafa Kani, who wrote an excellent book on archery by command of the Sultan Mahmud 11. Bows were dried in the sun or warmed over a fire, if too damp, in order to increase their cast but also, if the bow were too strong, it could be weakened by being baked in a felt-lined box for perhaps two days. The proper tempering to secure either result was evidently a matter of experience and judgment. Beyond stating that a heated bow should be hung in a cool, shady place before it is drawn, no hint is given of any other sort of conditioning in the many arid places—even deserts—where such bows were undoubtedly used.

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