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Home > Books > Arab Archery > Appendix 14. The majra or Arrow Guide
14. The majra or Arrow Guide

The description, on page 126, of the majra, or arrow guide, and its uses, is one of the most important discoveries in modern toxophilitic research. So far as we know, the majra has never been mentioned elsewhere in the English language, and its presence here resurrects a fact of gripping interest which had been lost in the oblivion of time.

Until now, the only arrow guide of which we had any knowledge was the kind which we will designate by its Turkish name of siper. This has been well studied by Dr. Paul E. Klopsteg of Chicago, who partially described it in his book Turkish Archery (1934), and who, in the light of accumulated knowledge, expects to write on it at much greater length in the near future.

The siper is a thin piece of horn, bone, tortoise shell, or other hard substance, about six inches long, one inch wide, slightly convex in its longitudinal axis, and grooved about one quarter of an inch deep for its whole length- These measurements are, however, subject to considerable variation. Attached to its bottom is an ingenious harness, usually of leather or silk, by which it is fastened to the bow-hand and held above the thumb on the right side of the bow. To protect the bow-hand in case the arrow should jump out of the groove, a flat, elliptoid piece of leather or other suitable material is slipped between the siper and hand harness, a slot being cut in it for that purpose- One can therefore see that the siper is a fixed, immovable support for the arrow which is contrived to let the archer engender greater force by enabling the bowstring to be drawn further than the length of the arrow would normally permit. However, it may not project more than about half a foot from the belly without getting in the way of the string and, for that reason, it cannot reduce the length of an available arrow by more than that amount. For example, a thirty inch draw would require an arrow of about twenty-five and a half inches, which is, in fact, the real length of many extant Turkish shafts. Obviously, a shorter arrow would fall off the hind end of the siper; nor can any other kind of short missile be used with a siper unless it be carried loosely in the hollowed end of a longer arrow, or shaft, that is fastened to the bowstring.

The majra discloses the entirely different principle of a long grooved trough with the bowstring sliding along its surface. Although it is freely movable, in contradistinction to the siper—it is the undoubted ancestor of the crossbow; an hypothesis which is substantiated by the following passage taken from page 12 of this book:
    "The Turks and most of the Persians make this bow heavy, and set it on a majra, which they fit with lock and trigger and to the end affix a stirrup, thus making it a foot bow."

The text of our manuscript shows the typical majra to be a thin, grooved stick, possibly twice as thick as the arrow and about three inches longer, which rests and slides on the bow-hand just as an arrow does, but is not shot away like an arrow because it is not nocked to the string and because it is tied to the ring finger of the right hand by a short cord. Within the groove, the arrow is laid anc nocked to the string. For this act the bow is canted enough to keep the arrow from falling out but, in practice, we have found that the inclination need not be very great. Although all the directions refer to its use on the right side of the bow, over the thumb of the bow-hand, it can be used just as well on the left side with the European finger draw.

The near end of the majra is sharpened like a pen, but not like a pencil; that is, it is left flat on top to make contact with the nock of the arrow but is sharpened on the sides and bottom to form convenient hold. The groove of the majra should be ample enough to let the arrow slide without undue friction. At the penlike end the floor of the groove may be raised a trifle and the sides brought in enough to fit the nock end of the arrow accurately so that when the majra and arrow are pressed together by the clench, or lock, the cock feather within the groove cannot act as a fulcrum and raise up the shaft. The most satisfactory one of our homemade majras was thirty inches long and three quarters of an inch wide, with a squared three-eighths inch groove.

To use a majra:
1. Lay it across the bow like an arrow, resting on the bow-hand or thumb—that is, whether in European or Oriental style—with the near end just past the string so as not to get nocked by accident, and with the groove away from the bow. It must be held temporarily by the index finger of the bow-hand or it will fall off.
2. Cant the bow and lay the arrow in the groove, nocked to the string with a tight fit. The index finger must hold both arrow and majra in place.
3. Treat the united arrow and majra as a single unit, clenching and drawing them together in the usual manner.
4. Loose as usual. Now the short arrow, or other missile, flies out of the majra with amazing speed, while the majra itself remains behind.

Those are the essential features of the operation, but all the details of technique mentioned in the manuscript are of value, even to the gymnastics of twirling the majra around the head.

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