Monday, June 30, 2008

Apatani weapons of olden days - 3 : bow and arrows

Along with spears, bows constitute the only projectile weapons traditionally used by Taniis, as guns were unknown in this part of the Himalayas prior to the advent of the Indian administration.

Tanii bows are plain bamboo bows, with no stock. The whole bow is called
alyi; the string is called lyiha (from alyi, bow, and aha, string). Whether there is a specific word in Tanii to denote the stave is not known, nor is known which bamboo variety is considered most suitable for making staves. The stave is a simple bamboo section, the inside of the bamboo making the convex side. Two notches are made at the ends to receive the string. Strings are ostensibly made of twisted cane fibre, although this has yet to be confirmed. The string is attached to the two ends of the bow stave by a knot.

Arrows (apii/apu) are of 2 types :

  • - bamboo-tipped arrow, unbarbed. It consists of a rounded shaft with a pointed tip, having no separate head.
  • - iron-headed bamboo arrow. The head has a barbed iron point (apu-putu). Plant fibers (pyarmo) are used to fasten the iron tip onto the shaft. Possibly these are identical to fibers known as tama-amu used for making waterproof coatings.

All arrows are feathered with finely cut leaf fletches (murto) for regulating their direction. Again, it is still unclear which of these two plant species, tama amu or pyarmo, is used for making fletches, but pyarmo fibers are used to tie the fletches onto the arrow shaft. At the end of the shaft butt a notch is made to receive the bow string. The iron heads are sometimes poisoned with aconite (iimyo, Aconitum ferox). The plant is made into a paste which is applied on arrow tips.

The arrows are carried in a quiver (age) made of a hollow bamboo, suspended over the right shoulder by a sling of plaited cane. The quiver is fitted with a cane lid also attached to the sling by means of plaited cane (left).

In shooting, the stave is gripped by the left hand and held in an oblique manner, and the quiver hangs under the left shoulder so that arrows can be picked up easily with the right hand. The usual mode for shooting an arrow is to allow it to run between the first and second fingers, while the butt end of the arrow is held betwen the thumb and first finger. Tanii archers use cane rings known as lake or lyiha-lako covering all four fingers of the hand. According to Pura Tado*, this helps grip the arrow tightly. Possibly it may also function as a kind of trigger, as well as a protection for fingers. The left wrist is protected from being hurt by the bow string by means of a wristband (lahii). According to the author it is traditionally made of long human hair which are collected and made into yarn by spinning, then "artistically made into a thick rope with some symetrical designs" (2006 : 223).

In olden days bows and arrows were used both for war and for hunting. It seems that they were also employed in inter village disputes among Taniis, including those gyambo sonii or 'demonstrations of war', by which two clans or villages could challenge each other openly in a conventional manner. However, according to F├╝rer-Haimendorf, as a rule they were confined to long-distance arrow shooting, as was also bamboo spear throwing. The same author also reports that it was an arrow who killed the victim of the last Apatani gyambo sonii having opposed Tajang and Reru in 1972 (some information on this event can be found here).


Buru said...

*Bowstrings: The best ones are made from the bark of certain trees( eg Tano) which are hung from rafters and stretched out with heavy stones tied at its lower end( approx 15-20kg), while twisting it around this axis ever tighter. Its kept this way for weeks to months to make it completely tight and nonstretchable.Towards the end the twine is coated with the sticky glue made from the wax of certain bees--smooth &waterproofed!

*Age: The lid of the quiver is usually canework, and as above coated with sticky-wax to waterproof it.
(PS--a damp bowstring/arrow is useless, thats why)

*Apu: Actually both the metalled and plain arrows have various designs and names. The plain fire-hardened arrowtips can pierce 3-4 inch thick woodblocks if shot at 25yards or less!
Arrows for accuracy( ie ambush) were carried in the quiver--these were exquisitively finetuned as to length, width , straightness and poisons), while arrows for rearguard action or for overwhelming assault were carried in bulk in the Lecha--these were inferior ones.

*Fletch-- I am not sure about Taniis, but all other Tanis prefer the dried leaves of various canes.

* Lakhe( trigger): Most Tanis use it as described here.It is for 3 purposes--a)To increase ur drawing strength b)To increase accuracy of shot c)To protect fingers.
But Bokars and Boris apparently use the hollowed seed of a certain plant and wear it like a ring in the thumb of the drawing hand--down to the grave! The Mongols used similar triggers.

* Lahii-- used by certain Tanis but not by others. Usu same material as Tama amu or related plants.

The strength and accuracy of arrow shots by these bows have to be seen to be believed!

PB said...

Very informative, thanks. Any name in Galo for that sticky glue made from the wax of certain bees ?

Buru said...


Buru said...

Just an interesting bit of info:

In olden days, when some game is shot by one but multiple arrows were discharged by different hunters, or somebodys domestic animal was shot by an unknown miscreant, or even in unsolved murders the arrow was often enough to identify the culprit. How?
The lentgh of the arrow apparently has got a predetermined measure depending on his height and armspan which will give a best performance.An arrow too long or too short will have poor performance. Each warrior therefore have arrows of exact same length in his inventory, the ideal length of which he would have arrived at at some time during teenage years through trial and error, and which is unique to him alone .Thus miscreants used to make an attempt to retrieve arrows after the crime is committed!