With time various topics, most connected to the 'ancient ways,' will be covered. Some of these might be controversial in nature - you're most welcome to contribute.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Origin of Instinctive Archery.

Recent scientific studies suggest that we are all genetically related to the African Bushmen.  Very recently the oldest arrow heads (64 000 years old) were found in South Africa.  I think it is fairly safe to suggest that the origin of the bow & arrow all started with the African Bushmen in Southern Africa.

Bushmen Hunter:

I was very fortunate to grew up in northern Namibia (Kavango region of Southwest Africa) during the '70's, experiencing instinctive archery and hunting basically as it was practiced for thousands of years.

What many people don't realise is that archery in Southern Africa is not only practiced by the Bushmen, but also by some African tribes.  In the Ovambo, Kavango, Caprivi, Botswana and Angola regions - bow hunting practiced by black tribes are quite common.

The Bushman bow and arrow is very unique - both bow and arrow are very small.  The purpose of the Bushman bow is to transfer a small poisonous 'dart' to the target/prey.  These little arrows don't have any feathers, it is a bare reed shaft with a arrow tip that is very loosely attached to the shaft - often by a porcupine quill.  The triangular tip of the arrow is the size of the average pinky nail - extremely small.

Bushman arrows:
 

 The draw weight of these small bows are just enough to force the arrow tip into the flesh of the prey animal.  As soon as the animal rubs on a tree or bush to remove the arrow, the reed shaft separate from the tip, which is then securely lodged - leaving the poison to do its work.  The finding of the reed shaft indicates that the animal was hit and tracking can begin.  Due to the small size of the arrow head, very little blood can be found.  Depending on the type of poison, blood is usually found in the urine of the prey animal.

I have never hunted with these bow and arrows.  These are very short range weapons and only the Bushmen with their extraordinary stalking skills can get that close to various antelope species.

In some parts of Southern Africa, heavier bows with non-poisonous arrows are used by both Africans and Bushmen.  The arrow heads are much larger and can be of various shapes and sizes.

I found this article and photos (by Rulan Heunis):


These arrows were all fledged, except for the arrows used in bow fishing.  The arrow shafts are made of wood (larger game) or reeds (hunting fish and birds).

 None of the bows I used or saw had arrow rests, hand grips or nocking points (on the string).  Shooting was purely instinctive and arrows held between thumb & pointing finger or between pointing & middel finger.

I have never seen any targets or anyone 'practice shooting' at targets.  Kids had little bows and their target practice was hunting - mostly shooting at small fish species in swallow water.  Later when heavier bows can be handled, they upgrade to hunting birds and small mammals.

As a child I started hunting with these little black archers - spending countless days hunting Tilapia & Catfish in the Kavango river.  Later we 'upgraded' to hunting pigeons, finches, pheasants & guinea-fowl or the odd hare.

It is difficult to describe the skill of these hunters.  It is as if they become the bow, arrow and prey animal - all at the same time.  I always got the feeling that it was their only arrow, the last arrow and the last opportunity - the 'energy' and concentration that went into each shot could be felt/sensed at a distance.

Something else that contributed to this 'energy' was the absolute time and love it took to make one single arrow.  I have seen hunters searching for days to find one arrow.  I have seen hunters burning down a large dense bush area to find a single metal arrow head.  All of these were carefully handcrafted, the feathers attached to the arrow with the sinews found in the tail of the spring hare. Arrows were never shot for fun, each shot was very carefully weighed.

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