Sunday 26 May 2024

Amazon Archery

Gone Fishing

This post is just a brief commentary about a short video that I watched concerning the bows and arrows used by native people of the Amazon basin.  

The video showed two gentlemen discussing the bows and arrows used by Amazonian Indians. In particular, they noted the length of both the bow and the arrows used. The picture they presented indeed illustrated that the bows used were very long, perhaps approaching seven feet, while the arrows were about six feet in length. The bow was very much in the classical longbow mould, and the arrows had large feathered fletchings. I was intrigued as the archery configuration appeared, at first glance, to be totally unsuited for the dense  Amazonian rainforest. For instance, a short bow would be better suited for a densely vegetated environment. Modern hunters favour relatively short bows when hunting in forest/highly vegetated environments. This is why short compound bows are employed by hunters. Longbows will catch and become snagged where the flora is rampant, and this would be especially the case in the dense cover of the rainforest. Having acknowledged that very long bows are suboptimal in the jungle environment, there must be a good reason for their employment by these native peoples. The Amazonian Indians are not stupid. They have survived in this environment for tens of thousands of years, and therefore, the equipment they use is likely to be the best they can deploy, given their particular circumstances. 

Now for the arrows. Long arrows, especially with large feathered fletchings, are going to be slow-moving and very limited in the distance they can travel. During the conversation between the two gentlemen, it is mentioned that the arrows propelled from the native bows can travel two hundred metres. This tells me that he is no archer, as the native bow shown probably has a range of no more than thirty metres. Long arrows and longbows waste energy. Turkish flight archery is a sport where the object is to propel an arrow as far as possible. Incredible distances can be achieved by the sport, with arrows reaching over eight hundred metres. However, in order to achieve these great distances, the arrow is light, short and endowed with small fletchings.

I decided to see if I could work out why the Amazonians utilised their particular archery set-up in their peculiar environment without recourse to the all-seeing GOGLE. Given that longbows are not the best for a cluttered vegetative environment, it, therefore, seemed that the natives were labouring under a constraint of some regard. I suspected the limitation might be due to the material available for the bowyer's craft. Woods suitable for making self-bows have a set of superlative characteristics. During the discussion it was mentioned that the natives fashion their bows from a tree called black palm. At the time, I was unaware of the qualities and suitability of black palm wood for bow making. I was aware that the rainforest contained bamboo, and I was also aware that bamboo could be fashioned into great bows. But not all bamboo species are suitable for bow making, as I've found to my cost. Mayhap black palm is suboptimal for bow making, but it is the best available in the native environment. Regardless, I'm aware that if you are attempting to craft a bow from wood that is in some way deficient, it is wise to make it long and perhaps thick in crosssection. In this way, the stresses and strains inherent during the bow draw process are distributed over a large area, thus providing stability at the cost of efficiency. I've discussed elsewhere in this blog the intrinsic qualities necessary in tree species that signify, nay validate, a superlative bow-making wood; therefore, I will say no more here. If you are desirous of further enlightenment, seek within the blog, and you shall find.  

As an archer, I can attest to the difficulty of finding lost arrows at an outside range during a shoot. Even in relatively optimal conditions where the fletchings are colourful and the grass is short, arrows have the habit of mysteriously disappearing into the void. This is a well-known phenomenon among archers and is referred to as sacrificing the arrow to the 'Resident Arrow Gods'. Considering how expensive arrows are, I can only conclude that the archery pantheon is particularly avaricious. Therefore, I could see the advantage of having an overly long arrow with large fletchings in a foliage-rich and dense environment, as it would aid identification and retrieval under such circumstances. Furthermore, in such an environment, the prey would be close by, either in the canopy or in the undergrowth, as the rich diversity and sheer density of the vegetation would limit vision to the 10 to the 15-metre range, if that. Thus, the limitation of using a long arrow that is unsuitable for long-distance archery would not be an issue. Also, I can see how a very long arrow would aid bow fishing.  

Finally, I decided to check on the suitability of the tree species black palm as a bow-making wood. At a cursory glance, I learned that black palm is not technically a wood but a species of grass akin to bamboo. Also, black palm is not considered a premier material for making a bow. And indeed, the best self-bows, made from this material, are kept long at about 6 foot 2 inches.

In conclusion, the Indian natives of the Amazon rainforest have developed the best archery system, given the constraints of the materials available and the reality of operating in a challenging environment.  Nuff said.

This post is but a minor diversion on the road to further enlightenment on the nature of consciousness. Currently, I'm working on how consciousness came about and evolved in higher organisms. When did the first organism become aware, and why? This is the ultimate conundrum.    


  1. Thank you for that. We bow in wonder.The
    But seriously though folks, thank you for your investigations.

  2. The picture accompanying the post shows the bow being used for fishing. I worked in PNG and the locals used very similar bows and long arrows for fishing and bird shooting, Both done at short range and using multi-pronged arrows.
    In PNG the arrows were normally made from bamboo and did not have fletches. Bows were made, I think, from liana vines and sometimes used different woods lashed together.

  3. had once selfmade a composite segment bow of ancient egyptian new kingdom age for my nefertiti-stageplay. worked beautiful. especially making the arrows gave me an enormous respect to that culture. ok they could build pyramids without any diesel. What else more to say.