…With Survival In Mind

By Teddy S. McKinney

FOR THREE YEARS now,I have had
the exciting privilege of living among
three of the Surinam’s jungle Indian
Tribes. Surinam (formerly Dutch Guiana is located on the northeast shoulder of South -America and is bordered on
the West by- Guoana, on the east by
French Guiana and on the south by its
giant neighbor Brazil.
The country is sparsely populated,
the majority of its residents living
mainly along the coast. It is predominantly rain forest and within the vast
reaches of interior jungle dwell three
tribes of Indians-the Trio. the Akudio the Wayana. Little known to
the outside world, these expert archers
are skilled craftsmen in the art of
making “primitive” weapons.

Early one morning before the sun
had blurred away the jungle mist, Panashopa and I set out with ax and machete in hadn to cut bow staves. We intended to hunt along the way and to cut a beetree, which he had discovered on a previous hunt. After several hours on the trail, we veered off sharply into the jungle. He paused at an old rotten log and began digging at it with his toes. Noticing my puzzled look, he assured me this was indeed “woolapa” or bow wood. As he began chopping, I realized that only only the exterior was rotten and that it was the hard, reddish brown, fine-grained heartwood which he sought.

Finally after an hour or more of chopping and splitting, he had produced three suitable looking bow staves, each about six feet long. Then, using the machete, he began to chop them to a tapered point at both ends. Soon the staves began to take on a vague resemblance to longbows.

Upon returning to the village, Panashopa took the lower jawbone of a wild pig, with the tusk still intact, and began shaving the stave down using the tusk a a sort of drawknife. As the pile of fine shavings on the ground grew to resemble some strange bird’s nest, the stick of wood became a beautiful, smooth longbow—straight and symmetrical. The bow was flat on
the back, rounded on the belly and tapered gradually to a sharp point at
each end. I asked Panashopa why his people
designed their bows with such sharp
points. He replied, “That’s just the way
we do it.” However, some of the old
men of the village will tell you that
years ago when the Trios, Wayanas,
and Akudios were at war, these long,
sharply pointed bows served them well
as spears in close combat, once the
arrows were used up.

At the tips, he carved a notch so slight
I was amazed that it could keep the
string from slipping. Using strands of
“woo-lo-way-toe” fiber (probably sisal), which he had previously dried,
Panashopa twisted a bowstring by
rolling three strands between his palm
and his thigh. In a matter of minutes,
he had a durable, new, double length
bowstring. Half of it he wound around
the lower limb of the bow as a spare,
then attached it to the lower tip with a
clove hitch. He then took the loose end
of the string, placed the lower tip
of the bow on the ground, bent it with
his knee and tied the string at the top
with another clove hitch. Not satisified
with the tension, he loosened the
string, twisted it more to shorten it and
retied it. This time he handed the bow
to me with a smile.
joints, that is important for making arrows.

Naki selected and cut about a dozen
of the straightest he could find and laid
them in the sun to dry. Several days
later, he cut each shaft to a length of
approximately five feet and began to
straighten them by heating them over
the fire and bending them across his
chest. When he was satisfied, he then
inserted a foot-long hardwood point,
carved with barbs, into the pithy core
of the larger end of the cane. Then he
looped a small cord once around the
cane where the hardwood and the shaft
met. By holding the cord taut with his
toes and his right hand, he was able to
roll the shaft back and forth with his
Ieft hand. Amazingly, the end of the
shaft grew smaller and tapered neatly
to the point so snugly that it was
difficult to remove it!

The next step was to secure the point
more firmly with the hemp-like fiber
they call “woo-lo-way-toe.” This he
coated with a tacky resin after tying it.
The resin serves as both protective
coating and a sort of glue. Next he split
several wing feathers from the harpy
eagle and several from the black oko,
or curassow bird. These he cut into
approximate fite-inch lengths and
trimmed the outer edges. Placing two
of these along the side arrow shaft, he
began to tie them on with fine thread,
Most of the thread is wrapped around
the shaft to form a design. Occasionally,
a thread is passed through the vanes
of the feather to hold them firmly in
place close to the arrow shaft. The
cotton wrapping is then painted with a
series of dots and lines. Sometimes the
arrow shaft is painted in the same

To distinguish his arrows
from all the others, Naki ties beautiful,
delicate little feathers from behind the
fletching to form colorful bands.

The arrow nock is formed by squeezing
the cane with the loop-rope device
about half an inch from the end. This is
then wrapped with cotton thread and
eoated with resin varnish. Sometimes
a shallow notch is cut, but often there is
none at all, since the Indians here do
not use the one-finger-above, two-
below method of drawing. Rather,
they grasp the nock between the
thumb and index finger and pull the
string with two or three fingers under
the arrow.

These bows and arrows, in the hands
of such cunning jungle dwellers, become efficient weapons. I have seen
these people stop a wild boar in his
tracks, drive an arrow through a deer,
topple a fat spider monkey from a lofty
limb and spear fish barely visible in
the swift current-all this with “primitive” weapons! How would you rate if
your next meal depended on your shooting skill? <—-<<

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