This article covers everything regarding South American bows. The arrows used by the archers in the continent and of course how South American bows were fired and what they were used for. So, by the end of this article, you will know, what types of South American bows were used, what they were made off, and how they were fired.
So, here is a quick summary of South American bows:
South American bows were very long. From 180 cm to 250 cm. Or 70″ to 98″. They were made either from the black wood of a palm tree or red leguminous wood, depending on the region. Their bowstrings were made using plant fibers, like the ones from the Tucum palm tree. While South American bows are divided into 5 categories, as you will see, they each share common characteristics such as being very long and not using any animal sinew.
So, that was a summary of what South American bows are. Now, before we delve deeper into South American bows let’s discuss briefly how bows were introduced to the South American Continent.
If you wish, you can skip the first part and go straight into the breakdown of the South American Bow.
Brief History Of South American Archery
As you can see in this article, which details Native American archery. Archery was introduced into the American continents by migrants moving across the Bering land bridge. These migrants brought with them hunting tools in the form of bows.
These bows vary from region to region. The main contributor to the different designs is the environment in which the bows were used. So, the bows that worked well in modern-day Alaska would not work well in the wet jungles of South America.
Hence the main reason why South American bows don’t use animal sinew. Humidity would rapidly do away with that. Alongside that, their massive length is also a byproduct of the humid environment where it was used.
So, as the Native Americans moved from the North to the South their bow designs changed with their environment.
Now, let us proceed to how South American bows looked like and what they were made of.
The Breakdown Of South American Bows
South American bows are all self-bows. They are unique in world history due to their size. Oftentimes being larger than the actual archer firing them with lengths of up to 98″ or 250 cm. Members of the “Jauapery” tribe reportedly have bows up to 3 meters long. They are made from the black wood of a palm tree or from the redwood of a mimosa. The bowstring is made from plant fibers such as Tucum fiber or even cotton.
So, why were these bows so large? Well, two factors seem to be the main contributors to this.
- The need for their arrows to travel far and with power. The main purpose of the bow was to hunt. So, when you’re hunting an animal it makes sense to fire an arrow from as far away as possible. Well, having a large bow in theory means the bow is able to produce more power than a bow of a smaller size.
Meaning, that a larger bow helped them hunt from a safer distance and it meant their bows had more piercing power. This came in handy when hunting animals with thicker skin. remember, the area in which they lived was very humid. So any kind of composite bow would not work well. Neither would the sinew-backed bows that were popular in the north.
So, if they wanted power, they had to get it by making large bows. This also made their arrows extremely long, which came in handy as you will see in a moment.
2. Their arrows got a secondary use. Given that their large bows needed large arrows. In a pinch, these could be used as spears for throwing or stabbing.
The 5 Types Of South American Bows
According to this report on South American bows, published for the Smithsonian institute in 1896. The South American bows can be divided into 5 categories.
- Peruvian bow. These are rectangular with long elliptical cross-sections and almost always made of heavy, black chonta palm wood.
- North-Brazilian bow. Semicircular cross-section, characterized by the material, a reddish-brown, smooth, leguminous wood.
- Guiana bow. Small with a parabolic cross-section for the most part and a channel along the outer side. Made from dark brown wood.
- Chaco bow. Round and beautifully smooth exterior, made from the red Curepay acacia.
- East-Brazilian bow. Distinguished by the choice of different woods such as black Airi palm wood.
In the above picture, you can see a few examples of how these bows looked. Going from right to left you have the: East-Brazilian bow, North Brazilian bow, and lastly the Peruvian bow.
In almost every case you can see the bow handle was wrapped with cloth for better grip. And of course, all the bows share the characteristic of being incredibly long.
Now, that we discussed the bows, let us proceed to the arrows these bows fired. What they were made of and what type of arrowheads were commonly in use.
Breakdown of South American Arrows
Arrows used in South America are incredibly long. They are made out of Uba reed (Gynerium saccharides) or the Cambuyaya reed. The arrowheads were mostly made out of animal bones or bamboo. Of course, stone arrowheads were used but given the availability of bamboo and animal bones, these were more common.
Arrowheads were either inserted into the arrow shaft or glued to it with fish glue.
As you can see, they really got creative with the design of the arrowheads. Having teethed arrowheads made it incredibly painful to remove the arrowhead from the body. This is why it was likely used just in combat and not in hunting.
In the entire region poisoned arrows were also very widespread. These were especially useful while hunting. Since, even if the animal was grazed or slightly pierced, the result would have been the same due to the poison.
Now, when it came to war or hunting larger animals they used special arrows with heavier arrow shafts. These arrows were made from dense Seriba Palmwood.
Now, that we discussed The design of the South American bow and the arrows that were used, let’s move on to the next section. How were South American bows fired and what were they used for?
How Were South American Bows Fired?
Unlike the bows in Europe, which used the Mediterranean draw, South American bows are fired using a version of the thumb draw. This makes sense considering that archery was brought to the Americas from Asia, where thumb draw is widespread.
In the South American version, the right-handed archer places his arrow on the right side of the bow and then proceeds to use his thumb, index, and middle fingers to pinch the arrow. This pinch from the archer holds the arrow pressed against the bow while the archer draws the bow.
With the thumb draw, it is also possible for a right-handed archer to place his arrow on the left side of the bow. By tilting the bow while firing the archer can avoid the arrow falling from the bow.
An Example Of How To Make South American Bows
This short 1:50 video below demonstrates how one version of a hunting bow was made in pre-colonial times. Take a look below.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Hopefully, you enjoyed learning something new. If you wish to go into a deeper topic of Native American Archery I suggest you take a look at this article. It covers the history of Native American Archery and the ingenious ways Native Americans made their bows stronger without increasing their length.
Or, you can go to Africa and explore the history of African archery here.