Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Bows and Arrows from Tanimbar - A Translation of Drabbe (1940)

I'm posting here a rough translation of a section on Tanimbarese bows and arrows from pages 93-94 of Dutch missionary-ethnographer Petrus Drabbe's Tanembar: Het Leven van de Tanembarees (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1940).  The Tanimbar archipelago is a small group of islands east of Timor and southwest of Aru and New Guinea inhabited entirely by speakers of Austronesian (Kei-Tanimbar) languages.  The main island is Yamdena, and others are Fordata, Larat, and Selaru.
Tanimbar in Maluku, way in the south.  h/t Wiki, Users: Lencer and Sadalmelik.  A more specific map may be found here.

Drabbe wrote in Dutch (and not especially elegant Dutch, I have to say).  According to a small website on Tanimbar, there is an Indonesian translation, and Susan McKinnon, who conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Tanimbar rather more recently than Drabbe, translated some segments into English for her doctoral research, but there is no full English translation.  I was fortunate enough to pick up the book from the Skeat Collection of the Tylor Library in Oxford - it was being given away, a sign of Oxford's strange relationship with Southeast Asian studies.  There are other sections on bows in the book, but very little detail besides this.
The principal hunting weapons are the bow and arrow.  The bow is made of koli or aren wood.  The bowstring is a narrow, twisted strip of the same bark as that from which loincloths/pubic belts (schaamgordels) are made.  The bow is roughly two metres long, and is braced before use.
I don't know koli wood, although I'll try to find out what it is.  Aren is Arenga pinnata, a common palm in Southeast Asia and one often used in Austronesian-speaking communities to fashion bows, if my preliminary information is correct.  Areca catechu, the palm whose nuts are chewed with betel leaf throughout much of India and the Indo-Pacific, is an equally commonly used Indonesian bow wood, but I'm fairly sure 'koli' doesn't refer to the areca palm.
The normal arrows are made of iron with bamboo shafts.  One can fix the point to the shaft in several different ways.  They are always inserted [into the shaft], but are then held fast by winding with yarn, winding with lontar [palm] fibre, and further covering with resin (dammarhars).  One could also use braided rattan loops (sluitring).  Only spears sometimes have metal fastenings, as they have wooden shafts.
Drabbe describes some of the bows and arrows in his photographs (Pl. XII opposite page 77).  Then:
Moreover, there is an iron-pointed arrow for pig-hunting in No. 6; the point is fastened such that it will detach from the shaft at the slightest movement of the pig.  A short [piece of] string, however, binds the shaft to the point, so that the pig will flee through the thicket with the point stuck firmly in his body.
Another hunting arrow is No. 8, which alone [among Tanimbarese arrow types] serves for birdhunting.  The points are made of bamboo, or preferably of the hard palmwood of the ndangat palm.
Drabbe discusses the difference between arrows and javelins (werpspiezen), noting that javelins have wooden or thick bamboo shafts but are otherwise similar to arrows.  Tanimbarese arrows are very long, and it is quite easy to confuse them with javelins or harpoons if you don't know much about them.

In his section on fishing, he notes that while harpoons and javelins are the foremost fishing implements, the bow is also used, although he notes that it is a lighter bow made of bamboo ('...als boog grbruikt men meestal niet den zwaren boog, maar een lichtere gemaakt van een bamboelat', page 102).  I'm unaware of any of these lighter bows showing up in museums, but it's a good thing to be aware of.

The account is worth knowing about (the point that the bow is only braced before use is somewhat useful), but there are some details missing.  I would prefer more detail on the bow itself, especially the carving on the nocks (the place where the string is attached to the bow).  Tanimbarese bows usually have quite elaborate bow nocks, and I have been unable to find an account of the reasons behind this.  I might be able to find something in my collection if I look hard enough, and I'll update this post if I find an explanation - I suspect Henry Forbes or some of the more modern Dutch scholars might have one.  It is possible that Drabbe's own lack of appreciation for Tanimbarese arts, including sculpture, contributed to his not providing an explanation for the only truly artistic element of the bow.

I've seen a few Tanimbarese bows in person, including one in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.  I intend to request a closer look at some point, and as you can see, it is exactly as Drabbe says (208 cm long, palmwood, etc).  The museum description says that it has a carved 'finial', which is museum-speak for any tip or ending - it means that it has a carved nock.  It's in the archery display case on the second floor, if you're interested in seeing it.
A trio of Tanimbarese men, c.1910 (possibly).  They don't have bows.  When I next have access to a working scanner, I'll put up some of Drabbe's images.  h/t Collectie Tropenmuseum.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You can post anonymously if you really want to, but I would appreciate it if you could provide some means of identifying who you are, if only for the purpose of knowing who has written what.