And Archery With The Hill Tribes
|by Antonio Graceffo
the champion marksman of Northern Thailand, set the butt of the large
crossbow against his flat belly. With both hands, he expertly pulled the
powerful string into place. There was an audible "click" as the trigger
popped into the ready position. He removed the short bamboo arrow from
his mouth, rubbed it with natural bees wax, and set it in the groove, atop
the ancient weapon. Holding the bow in a straight line, away from his body,
he took careful aim, and pulled the trigger. The deadly projectile flew
threw the air, straight and true as any shot ever fired by Wilhelm Tell,
hitting the target, dead center.
We all applauded,
causing him to smile brightly.
darkened by countless years of chewing beetle nut, remained invisible in
the growing darkness.
crossbows were surprisingly simple. Both the stock and the bow were fashioned
from the same teak wood used to make tribal muskets. The string was made
from strands of rattan, which had been twisted, time and time again, making
them powerful enough to bend the bow. Unlike in European archery, every
aspect of tribal archery is done simply with eye-ball measurements. There
seems to be little or no emphasis on exactness. In fact, any attempt to
pin Litee down to an exact answer ended in frustration.
times do you twist the rattan?" I asked.
is tight enough." Answered Litee.
pounds draw does the bow have?"
He answered, confusing us both.
|I would estimate
the draw to be somewhere around 35 pounds. "What sort of animals do
you kill with these bows?"
"It is hard
to kill animals, because they move too much." Admitted Litee. "But these
are great for killing people."
The only moving
piece of the cross bow was the trigger mechanism, which was a kind of rocker,
fashioned from highly-polished bone. It was held in place by a single peg,
made of bamboo.
were short, and cylindrical, as in European archery.
But, the fletching
was made from pounded bamboo, rather than feathers.
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was split into sections, several inches long, then pounded flat, folded
double, and then pounded again. One of the unique things about this type
of bow was that the trough, where the arrow lay, did not run the full length
of the weapon. It stopped short, three inches from the trigger. This meant
that when the arrow was properly set in place, it was not touching the
string. The string was already moving, picking up speed, when it hit the
shot, the trough was coated with natural bees wax, taken right from a tree.
The gummy wax helped to hold the arrow in place, and it lubricated the
trough, giving the shot a smooth glide.
on to say that he did take small game in the forest, but that big game
was actually easier, because their was more surface area to it. He could
take a wild pig by shooting it several times. He also enjoyed killing large
rodents. All of the hill tribes, and the Akha in particular, will eat any
animal. The jungles of Thailand are teaming with some of the most
exotic and most endangered creatures in the world. But if they fall into
the path of an Akha they will probably wind up in the soup.
all had slingshots, all had machetes, most had muzzle loaders, and
many had cross bows.
But they were
so desperate for meat, that even while working in the fields they would
kill an animal with whatever happened to be at hand, sticks, rocks, or
farm implements. They even killed snakes with their bare hands, by grabbing
the tail, and snapping them like a whip. These weren't sportsmen. These
were fathers, trying to feed their families, the same as anyone punching
a clock back home.
I will teach you."Said Litee Akha."But tonight, we drink whisky and eat
fire a traditional crossbow was something I had always wanted to do.
to Asia, drinking the fiery, most likely poisonous, liquid that the hill
tribes referred to as whisky, has become old hat. But I still couldn't
stomach the fried bugs.
My host, Darren,
a Brit, was married to a Thai woman, who had grown up near the tribal village.
After they were married, they built this house as a weekend getaway. But
it soon became a kind of community center for tribal people, who would
pop over to watch TV, help in the garden, or in this case, teach archery.
Some of the older boys went out into the garden to catch frogs, which would
be cooked on the grill. Daren turned on the outside lights, so the village
children could catch the thousands of flying insects, who hovered around
the bulbs. Once caught, they were placed in a bucket of water, so that
they couldn't fly away. Later, the women and children sat on the floor,
picking the wings off of the bugs so that they could be fried, and eaten
was grilling about 90 kilos of pork, which we had bought in town, earlier
in the day. When the bugs were finished, I made some excuse about having
eaten bugs for lunch, and tore into the fresh killed pork, like I hadn't
eaten in months.
we manly-men, Darren and I, lead by Litee Akha,
armed with cross bows and machetes, set out on our hunting safari. It would
have been more authentic, had we been going quietly, on our bellies, like
Marines. But instead, we had a gang of about twenty village boys following
us, shooting anything and everything with their sling shots. The fun thing
about being in the woods with hill tribes is that they find food everywhere.
The kids kept scaling trees, or hacking up roots, to share edible plants
with us. Of course, the noise was deafening. I would almost rather have
been in Bangkok during rush hour.
With the whole
village standing two feet behind me, snickering, I readied my weapon, and
tiptoed up on the water buffalos, or were they oxen? They may have been
cows for all I know. Anyway, the photos were somewhat believable.
"If I were an
animal I would have run away by now." I told Darren.
"Can you still
get your story?" He asked.
"Yeah, just keep
the kids out of the picture, and snap a photo of me shooting those water
buffalo over there." I said.
"But they are
domesticated farm animals." Pointed out Darren.
"The readers won't
know that." I protested. "Come on, I'm trying to be Hemingway over here,
and you're ruining it."
"They have bells
around their necks, and some of them are tied to trees."
"Well, just try
not to get the bells in the photos. And, if you can, try not to make me
look so fat."
got your story, now?" Asked Darren.
But since we are hunting, I would feel better if we had a photo of us actually
One of the
hill tribe boys pulled a badly mangle, dead frog from his bag, and laid
it on the ground. To his credit, Litee Akha had much more scruples than
me, refusing to shoot the dead animal. But as always, the dollar won out
in the end, when I offered to buy not one, but two cross bows, if he would
let me photograph him shooting the dead frog. When he went over to retrieve
his arrow, he looked like a visitor to a county fair, eating meat on a
going to print that." Urged Darren.
I am. But don't tell anyone it was staged." I said, swearing him to
I had learned
to shoot a cross bow and how to catch and eat bugs. The hill tribes had
learned how to fake a magazine layout. Everyone walked away a winner.
are the previous articles that Antonio wrote for the magazine:
Antonio Click Here
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