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    South American bow and arrows

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    • 2 months later...
    • 2 years later...

    Although this is an older thread, I am happy to see something about South American bows & arrows, a topic very important to my research interests and related to collections I have donated to museums in the US and Venezuela.

    Almost all South American bows & arrows are quite long, up to 2 m is quite common. The lanceolate arrowpoints are for large terrestrial game, most commonly peccaries. Even today most of these are made of wood or a species of New World bamboo (probably what these were made from) rather than steel because it is not uncommon to lose the quarry, and the arrow. Metal can be scarce, and arrows that are commonly lost are still made of more replaceable materials. The barbed hardwood point (probably a species of palm heartwood) are used for monkeys. Monkeys will try to remove the arrows, and this is why they have multiple backward directed barbs, to make that difficult and to make a more grievous wound as they worry the arrow. Often folks will cut a slightly deeper notch a short distance from the most distal barbs so that they break off in the animal as they try to get them out of their bodies. These long points can be recovered and are re-trimmed to sharpen the point and continue using them until the foreshaft is too short. A new point is then inserted into the cultivated arrowcane. The use of what appears to be native cotton windings suggests these were made by agricultural populations, who also probably grew the arrowcanes themselves. The monkey arrows and peccary arrows indicate these were from a tropical rainforest group. None of these would likely have employed curare, that is almost exclusively used for blowgun darts which are delicate and quiet poison delivery systems for arboreal game. The muscle relaxation of curare not only suffocates the animal by relaxing the diaphragm, but also prevents monkeys' tails from remaining coiled around branches as they die, so that they can be recovered after they drop to the ground. The 2 arrows on the far right of the 2nd image have sharpened hardwood foreshaft points that were probably for birds. Bird arrows with blunt and expanded ends are common for stunning birds who are hunted for their feathers in order to minimize damage and blood staining of their plumage. The arrow 3rd from the right on this image exhibits a broken foreshaft, possibly another example of a pointed bird arrow or for a lanceolate point. These 3 wooden arrows are unlikely to be for bow & arrow fishing as these normally have at least one barb to prevent fish from  slipping off of such smooth points. 

    The illustrations below are arrowpoints from my fieldwork with Savanna Pumé hunters & gatherers living the open neotropical savannas in west-central Venezuela that are part of the Orinoco Plains (llanos). These examples are among the dozens I have donated to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology as part of a collection of over 1,300 artifacts from my research. 


    This shows most of the currently used arrow forms employed by the Savanna Pumé. From top to bottom, it shows: a cold hammered steel nail point that is squared to produce a wound that tears rather than a round hole which will seal up a bit (as known in forensics that an ice pick wound does nor do as much damages as a screwdriver), this point is used for small terrestrial game such as armadillos, lizards, or rabbits, and some birds, it has a small proximal barb visible at the right where the windings end; a fishing arrow also made from a steel nail that is heated, hammered to shape, and then cut to produce the distal barb, a proximal barb is barely visible as well; a heated, hammered, and shaped lanceolate point made from worn-out machetes or other steel tools for terrestrial game such as the tamandua anteater, the great anteater, deer, or other much more rarely captured animals such as peccaries or tapirs. I have been on defensive war pray trips in response to seeing prowling strangers near the dry season camps where men nocked two of these kinds of arrows on their bows and stationed themselves away from the edge of camp. Considering the likely intruders were FARC guerrillas armed with automatic weapons, these parties only expected to provide time for the rest of the community to escape, not to defeat these folks who sometimes travelled deep into Venezuela during the dry season when long-distance foot travel was practical for non-indigenous folks; a wooden point for hunting birds; and a caiman harpoon arrow that has a detachable point and line to allow the animal some play before being dispatched. The cord is made from moriche palm leaf fiber. Scale in cm. 


    An illustration of the individual Savanna Pumé arrowpoints and their foreshafts, which are inserted into the long arrowcane mainshaft. From top to bottom: the squared small game point; the distally barbed fishing point; the foreshaft showing a slot (not cut through the entire foreshaft) for fitting the above two point styles into; an example of the small game point seated in the foreshaft with a tree resin and wrapped in windings made from the leaf fibers of a wild pineapple relative; the same kind of  foreshaft assembly with final coating of tree resin & charcoal, and a  coating of resin more proximally to assist with adherence in the mainshaft; a heated and hammered steel lanceolate point for large game; the typical short foreshaft for lanceolate points showing the double tongued carving of its slot. Scale in cm. 


    Fletching of the Savanna Pumé arrows. From top to bottom: the radial fletching of a lanceolate point, radial fletching is made from a feather split in half through the vein and attached as 4 pieces of fletching around the proximal end of the arrow, as are modern competition arrows, providing the best flight characteristics; an example of tangential fletching for a small game or fishing arrow where a piece of intact feather is simply laid againts each of 2 sides side of the arrow, this example has striping of tree resin that identifies the arrow maker; another example of tangential fletching without any markings. All windings and the nock are made from tree resin and the wild bromeliad fiber shown used for foreshafts above in the 2nd photo, then coated with resin and charcoal and smoothed by hand with face oil. Scale in cm. 


    An example of a Savanna Pumé caiman harpoon point and cordage set for a variant where the point is seated on a long pole used instead of an arrow, for larger and more dangerous caimans. The cordage is moriche palm leaf fiber, the steel point was made by hearing in fire and hammering to shape, the barb cut with an axe edge, and attached to the cordage with tree resin and wild bromeliad fiber. Scale in cm. 

    Edited by Rusty Greaves
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    Here is an image of an older Savanna Pumé man making a fishing arrow. 


    Photo of a ~65 year old Savanna Pumé man in the Venezuelan llanos making a fishing arrow in a dry season camp of 2006. In front of him are two pieces of firewood providing heat to soften the tree resin (used to bind the point into the foreshaft, the foreshaft into the mainshaft, and any fletching and nock construction), which is a thick black stick resting against the furthest piece of firewood. The fine, white bromeliad fiber used for the windings is seen just to the viewer's right of his left knee. These are a few strands pulled from a larger hank of fiber that he will use as one set of bindings, and a thicker group of fibers further to the right, that will be split out into several strand groupings to twist into a strong thread he will pull across the tree resin to make it sticky so it adheres as winding. The tree resin is heated and used to coat those windings. He is crushing the windings and coating them with resin with 2 small pieces of arrowcane held in his left hand while he rolls the arrow on his thigh with his other hand. Note that the nock for the arrow is not yet made and it is unfletched. Many fishing arrows do not have fletching as they are shot from a short distance from a fishing platform <2 m above the fish and there is no need to stabilize such short flight. Many of these unfletched arrows will later be fletched to use during the wet season when they are employed as small game arrows. 

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    I am always fascinated and impressed when an expert expounds on his or her speciality.  I would have assumed that wood points were used, as you say, because they were readily replaceable but not being a bow hunter would not have made the leap to 'things that get away'.  On the same note, notched points for monkeys make sense.  I assume that the hunters track the animal, even if the arrow is recovered, till it dies?  

    The harpoon for caiman is quite similar to some of the similar implements used for seal and narwhale by Canadian indigenous groups.  Parallel evolution works for tools as well as animals!

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    Your point about monkey tracking is interesting from the perspective of animal conservation. The folks I work with do not hunt monkeys, simply because there are none in the savanna. Some anthropologists have recorded that as a "taboo", which in my experience is just a silly anthropology term that means the anthropologist has no idea and probably never learned to speak the languages so they can't understand an explanation about why they don't hunt them.  Adjacent populations along the major rivers do because there are gallery forests there. Colleagues of mine working in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon who also did long-term fieldwork looked at conservation issues related to hunting. Populations of Machiguenga and Piro Indians within the park are prohibited from using shotguns, deemed "non-traditional" technology. Groups of the same Indians living outside of Manu do use shotguns. When shotgun using groups of men encounter monkeys, the inquisitive males descend slightly when they see these potential predators, and "blam" they are killed and the hunters go home. Within the park, the use of bows & arrows almost always results in missed shots in the first encounter with monkeys in the canopy. The Indians run shooting (and often losing arrows) through the forest until they are able to tire the stragglers, whom they are then able to kill. Who is slow in those troops? Females encumbered with young. Monkeys have long and slow reproduction, and one prime conservation goal in the Biosphere Reserve is to encourage the recovery of all primate populations. From a conservation perspective, what would be most sensible is to allow park inhabitants to use shotguns and preferentially kill males. Try telling that to conservation biologists and park administrators in contrast to their ideas about "traditional" hunting practices and there idea all of that is "naturally conservationist". Under past conditions of fewer people (especially outsiders) in the region, Indians could move to new areas when they start to exhaust the resources. That is no longer an option for them with encroachment on all their territories, and over-exploitation is the consequence here, and in many parts of the world. 

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    I hear what you're saying about well intentioned government biologists!  Up here, a few years ago, the 1,000 animal herd of Wood Buffalo, in a park the size of Rhode Island, got brucellosis from ranchers' cattle.  Gov't solution?  Wipe them all out, start over with 'pure animals'.  Really, guys?  And if you miss just one...?  'Oh, we won't.'

    It also sounds as if 'taboo' is the anthropological equivalent of the archaeologists 'ritual object' - 'We have no freaking idea what this does/is fo, so we'll call it religious, 'cause religion is mysterious!'  I assume from your comments that you DO speak at least one local language, which I would have assumed was more or less a requirement for serious field work.  I taught for 2 years, with our version of the Peace Corps, in Nigeria.  In English, one of the 4 official languages there, but could just barely feed myself and get gas for my bike once off the beaten track.  Can't imagine discussing anything of substance without some command of the local bhat.  In fact, our local missionaries, had 30 years in country and their greatest asset was a colloquial knowledge of Hausa, the local lingua franca.    

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    • 3 weeks later...

    I personally think a lot of “taboo” as well as  "myth & ritual" in anthropology is passing off our linguistic ineptitudes onto the people we work with & assuming they are explaining non-concrete, non-scientific concepts. The Pumé hunter-gatherers I’ve worked with in Venenzuela try very hard to teach me what their foraging lifeway is like, & the 2 hurdles I always have to overcome are: 1) that asking obvious questions about stuff every child knows by ~7 years of age (now as a grey hair) seems crazy to them, & 2) understanding the linguistic conventions, alliterations, or metaphors of how things are said when they finally realize I need the full explanation can be difficult for me in such a complex language as a non-native speaker. In my >30 months of fieldwork I have improved my language skills to where they most recently (before the political & economic problems in Venezuela made it really hard to work there) have been teaching me elegant forms of speaking beyond just making myself understood, the normal young adult speaking skills I have, & the "easy" fun phrases that are part of how things are said. I want to keep this post associated with collecting, so I will address your apt points from the perspective of how my work documenting and collecting artifacts helped me learn about the sophistication of Pumé science. As part of my research I have made a very extensive collection of their material culture that I gave to the UPENN Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (I’ve given a smaller collection to the Museo de Ciencias Naturales, in Caracas, Venezuela, have a few hundred more items for UPENN, & may give some to a couple of additional museums). My UPENN collection consists of ~1,300 items that are very well-documented, represent all kinds of tools the Pumé make & use, & almost all of my examples are used not new ones made for me. I have a few long-winded stories about how my work let me understand their vast knowledge of climate variation, geomorphology, plant dynamics, & animal behaviors. My collecting certain items that might be called anti-lightning "magic" devices puts some of this knowledge into an appropriate scientific light for GMIC, & I’ll soapbox a couple other points as well.

    During my fieldwork with the Pumé I tried to understand people’s behaviors about lightning during frequent & severe lightning storms. 85% of the rainfall (up to 1.8 m) occurs during the 6 months of wet season. In this savanna, the Pumé camps can be the highest features for a kilometer or more in these flat plains (llanos). During these frequent & impressive lightning storms they would sing to bundles of minty herbs, wave their arms & tell the lightning to go away, hold electric eel bones & sing to them, or use other specialized paraphernalia that was always nearby in the wet season in gesture & entreaty of lightning to pass by them. As part to my ethnographic collection for UPENN, I collected examples of these “anti-lightning magic” devices such as electric eel vertebrae, stingray spines used to pierce their tongues & blow blood at the sky, a caiman mandible hung in the roof & thrown on the fire during storms, electric eel mandibles tied to a stick, electric eel fin bracelets, etc. I thought the connection was electricity. I asked about these activities, & of course the answer was what any dopey child would be told: “Because that’s what we do!” I got part of my answer in my third wet season living with the Pumé, & part in contemplation many years later. One of the 2 times in a 24-month period that they caught a deer (while I kept track of all game that came into camps) I was given a large piece of meat not butchered to normal small size by them. I cut it up myself, so had no intention of saving the bones for my colleagues who study how people modify bones to better understand what we find in archaeological sites. The weather looked like rain, & my neighbor called over that it would soon rain (one of the common conventions in their language & among many traditional populations-stating the obvious, i.e., "You're awake!"; "You're alive!"; You're here!"; to which the appropriate responses are: "I'm awake!"; "I'm alive!"; "I'm here!"), & I agreed ("It's going to rain!"), hungrily awaiting the meat to cook. We bantered back & forth about the rain, & when the deer was done I quickly ate it & did something I had never done before, I threw the deer bone in the fire. My neighbor appeared immediately & asked, “You didn’t just throw that deer bone in the fire did you”? I said “Yes”, & right then – BLAM- we experienced the flash, ozone smell, & thunder clap of a very close lightning strike! My neighbor madly threw the contents of my hearth out & reformed the termite mound pot rests ~1 m away, stood up & said “Don’t you know that lightning really likes deer meat?” I did know a variety of stories about lightning as a kind of being who responded to blood (hence blowing blood at the sky from a pierced tongue), but did not know the connections to cooking. My neighbor explained that lightning likes deer, lightning likes armadillos, it likes anteaters, lizards, & capybara, it doesn’t like fish, lightning likes marsupials, it doesn’t like caimans, or stingrays, or turtles, it likes tapirs, rabbits, wild pigs, etc. I was the only idiot in camp who did not know this already. I threw lightning’s favorite food (“Lightning especially likes deer”) in my hearth & got an instant response from lightning. In addition to making me repeat the list of lightning’s likes multiple times over the next few days, every visitor to camp was told the story & then I would be interrogated about the list of lightning’s preferred foods (they did not care if I listed what lightning didn’t like, it was only important that I demonstrate an awareness of what it did like). That almost died down when an old woman coming back from root gathering called everyone out to the margin of camp near my house when the location of the lightning strikes’ killing of grass showed it hit <2 m from the edge of camp, & I had to go through the whole litany again & everytime guests came while that strike spot was visible. So I got some parts of the explanation, but it took years for me to put other aspects of this together. The Pumé are fabulous empirical scientists, they see how the world works, & they understand cause & effect. I kept pondering this in relation to lightning ideas. The first thing I realized was that lightning is very hard to predict. I know a couple Pumé who have survived being struck by lightning, with long convalescence, & been told of folks who died from it. Even with our sophisticated technology, actually predicting where lightning will strike is problematic for us, & this is a really terrifying threat during the impressive thunderstorms that occur often on a daily basis for much of the 6-month wet season in these Venezuelan savannas. Many anthropologists recognize that “taboos” affecting hunting success, death, illness or other events often include “normal” things that might have occurred someplace in the population (i.e., stepping over a stick, sewing a button, particular sexual activity, etc.) & may simply represent attempts to link low predictability events to common activities. So I thought these were just part of that kind of thinking about causes & effects. More years later, I realized that all the foods lightning “liked” were wet season foods, & all the food lightning did not like were dry season foods when there were no storms. Lightning "especially likes deer" or other large game as butchering, dividing the animal into shares for everyone in camp, cooking. & eating  such "large" amounts of meat takes more time than for small game-so there is greater opportunity for a storm to produce lightning during processing & consumption of large game. The Pumé arsenal of anti-lightning “magic” devices, simply pretend that they have dry season foods present, & maybe that could be associated with avoiding the dangers of a lightning strike. They have at least a 50% chance of avoiding a strike during their use, and that is about the best they can do living outdoors in the middle of a flat savanna under the threat of lightning. We can’t do much better with our technology on this issue. These were rational, cause & effect-based responses to uncontrollable events only predictable at a low frequency.

    In my time with Pumé hunter-gatherers in the savannas of Venezuela, It has often taken up to 24 months & my slowly growing competence in the language of this monolingual group to get answers volunteered that explain activities I've been asking about. For example, on hunts, when Pumé men encounter raptors, they shoot at them (only infrequently killing them) &, if there is a nest, they will destroy the eggs. Raptors (mostly hawks & caracaras) were never used as food, even in this food-stressed population. Of course I asked why they did this, & since that seemed an idiotic thing to say, the Pumé responded as they would to a child: “Because that’s what we do!” I wasn’t getting the answer & kept seeing this done. So, I put together my working hypotheses. I thought maybe it was because of competition for the small game, primarily armadillos & lizards that they rely on for most (87%) of their hunting returns. Even rabbits (yuk, not enough fat!) & most other small mammals aren’t frequently captured, & larger games is quite uncommon in this impoverished environment. I kept asking & getting no answers & tried to keep shoring up my competition “hypothesis”. The Pumé liked that I asked questions about them in their own language & they knew that I was an adult without adult knowledge, but it still took forever to get answers to many questions. One day on a hunting & gathering trip, about 18 months after I started fieldwork, a man & his wife stopped & he shot at a hawk, missed, then climbed up the tree & threw the eggs on the ground. His wife further destroyed them with an arrow & turned to me & said: “We do this because the hawk people fly away & tell the deer people we are here” For a moment I thought I was hearing a quaint Indian story, & then realized it was an accurate naturalistic description of animal behavior. Deer see “poorly”, but have acute senses of hearing & smell, & could readily identify a hawk’s predator alarm call that would certainly startle them. Thanks to efforts to learn & keep improving my ability to understand and speak the Pumé language (there are only 2 other non-Pumé who may speak it), I have appreciated a large number of stories & explanations about the world that underscore what keen observers and sharp empirical scientists these hunter-gatherers are. Without some linguistic sophistication, the literary or metaphorical ways they speak about the world might have made me think they did not have such knowledge or left me confused about how they explained many events in the natural world. On another occasion they explained evapotranspiration during the dry season to me in absolutely accurate physics terms: "the wind drinks the water." I have many additional examples as well. The only things that are difficult to explain are things with complex causes, that can be hard to predict, such as where will lightning strike and how can it be avoided. As I mentioned, even we cannot predict that well even with our technological abilities to image and track storms. For me, collecting kept my curiosity peaked & helped me eventually learn about a number of diverse & situational uses of technology.


    Pumé man "imploring" lightning to go away (In white shirt with L arm raised) during an approaching thunderstorm in the wet season & just about to pierce his tongue with a stingray spine to blow blood at the sky in an attempt to "appease" lightning. 

    Edited by Rusty Greaves
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    During my research with the Savanna Pumé of Venezuela, metal used to make the points on arrows was very scarce. For the thin, pointed small-game & fishing arrows I have previously illustrated in the post of 10 January 2017, pieces of bar steel or nails were scavenged from criollo garbage dumps or traded in from River Pumé with greater access to trade items. Larger pieces of steel to make lanceolate arrow points used for large game arrows was even scarcer. The Savanna Pumé used worn-out machete or knife blades, broken or worn-out shovels, or other pieces of scrap steel that they could find. When I started looking at museum collections from 1934 and 1958 I was surprised to find a couple of design features for these lanceolate arrows that at first was puzzling, but I eventually determined was an indication that steel raw material was even scarcer in these earlier time periods. Several examples in collections at the Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology collected in 1934 and examples in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York) and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University collected in 1958 showed these features. Near the proximal portion of these lanceolate points where they insert into the foreshaft, a small horizontal bar was attached to the distal foreshaft with palm leaf fiber string that would have prevented deeper penetration of the arrow beyond the point. One example in the AMNH had a rounded mass that is made of wound palm leaf fiber string (at least on the most exterior portion, there may be cloth under these windings) at the distal foreshaft/proximal end of the point blade. These points were designed not to penetrate any deeper into prey so that if the hunter had a poor shot and the animal was likely to be able to escape, the arrow had a higher probability of falling out and the valuable metal point would not be lost. This feature was especially important in deer hunting, where the success rate was relatively low because of the open savanna environment and the difficulty in getting close enough for a good shot (traditional folks always try to get well within 30 m of their prey with any projectile technology, arrows, spear throwers & darts, blowguns, throwing sticks, or crossbows, etc.). The use of museum collections in my research allowed me to see these economic constraints outside of my anthropological lifetime and get a deeper temporal view of raw material availability and its influence on technological design for this group of foragers. 


    Example of a River Pumé large game arrow with a thin wooden bar tied to the proximal end of a lanceolate point with moriche palm leaf fiber in lateral view to prevent deep penetration of the point and conserve the metal if a killing shot was not made and the animal had a chance of escaping. The stop at the proximal end would allow the arrow to fall out if the game was able to run off with a potentially non-mortal wound and the hunter could collect the arrow and its valuable metal point. (AMNH #40.1.58) 


    Superior view of the same arrow collected among River Pumé in 1958 by Anthony Leeds showing the small wooden bar tied to the distal portion of the foreshaft to prevent deeper penetration. (AMNH #40.1.58)


    Close-up superior view of the same arrow collected among River Pumé in 1958 by Anthony Leeds showing a detailed image of the attachment of the small wooden bar tied to the distal portion of the foreshaft to prevent deeper penetration. (AMNH #40.1.58)


    An example of a lanceolate large game arrow from AMNH (collected among River Pumé in 1958 by Anthony Leeds) with palm leaf fiber string windings (lateral view) to make a large knot that also prevents deeper penetration of the point in case of a poor shot. (AMNH #40.1.54)


    Superior view of the same River Pumé large game arrow showing the wound string stop in relation to the thickness of the arrow point blade. (AMNH #40.1.54) 


    Two lanceolate large game arrowpoints showing the past use of the bar stop attached with palm leaf fiber string to the distal foreshaft of a River Pumé arrow collected by Vincenzo Petrullo in 1934 (lower arrow; UPENN Museum #34-3-7) and a recent Savanna Pumé lanceolate point collected by me in 1993 that lacks this feature (upper arrow; UPENN Museum #96-1-453).


    The same two UPENN arrowpoints with a slightly different angle on the older River Pumé point (UPENN Museum #34-3-7) collected by Petrullo showing the horizontal width of the proximal stop.

    Edited by Rusty Greaves
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    • 1 month later...

    I wanted to contribute a group of photos showing aspects of how Pumé boys in the savannas of Venezuela learn some of their archery skills. Almost all learning occurs in the context of actual use during hunting in the wet season or bow & arrow fishing in the dry season. This is true for most indigenous groups across the world, direct instruction or practice is less important to acquiring archery skills than actual use during hunting or fishing. During the wet seasons, some boys ~13 and older accompany their fathers or other adults and assist with carrying game or heavier tools such as machetes, and engage in some hunting during these foraging trips. Actual target practice is very uncommon. I have only observed 2 bouts of target practice during my 30 months of fieldwork with these folks. Very young boys, ~2-5, are seen more frequently "playing" with small toy bows (made of softwood and a bowstring of old nylon string) and arrows made from the midribs of moriche (Mauritia flexuosa) palm leaves. Interestingly, these same "toy" boys are infrequently used to stalk a particular fish species (Pristobrycon sp., one of the piranhas) when dry season rainfall conditions upstream and biomass presence allows their movement into these flooded savanna areas, using very shallow channels through low shrub-forested portions of the savanna as the water table is dropping. Although I sometimes carried my bows & arrows on fishing trips, they are too cumbersome on the much longer hunting trips where I focused on data collection and mapping the travel routes. In contrast, during fishing many trips are short distances to sitting platforms built along stream segments and involve long periods of waiting for fish to be channeled near these fishing stations, and data collection was not inhibited by the addition of my carrying a set of bow and arrows. Being much less skilled than the Pumé, I had no luck adjusting for the refraction in water and never caught any fish this way. After a couple of years, the Pumé wondered whether I really knew how to use a bow and arrow. So they asked whether I actually could shoot with a bow & arrow one morning after the frequent 11-hour all-night dances, with a large group of men, women, and children sitting around following the dance. When I said I did, they instantly produced a bow and arrow and asked me to confirm that by shooting at a 30 cm long x 15 cm diameter log in the middle of the dance plaza, ~10m from where I was standing. I nocked my arrow and prepared for complete humiliation, but much to my surprise I hit the log dead center! I had not done much archery since my childhood, and fortunately was never asked to repeat that test. 


    Two Pumé boys engaged in the first target practice event I saw near the edge of the main wet season camp in 1993. The boy in the foreground in a red shirt is ~15 and the other boy is ~14 years old. The older boy is just about to release his lanceolate-pointed arrow at the target and the other boy is just nocking his arrow. They are shooting at a target that is 2 worn-out storage baskets suspended ~chest high on 2 sticks placed in the sand for this practice event. The target is ~8m from where they are shooting, just at the edge of the camp clearing. Boys' bows & arrows of the type shown are slightly shorter than the ~2m long bows and arrows used by adult men, but the construction is identical. Boys' bows average 1485 mm long compared with 1853 mm for adult men's bows. Boys' arrows (small game, fishing, and lanceolate type arrows) average =1397 mm in length compared with men's that have mean lengths of 1850 mm for small game & fishing arrows (the uppermost 2 point forms shown in my first photo on the 10, January 2018 post above) and 1512 mm for lanceolate arrows. Like most South American Native bows, they are made of a dense palm wood. The Pumé use primarily macanilla palm (Astrocaryum jauari) stemwood for bows and make their bowstrings from the wild/semi-cultivated bromeliad fiber of Ananas lucidus, known locally as curagua, one of the same fibers I've identified above that is used in several components of arrow manufacture. 


    The same 2 Pumé boys during the same target practice bout in 1993. The boy in the foreground is just about to release his small game/fishing arrow at the target. The Pumé use the tertiary mode of release where the nock of the arrow is held between the thumb against the 1st (the most proximal) or 2nd digit of the first finger, and the bowstring is drawn with the 3rd digits (most distal) of the first & second fingers. Note the presence of an extra length of bowstring visible on the upper arm of each bow. This is a common feature of most South American bows and is a back-up strategy both in case some portion of the bowstring breaks while a hunter is out foraging and as an extra piece of cordage should a situational need arise away from camp. 


    The same shot as shown in the previous image just after the boy has released his arrow at the target. 


    Two young Pumé boys engaged in the second example of target practice I have ever observed, seen during the dry season of 2006. The boy in red is ~7 and the other boy is ~8 years old. They are using the margin of the dance plaza for this practice. The target is a discarded storage basket ~4m from where they are shooting. The boy in red is just about to release his arrow and the other boy is starting to draw his bow. 


    Young Pumé boy (~2 years old) with a "toy" bow made of softwood and an old piece of nylon string in a dry season camp, 2005. The arrows are made from moriche palm leaf midribs. Young boys get their first archery practice with these small bows, shooting at various trash around camp or small lizards. 


    The same 2-year old boy with his first bow, made for him by his father (the boy pictured below in 1992 on the left), dry season camp 2005. 


    Three Pumé brothers using the same form of small softwood bows (averaging 873 mm in length) with nylon bowstrings as illustrated above for the very young boy's "toy" bow for a specialized seasonal pursuit of a particular piranha species. The boy on the left is ~14, the center boy is ~19, and the youngest brother on the right is ~8 years old. The boys on the left and center have and short fishing arrows made from cultivated arrow canes without fletching. The boy on the right has moriche palm leaf midrib arrows like those that the 2-year old has in the image above ( mean length=761 mm). This is during a portion of the dry season of 1992 when a moderately large piranha species (Pristobrycon sp.) is moving through shallow waters in areas of the savanna with short shrubs as the water table is dropping. The fishing technique involves stalking along these ephemeral "channels" and shooting the fish with these small arrows. I have seen men into their early 20s employing this method periodically when ideal conditions bring this piranha species into the areas used by this group of Pumé hunter-gatherers. The moriche palm leaf midrib arrows are more commonly employed in this fishing method than the small fishing arrows the two older boys have here, even by young men into their early 20s. These moriche palm midrib arrows are expediently manufactured prior to fishing and often were damaged or discarded and not returned to camp. I have seen a few examples made with small points made from a sharpened piece of wire attached to the midrib with curagua fiber and Symphonia globulifera tree resin. 

    Edited by Rusty Greaves
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    • 8 months later...

    Yes, I was lucky on that one! However, being an anthropologist is often about being able to handle my endless ignorance & stupidity in relation to the profound knowledge of the folks I work with. As I've mentioned here, asking children's questions ("Why do you do that?" regarding things that any adult should know, and getting the "Because that's what we do!" answer) or doing dumb things (such as my lightning story above) is a useful zen exercise in humility and reminder that I may have book learning about things, but fieldwork is needed to have real hunters & gatherers show us what our scholarship has not yet addressed. You have to be able to laugh at yourself (along with the folks you work with), as well as with realizing you are privileged to be learning from these fabulous people, not studying them. 


    One of the most wonderful Pumé men I have had the privilege to work with looking at cattle ranch encroachment on the savanna areas in Venezuela they use for hunting, fishing, and root collection as well as locations where raw materials are gathered for their technologies. 


    And to add at least some contribution about collecting, this is one of the dance rattles I was given that is now in my extensive material culture collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (Greaves Collection 96-1-1002). I used this rattle for my first year with the Pumé when I attended the all-night 11 hour-dances the Pumé hold ~ 37-52% of all nights I've been in residence (I got a different one for my personal use during my second year, and then 3 others in subsequent visits, in addition to several I obtained just for the UPENN collection). The man pictured above is one of the most accomplished singers, who improvised astonishingly beautiful melodies with complex rhythms when he led the community dances (tohé). He also occasionally developed the most complicated dance moves for us to follow, causing some really hilarious moments for folks used to mostly just running around the pole in the center of the dance plaza all night. This man was the primary curer in the community and used his skills in "spirit possession" during theses dances to get outside himself in the personae of "spirits" or recent ancestors from the Camps of the Dead to speak about about particular social or political issues that needed to be mooted by the camp members. This is not superstitious mumbo-jumbo as has been perpetuated by many anthropologists, but a very smart way of speaking truth at these public events without the arrogance of it just appearing to be the opinion of one influential man in camp. I've been called up to talk with spirit mouthpieces as well as one of my Pumé "fathers" and my biological dad, conjured from the Camps of the Dead several times at these dances for up to 45 min. He strategically got me involved in this form of question & response oratory when he felt it was necessary to remind the camp or visitors of a number of things that I had done to help the community or to guide my understanding to assist in other ways to make their wishes known to the outside world. Anthropologists needs a role with the folks we work with other than that of "professional dolt" interested in what they do (I'm not much good at subsistence activities or making their tools compared with their skills, however I do bring a lot of medicine and provide basic medical attention), I was included in these spirit interrogations so that I could use my unique skills to be their voice when I went to town. Unlike the Savanna Pumé, I could speak Spanish and visit the politicians and indigenous affairs board to try and make their wishes known about how they wanted to direct their own future as they navigate the ways the globalized world touches them. Using these 3-4 times-a-week public dances to discuss a range of practical subsistence issues (where people have found game, fish, roots, fruits, or useful raw materials), get information from visitors about distant kin in other places and other events happening in the region (including what the non-Pumé criollos are put to), and let everyone weigh in on the current issues, as well as have fun singing, dancing, smoking, taking dope, and laughing together all night is not just myth & ritual. This isn't "religion" in the way some anthropologists insist it is just about supernatural popadoodle. This is community engagement in discussing the news & needs of the day. We know that participation in rhythmic activity increases the willingness to cooperate with others (even when we don't really like all those people), not just from current psychology experiments, but looking also at the military use of music & synchronized movement going back thousands of years. This is a really impoverished environment, and the Pumé continue to be hunters & gatherers into the 21st century because of extensive cooperative behaviors. Cooperation is an absolutely key adaptation to how all humans have become so much more numerous than any other great ape and successfully colonized all areas of earth without the biological speciation that characterizes other animals (although a certain number of my anthropologist colleagues prefer to emphasize human warfare & violence, in my opinion a retread of an apologist perspective common in the 1950s-60s as part of the post-WWII attempts to find allegedly scientific explanations for some of the most inhumane atrocities of that war by claiming violence is just part of innate human nature, well displayed in the adoption of the writer and avocational anthropologist Robert Ardrey's popular treatments of some early thinking about human violence that made a cinematic debut in the iconic depiction of marauding australopithecines in the 1968 film - 2001: A Space Odyssey). 


    Close-up of this Pumé rattle decorated with images of men & women in the dance lines. Stylized rattle tassels can be seen between the linked arms of some figures that represent the rattles that only men use during these dances. This is their only musical instrument, other than the beautiful voices of men & women singing solos & chorus refrains for hours under the thick tapestry of stars & a galaxy, through the pre-dawn synchronized flashing of the lighting beetles, and resting as Venus reached a particular azimuth, just before sunrise. 

    Edited by Rusty Greaves
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