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Archery Equipment of Tribal Asia & Oceania

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target arrows

Target Arrows, Java
early 20th century
Grayson Archery Collection, MAC1992-0224

Although the archery traditions of the great empires of China, Japan, Korea, and the Middle East dominated much of Asia of the last half millennium, many local and minority groups maintained their own characteristic archery practices and equipment. The Ainu, the indigenous people of the northern Japanese islands, used self bows and other archery equipment quite different from that of the Japanese. Among the tribal societies of the Indian subcontinent, the use of wooden and bamboo self bows for hunting, defense, and sport has remained common long after the historically dominant Mughal traditions have ceased to be practiced. Archery equipment of the tribal people of Central Asia shows influences from Islamic and East Asia styles while simultaneously exhibiting traditional ethnic traits.

In mainland Southeast Asia and southwestern China, wooden crossbows remained the predominant weapon of many ethnic groups into the modern period. Weapons other than the bow have tended to dominate much of insular Southeast Asia, although wooden self-bows were historically a major weapon among the aboriginal groups of the Philippine Islands. In Indonesia, where other arms were usually preferred for hunting and combat, distinctive bows and arrows are still used for traditional sport archery.

The importance of the bow varies among cultures of the South Pacific. It is the basic weapon of most of traditional Melanesia, whereas in Micronesia and Polynesia it has historically been a comparatively insignificant implement. The wooden bows and long reed arrows of Melanesia often exhibit beautifully carved, painted, or woven decorations. The arrows of tribal New Guinea, where the bow is still commonly used for hunting and combat, are particularly renowned for their extraordinary craftsmanship.

This online exhibit presents examples of traditional archery equipment from the Museum’s Grayson Archery Collection that are representative of the tribal people of Asia and Oceania. Included are items used in hunting and combat, as well as sporting equipment.

Image Gallery

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  • Ainu archery set

Central Asia

  • bow and arrows
  • bow and arrow
  • target-archery equipment
  • bowcase and quiver

South Pacific

  • bow
  • bow
  • bow
  • bracers
  • arrows

India & Bhutan

  • self bow
  • target arrows
  • quiver

Southeast Asia

  • crossbow
  • crossbow arrows and quiver
  • target bow
  • target arrows
  • bow
  • arrow
  • bow
  • quiver
  • arrows

References and Related Links

Dorji, K. and T. Phuntsho. 2000. Archery: The real game is played elsewhere (Bhutanese archery). Asian Traditional Archery Network.

Munkhtsetseg, [C.]. 1999. Mongolian national archery. Instinctive Archer (spring), 49–51.
Reprinted online at Asian Traditional Archery Network.

"Old songs of arrows" (Mongolian archery) at Mongolia Today Online Magazine.

Ölschleger, H. D. 1999. Technology, settlement, and hunting ritual. In Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, edited by W. W. Fitzhugh and C. O. Dubreuil, pp. 208–221. Washington, D.C.: Arctic Studies Center, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Simmonds, N. W. 1959. Archery in South East Asia and the Pacific. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Malayan Branch 32(1):67–104.

Skinner, D. 2000. Arrows of Melanesia: A neglected art form. The World of Tribal Arts 6(2):86–99.

Text prepared by Mary French, Charles E. Grayson, and Michael J. O’Brien, winter 2006.
Photos by Daniel S. Glover and Charmagne Thompson.

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