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Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to Artifacts

Bows and Arrows, New Guinea Weapons

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[A group of Dani warriors with bows and arrows, white body paint on the road between Jiwika Market and Wamena, Papua (Irian Jaya), Indonesia: 29k]

Figure 1: Dani warriors outside of Wamena, Papua (Irian Jaya), Indonesia, 1989. They carry bows, arrows and a long spear.

These Dani warriors had been hired by a Japanese film company. More than a thousand warriors massed in the field. They thought it great sport that they were being paid to stage battles; however, the local Indonesians were visibly nervous, and kept to the town the whole week that the filming went on.

We chatted at the airport with the son of one of the first missionaries in the Wamena valley. He told us that as a small child he went out with his father into an open field to meet with the Danis. There had been a death in one of the villages and many of the Danis blamed it on the disruption of the ancestral spirits by the missionaries.

Finally, because his father's medicines had saved the dying child of one of the most influential fight leaders, it was agreed that the missionaries would be allowed to stay in the valley. As the boy and his father turned to walk back to the mission at the conclusion of the talks, hundreds of armed Dani bowmen rose silently from their hiding places in the tall grass. They had been waiting, in case the decision had gone another way, for the signal to kill.

Other missionaries were not so lucky. One American was killed by hundreds of arrows shot from ambush. A few surviving carriers reported that the missionary, who was a tall, strong man, stood in the face of the attack, pulling arrows out of his body for many minutes, before falling dead.

New Guinea arrows have bamboo, wood or bone tips set in bamboo shafts. The shafts are approximately 5 feet long (150 cm). The tips are secured with fine wrappings of bilum string or woven rattan. The shafts are sometimes decorated with painted or incised designs, string or feathers.

Figure 2: Details of a variety of beautiful arrows from the Wogamosh River and April River area of the East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea. They are traded down to the middle Sepik, the Korosameri and Blackwater Rivers. From top to bottom:

[Detail of 9 arrowheads from the upper Sepik River area, ESP, PNG: 54k]

A typical New Guinea bow is made from the heart of the black palm tree which has both strength and flexibility. The height is approximately 6 feet (2 meters). Bamboo is used for the bow string. The bamboo is unstrung at one end for storage. Smaller bows are used for birds and small game.

[Highlands warrior at the Mt. Hagen show, PNG, 1996 with long bow and arrows: 29k]

Figure 3: Highlands warrior at the 1996 Mt. Hagen Show, Papua New Guinea. He carries a black palm bow, arrows and wears a wide bark belt for protection from enemy arrows.

Archery contests are part of the various culture shows like the Mt. Hagen and Goroka Shows in Papua New Guinea. In the early 1970's, the Angu (Kukukukus) were awarded a cow as the grand prize. This cow was for breeding stock, but Angu (Kukukuku) territory was a week's walk away over rugged mountains and rushing rivers, so they did the logical thing. They just butchered the cow and ate it that night in the motor pool compound where they were camped. They were actually locked in the compound at night, because the other show participants were afraid of them.

Another time in the 1980's, some of the Highlanders outside the Hagen show grounds were cranky that they couldn't crash the gate, so they shot flaming arrows over the fence and burned down the thatch longhouses in the staging area.

Papua New Guinea men easily picked up the English and Australian liking for dart competition. All the sports and yacht clubs have serious dart tournaments and even bush villages post a dart board in the village plaza.

[Man throwing darts at target in the Sepik River jungle village of Tambanum, ESP, PNG: 13k]

Figure 4: Dart board on a coconut palm in Tambanum Village, ESP, PNG.

Bows and arrows are still used in tribal skirmishes and as everyday weapons. George Leahy's two yard men in Mt. Hagen keep their bows and arrows ready in the laundry building at the rear of the house.

Our friend, Randy Leon, was staying at Margaret Hayward's beach cottages in Wewak when the drunks coming home along the beach from Boram Tavern woke him up. When he looked out the window there was the dark silhouette of a man with drawn bow and arrow on his porch. The next morning the manager casually mentioned that he hoped he hadn't bothered Randy, but he was just being prepared in case any of the drunks tried to come in the compound.

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Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

Collecting New Guinea art in the field since 1964.

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. Background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0