Life in Newburgh on Ythan

By Talpa

Gathering and hunting.

The weather today is totally foul; time to think of things from warmer climes. This is a killing machine from the Kalahari Desert, made by the San or Bushmen, the indigenous people of Southern Africa. These people were traditionally hunter-gatherers; the women gathered fruit, berries, tubers, and other plant materials as well as insects and birds' eggs, while the men hunted antelope using poison arrows and spears in laborious, long excursions.

The bows are made from tough elastic wood stripped of its bark, partially dried and then then shaved down to the required thickness with a stone or knife. The bowstring is made from dried and twisted animal sinews. The arrow is a complex piece of equipment consisting of four parts. Originally the arrow was tipped with stone or bone but triangular iron points are now used. The point is fixed to a short reed collar which is, in turn, connected to the main shaft of the arrow by a small torpedo-shaped piece of wood or bone known as the link. When the arrow strikes an animal, the impact causes the link to split the shaft so that longer portion falls away and the point is left embedded in the animal.

Bushmen arrows are not designed to kill by trauma but to administer a dose of slow-acting poison. A variety of plant and animal poisons are used in different regions but in the Kalahari the one most commonly used is derived from the larva and pupae of beetles of the genus Diamphidia. It is applied either by squeezing the contents of the larva directly onto and behind the arrow head, mixing it with plant sap to act as an adhesive, or by mixing a powder made from the dried larva with plant juices and applying that to the arrow tip. Zoomify to see the poison. The toxin acts only slowly and large animals can survive for 4-5 days before succumbing during which time the Bushmen must track the dying animal. And you thought that visiting the local supermarket was tough going!

The arrows are safely carried in quivers that are normally made from the bark of the root of an acacia or quiver tree. The sides of the quiver are bound in strips of animal skin which shrinks firmly around the quiver as it it dries out.

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