Life in Newburgh on Ythan

By Talpa

The sharp end

In my younger days I was a keen bowman. Besides shooting modern composite bows I also collected more interesting bows and arrows whenever I could.
This is a killing machine from the Kalahari Desert, an arrow 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 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. You can see the poison just behind the iron point.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 the weekly visit to Tesco was tough going!

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