The bow and arrow were intrinsic to the way of life of many First Nations groups. It is a superb weapon for stalking prey, quietly and efficiently.

For many First Nations people, the bow and arrow are the embodiment of power and magic. The power to create bows and arrows was attained through the spirit world. The Omaha had bowmakers who were given tobacco and gifts in exchange for their bow-making service. The bowmaker would then make the bow, but not the arrows or bowstring; these were made by other specialists.
The bow and arrow were intrinsic to the way of life of many First Nations groups. It is a superb weapon for stalking prey, quietly and efficiently.

For many First Nations people, the bow and arrow are the embodiment of power and magic. The power to create bows and arrows was attained through the spirit world. The Omaha had bowmakers who were given tobacco and gifts in exchange for their bow-making service. The bowmaker would then make the bow, but not the arrows or bowstring; these were made by other specialists.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Apache Warriors

Apache warriors posing for Photographs with traditional regalia and weaponry: walking stick, bow and arrow and gun, 1873.

Photographer: Timothy H. O'Sullivan
Denver Public Library, Colorado Historical Society, and Denver Art Museum
c. 1873
X-33139
© Denver Public Library, Colorado Historical Society, and Denver Art Museum


Iowa (Ioway) Boy

Iowa (Ioway) Boy on horseback aiming bow and arrow, with horse reings in his mouth. May 1, 1890.

Photographer: J.J. Hargrave
Denver Public Library, Colorado Historical Society, and Denver Art Museum
1890 05 01
X-30970
© Denver Public Library, Colorado Historical Society, and Denver Art Museum


First Nations bows and arrows varied both in the form and the materials used in construction. There are three main styles of bows: the self-bow, the reinforced bow and the composite bow. The self-bow is usually straight and made of a single material, normally wood. The reinforced bow is basically a self-bow with a lining of sinew adding strength and flexibility. The composite bow was usually made of wood and one or more additional materials (bone, antler, sinew, intestine). It was particularly common in areas where wood was scarce.
First Nations bows and arrows varied both in the form and the materials used in construction. There are three main styles of bows: the self-bow, the reinforced bow and the composite bow. The self-bow is usually straight and made of a single material, normally wood. The reinforced bow is basically a self-bow with a lining of sinew adding strength and flexibility. The composite bow was usually made of wood and one or more additional materials (bone, antler, sinew, intestine). It was particularly common in areas where wood was scarce.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Bone Bow

A beautiful example of a composite bow is this Eskimo Bone Bow. Cape York, Greenland. Collected by Sam Entricken. Presented by Dr. Frank G. Speck.

Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

14/1705
© Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution


Bow

Self Hunting Bow - Reproduction of an Abenaki/Penobscot War bow early 1700.

Musée des Abénaki d'Odanak.

© Musée des Abénaki d'Odanak.


The form took into consideration the local environment. The woodland bow was a light bow best suited for stealth and speed when moving through the forest. On the plains, where visibility was good and arrows could fly greater distances unobstructed people had larger bows. With the advent of the horse on the plains, both bows and arrows became shorter, because smaller bow and arrows were easier to manipulate while riding.
The form took into consideration the local environment. The woodland bow was a light bow best suited for stealth and speed when moving through the forest. On the plains, where visibility was good and arrows could fly greater distances unobstructed people had larger bows. With the advent of the horse on the plains, both bows and arrows became shorter, because smaller bow and arrows were easier to manipulate while riding.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Bow

Abenaki from Odanak early 1900.

Rejean O'Bomsawin

© Rejean O'Bomsawin


Drawing

Plains men on buffalo hunt. C. 1840-1850.

Artist: George, Caitlin
Denver Public Library, Colorado Historical Society, and Denver Art Museum
1840 - 1850
X-33703
© Denver Public Library, Colorado Historical Society, and Denver Art Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Explain the significance of the bow and arrow to First Nation peoples;
  • Describe at least two forms of bow, and the materials and construction methods;
  • Relate the form of bow to its function, using examples.

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