If in doubt, shoot it
James Marape - a year in review

Adventures with bows & arrows

Menyama man
A Menyama man and his bow and arrows - deadly at short distances

| My Land, My Country

LAE - The primary weapon of choice for the tribes spread out over the Upper Watut to Aseki, Menyamya, Kaintiba in the Gulf Province and Marawaka in the Eastern Highlands has been the bow and arrow.

Theirs was the culture into which I was immersed at an early age.

The men carried black palm bows, which were incredibly difficult to draw.

Every boy had to know how to make a bow.

The bows for play were made of bamboo.

I quickly learned that not all bamboo is equal.

The bamboo for bow making could not be harvested too young.

It had to reach a certain level of maturity so it was flexible not brittle.

Every kid had a knife with which to cut and shape the bamboo.

Each end had to be pointed to allow the bowstring to sit comfortably.

The length of the bow was shaved with a sharp knife or a piece of broken bottle. It was a skill we learned and perfected.

Once the bow was done, the next step was to go into the tall patches of kunai and find the clumps of pitpit that made perfect arrows. Pitpit grew everywhere.

For grown-ups, the bows were made of black palm and incredibly difficult to draw.

Arrows were not fired from eye level like in the movies. Mostly the archer would raise the bow up to the sky with the arm holding the bow straight.

The string would be pulled back and in one fluid motion the archer would draw and fire from the hip.

The archers had learned over generations without feathered arrows that, when fired, the projectiles would travel in an upward curve. It was a deadly weapon at short distances.

As children we imagined our own battles when we gathered to ‘fight’ out pitpit wars.

Our teachers at Menyamya Community School banned bows and arrows in the school premises because a few and boys - and birds - got injured.

It didn’t stop the battles continuing after school.

These adventures continued on weekends when we convened along the river banks.

This is another chapter of life in Menyamya. An adventure unfinished in spirit. The memories live on in time.


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Arthur Williams

When reading Scott’s post it reminded me that I haven’t visited our local museum in Cardiff for a very long time.

The last time I went there one section making me smile. It had displays of ancient man and his era in these isles.

There among the exhibits were stone axes from about 3,000 years ago. Yet back in my home in Lavongai I had several of them of various sizes and colours all likely to have been made and used within living memories of the lapuns in my wife’s family.

I particularly loved my all black axe. It was of beautifully shiny obsidian. Being forbidden exports I left them all behind when I came back to Wales in 2008.

It is a similar story for the bow and arrow of PNG. To most British folk such a weapon was only seen in Hollywood’s ‘Western’ movies.

For anyone to imagine them still being used in today’s digital era is almost unbelievable. Yet my wife gave birth in Tari hospital with a corpse on a nearby trolley in the same room; complete with wailing relatives. He had been killed with arrow(s).

On Lavongai I saw young lads making small rudimentary bows which I found out were used for play that would include not only annoyingly shooting arrows at my pawpaws but also to shoot small birds.

Mind I lost my old coin collection to kids in my extended family who used them in slingshots; also to kill birds but at least for food.

The only arrow I was glad to miss was when during a heated village meeting. We were sat down on the sand under the shade of huge beach tree.

Suddenly John, an old friend had heard enough. He ran into his nearby hut and came out with a good sized bow and aimed its arrow at my chest. I remained sitting expecting any moment to feel the impact.

The serious situation ended in laughter when a seated lady near John put her hand up his laplap and seized his balls. Everyone roared with laughter, some younger ones rolling round on the sand as John screamed possibly more out of embarrassment than pain.

End of tension. He later brought me to my waiting dinghy and we shook hands as I was about to climb in, “Sori Willi!” he said with a broad smile on his face.

I too grinned, “Samting nating poro!”

Thanks for triggering memories Scott.

Chris Overland

On my patrols in the mountains between Kerema and Kaintiba, all of the men carried a bow and arrows. Most also carried a small steel axe, usually attached to a very long black palm handle.

My recollection is that there were different arrow heads made for different purposes.

Some arrows intended to kill humans or animals had long sharp heads designed to cause serious and ultimately fatal bleeding.

Other arrow heads had barbs cut into them so that they could not be easily removed once they struck their target.

Such arrows could, apart from disabling the target, cause a serious wound infection and this could easily lead to the death of the person or animal struck.

They were, as I recall, tough little men. What they lacked in stature they more than made up for in both physical resilience and what we now term "attitude".

The coastal folk were mortally afraid of them. Their reputation as savage head hunters ensured that few if any coastal people would venture into even the foothills of their mountain home.

From what I have read about the opening up of Menyamya the local people were very prone to fighting one another over relatively trivial issues.

The early kiaps sometimes had to use force to stop the inter tribal fighting that was common amongst them, but sporadic violence and murder continued long after the first kiaps arrived.

Scott seems to have been raised in the long tradition of his people, whereby skill with a bow and arrow was a much valued and very necessary skill to possess.

Chips Mackellar

Scott mentions that the Menyamya arrow was "a deadly weapon at short distances" and indeed it was.

However, it was only effective in cases of close-order ambush. In my time at Menyamya, most of the conflicts took place at considerable distance.

A featherless arrow at these distances was by itself grossly inaccurate because it could be diverted from its target by the wind.

However in the high grasslands of Menyamya, where the winds were often fierce, the people learned to put these strong winds to great advantage during armed conflict.

They would use some old lapun as a kind of artillery director. He would estimate the strength and direction of the wind, and use the wind to blow the featherless arrows in the right direction.

He would direct his archers where to aim. Sometimes he would direct an aim of up to 30 degrees off target, thus allowing the wind to turn the arrows in the right direction towards the target.

In these winds the arrows did not need feathers. They would be blown towards the target regardless. A single arrow was useless. But, by the law of averages, in a flight of 100 arrows or so, there was always one or two which were bound to hit the target, and this usually ended the conflict.

These lapuns were grand masters of bow and arrow warfare.

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