Oriental Hinged and Take-apart Bows

By D. Elmy

This article was first published in the Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, volume 32, 1989.
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Although the hinged bows one sees are generally of Chinese origin, specimens from Tibet and Java have come to light recently, indicating perhaps a distribution of the type by Chinese traders and colonists.

The reasons for bows to be constructed in this way are uncertain but convenience of carriage and storage and perhaps the sheer novelty of these bows made them attractive to archers.

They are not generally of a draw weight considered heavy and the fact that some hinged bows have the pouched double string of a pellet-bow leads to the conclusion that they were mostly light hunting and sporting weapons. As if to give the lie to this supposition there is a passage in Babur's Memoirs'. Another man was Feridun Mirza. He was a powerful archer, and an excellent marksman. They say that his gurdehieh (or double stringed bow) required forty mans weight." This is an exception, an instance of an extremely powerful bow but such weapons would not have been widespread.

Several bows, figs 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7

In virtually all the specimens of the hinged bow examined, with the exception of the Javan bow, the bow seems first to have been constructed as a normal composite bow. After the wood, horn, sinew and glue had consolidated with thorough drying and the bow had been tillered, it was carefully sawn in half through the centre of the handle. A narrow but very strong and durable hinge of iron was then screwed or rivetted to the back of the bowstave (fig. 10). These hinges were hand forged and usually there is some play in them. Whether this slackness is deliberate or due to wear is difficult to assess. The looseness does allow the bow to be folded so that the ears overlap but there seems to be no real advantage in this. When the bow is strung there is no play at the grip and it functions normally.

A feature of the Chinese or Sino-Tatar bows is the ears or extremities; some have long ears while others have short. This variation of ear length can be seen in both the normal and the hinged bows. It has been suggested that hinged bows were normal bows, so converted because they had lost their cast; too valuable to be laid aside they were converted to a lesser sporting role. This seems unlikely. Surely so much trouble would not be taken to convert a bow no longer as effective as it had once been? The same theory has been advanced to account for the short eared bows, i.e. they were cut down from the more usual long eared bows. This at least can be confidently contradicted for the Chengtu bowmakers listed these bows as separate products of their bowshops naming them 'Monkey Bows'.

The hinged Javanese bow we have observed is a scaled-down version of the gendawa, or wooden self bow. It forms part of a miniature set comprising arrows and a stand and is reminiscent of the Japanese indoor archery sets and it is tempting to think that it may even have been influenced by that country. However, a solitary specimen of a bow does not necessarily confirm a type, and we cannot say at the present time that the hinged bow was common to Java.

figs. 8,9,10

Hinged bows from Tibet are rare, but those examined by the present writer have been short and straight (figs. 1 - 2). Although straight they are composed of wood, horn, sinew and glue and some are distinctive with a cross-gartering of coarse thread over both limbs. Details of the grip and a full figure of one are shown in figs. 1, 2 and 10. Only one still had a string of the pellet-bow type and we believe it indicates a bird-scaring role. Pellet bows were in wide use in all the countries adjacent to Tibet. However, Ingo Simon in his unpublished notes writes of the use of a hinged bow with, presumably, arrows. He writes, "I have a bow from Tibet like this (i.e. the Chinese short-eared bow). It has a hinge in the back of the grip and can be unstrung and doubled up for easier transportation. The donor of this saw it in use by a mounted archer at a sort of fair. The shooting was not good as the archers had to give too much attention to their ponies. A mounted archer's horse had to be very thoroughly trained to get good results. These bows were drawn to the ear."

Take-apart bows

Contrary to popular belief such bows are not a recent innovation in archery, and there are still many old specimens of the type to support this statement.

The Japanese produced at least three different types of this bow, the first being Nukigomido. Stone describes it as follows: "A ceremonial, or parade bow, Japan. It is lacquered and made in two pieces which fit into the ends of a short metal handle". The Nukigomido is of the usual Japanese shape. Stone illustrates two, one with a carrying frame, but there is no other information given.

In the Simon Collection at Manchester, U.K., there is a Japanese all-steel take apart bow (figs. 5, 6 and 7). This is the only example known to the present writer and we have no knowledge of how widespread its use may have been.

The miniature Japanese take-apart bow is often seen in collections (figs. 3 and 4). They were exquisitely made and used for indoor amusement. Sometimes they are boxed with beautiful sets of arrows. Often, each piece of the bow is contained in its own brocaded bag and inlaid with characters in gold. The arrows, incidentally, are blunt ended, being shot at a hanging black curtain which has a target painted on it. The arrow tip is dipped in chalk before shooting so that a hit is registered by a mark being made on the curtain.