Traditional bows and arrows made of bamboos are used in Bhutan to play our National sport, archery. It was designated as the National Sport of Bhutan in 1971, befitting the historical and socio-cultural significance. It is an art form that has been passed down through generations, however, the skills involved in making the bows and arrows using bamboos are slowly dying owing to increasing use of imported compound bows and arrows.
Dazo, the art of traditional bow and arrow making is an important intangible cultural element of Bhutan but the skills involved in the art is fast disappearing. The traditional bamboo bows and arrows were used to play archery. Archery is Bhutan’s national game. It is a popular sport especially among the male population. Archery promotes social cohesion, harmony and the preservation of tradition and shared values. But the use of traditional bows and arrows are increasingly becoming unpopular owing to a large number of people preferring to use foreign bows and arrows over the traditional ones, which are now easily accessible in the market. This has led to decline in the skills involved in making of the traditional bamboo bows and arrows. Today, there are only few people who acquire the skills required to make the traditional bow and arrow.
Process of making traditional arrow
The process of making traditional bow
The Making of Traditional Arrows
A Pair of Arrows made up of Yushania bamboo reed. Yushania is locally known as Yangka. The bamboo reeds grow in abundance in Jaala village of Wangduephodrang district because of which the arrows are named Jaala Yangka.
Jaala Village, Bhutan
Jaala village under Wangduephodrang District, which is located about 1310 metres above sea level, is popularly known for abundance of yangka bamboos, which are deemed the best for making traditional arrows. The bamboo and its use as arrows are a great source of income for the people of the village.
bamboo for making arrow (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Different species of bamboo called deu is used for making arrows. Among many varieties, the one called Jala Yangka is the most preferred. Traditional arrows are made up of Yangka reeds and this quality reeds are mostly preferred amongst the traditional archers. The Yangka bamboo reed species is rare in Bhutan and are found mostly in high mountains of Jaala village. To preserve the species from extinction, today people of Jaala village take the saplings from the mountains and cultivate it in their homes.
Cutting of Yangka bamboo (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Prior to cutting, good quality bamboo reeds are selected. Usually, professional archers prefer bamboo reeds with lesser Tshik (nodes) or archer select those reed that are proportionately thick from the tip to the root and short distance inter-nodes of the reed.
Process of cutting (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Man selecting superior yangka bamboo reeds to be used as an arrow. Yangka is a rare bamboo species which is considered the best quality over other bamboo species that grows in pairs. Traditionally, it is believed that person who cuts the bamboo reed has to pray and at one go cut both the reeds and run away from the site of its growth. If not, it is beleived that mist and fog would shroud the whole area and make paths invisible.
Traditionally, freshly cut bamboo reeds are dried and kept in open air to regain potency, however, today people use heat from flames to dry the bamboo reeds more quickly although this process does not ensure potency of an arrow.
smoothing process (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
In the past, the arrows were rubbed and polished with the help of sandy soil. Today, Sand papers are used to smoothen the dried bamboo reeds to enable consistency and evenly shape of an arrow.
Length of an arrow (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
The length of the traditional arrow is not longer than the one required for making arrows. Usually, the standard traditional arrows measures 25-28 inches in length.
Strengthening (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
The dried Yangka bamboo reeds are straightened using moderate flames to regain shape and uniformity.
After using flames for straightening, the bamboo reeds are once again checked to ensure its straightness before using it as arrows.
Ga-shing, a small wooden block is used as a protective equipment by the traditional craftsman while straightening the arrow under the flame to protect their hand from burning.
A nock is carved at one end of the arrow using a sharp knife to harbor the string of the bow.
The length of the arrow nock has to be equal to width of the fore and middle finger or it precisely measures 0.7cm. Nock is carved by skilled craftsmen. The length indicates the experience and competence of the craftsmen since it cannot be longer or shorter.
This is how tong (arrow nock) looks after carving.
Feather (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Traditionally, feathers of monal pheasants are used in arrows as fletchings. But due to conservation reasons, cello tape is used as a better alternative.
Fletching (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Four equal lengths of around 14cm cello tape are cut out and pasted together on one end of the shaft using traditional glue made from animal hide called Lachhu. The cello tapes are glued and pasted perfectly to ensure that cellotape-made feathers are not twisted, if the feather get twisted, then the arrow become worst than one with twisted shaft.
Shaping (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
The cello tape is then tailored in the shape of a feather as desired. Black and white cello tapes are mostly used.
Silk Thread (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Different colored silk threads are used as adornment. Silk threads are preferred over other because it is smooth, glossy and light.
Tying (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
A special five-coloured Silk thread is wound around just below the nock and little above the fletchings. Although just two colors of silk threads are used also, people mostly use five colors of treads as it enhances and adds more charm to the arrow.
This is how an arrow looks after being adorned with multi-colored silk threads. The adornment of an arrow not only enhances the beauty but also prevents the bamboo shaft from spliting.
Arrowhead (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Arrowhead locally known as 'Deuchak' is attached at the front end of the shaft using Lachhu. Deuchak is made from metal sheets made specially by blacksmiths. Different kinds of arrow heads are used for different purposes.The crushed Lachhu is put into the Duechak and is heated using flames to melt and spread. Use of Lachhu makes it waterproof and prevents the arrowhead from cracking and keeps the deuchak intact.
La chu (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Display of blocks of Lachhu. Lachhu is a waste product of the lac dye, obtained from resinous secretion of lacifera lacca. It is used an adhesive to attach the arrowhead to the bamboo reed which would be used as an arrow.
Heating (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Use of moderate flames to heat the lachhu/lac.
Strengthening the Arrowhead (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
To ensure that the arrowhead remains intact, it is pressed against a stone slab.
The Making of Traditional Bow
The making of traditional bow is closely linked to Bhutan's culture, religion and history. It was first used by gods (Lha) and Asuras (Lhamin) to annihilate demons and evil spirits or malignant spirits. It was also used as a weapon during war. The subsequent pictures shall demonstrate the process involved in the making of traditional bow.
Tading Village, Bhutan
Though bamboos are found in abundance in southern, south-western, and eastern parts of Bhutan, the best quality bamboos used for making traditional bows are available in a place known as Taba-Dramtay village under Samtse District. Samtse is located in the southern part of Bhutan and is situated at an elevation of 259m above sea level. It is a warm place and therefore the vegetation is suitable for growth of bamboos.The Zhu Shing (local term for the bamboo used for making traditional bows) from this District is considered the best.
Seasoned Bamboo/Zhushing (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Freshly cut Zhu shings or bamboos are not ready to be used as bows. It has to be seasoned and dried naturally in the sun which takes about 75 days or else dry over the earthen stove to enable the smoke to strengthen and further durability.
The Zhu, or bow is made from a distinct species of bamboo called Zhu Shing which is only grown in the warmer parts of the country. However, bamboo from Samtse District is considered superior for it uniform thickness.
Strong, mature and seasoned bamboos are used to craft bows. If it is not seasoned properly, then it would lose its shape and uniformity.
Traditionally, bamboos are cut into two parts and then joined in the middle.
Measurement (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Two pieces of bamboos of equal sizes are used in making traditional bows. Each shaft measures 37 inches each.
Shalu (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
The tip of the bow known as shalu is sharpened using a knife, to anchor the bow string.
Smoothing Process (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
The bamboos are further smoothened with the help of sand paper and plane saw. Even if knives can be used to sharpen and smoothen the bow, however, knives are not used as it leaves the surfaces rough and uneven.
Tabzhu (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Tabzhu, which literally means folded bow is made using two equal sized shafts. In the earlier times, people used changzhu or a bow with just one bamboo shaft. Chang zhu can be cut out directly from the bamboos as per the required length. But today, Chang Zhus are widely used by children while Tab Zhus by professional archers.
The length of a bow for both Chang Zhu and Tab Zhu are determined by the height of the player. A tall player needs a relatively longer bow and vice versa.
Today, Tabzhu is the most commonly used bow because of its flexibility, durability and strength.
Two pieces of zhushing or bamboos of equal size are securely held together by a piece of leather or cloth strap, however these materials are not durable. Therefore, traditional craftsman prefer using copper or steel bands over traditional materials.
The bow has a broad middle part and it measures 3.5cm in width.
The bow string is spun using hands. The traditional bow string are made from wild vine plant's skin locally known as Tshelme Pangki and fetch during second and third month when the days are long. The reasons for collecting during this specified month is that it is believed that the inter-nodal distance of the creeper is longer during this months. Therefore, longer ones are much preferred for making bow strings.
The wild vine is cut and dried in the sun.Then the skin of the vine is peeled and a small thread-like skin remains which is then spun together to make a string. And the string is mostly used as bow strings.
Loop of the String (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Two small loops are made at each end of the string. The loops of the string are then put into each of the notches at both ends of the bow.
Bracing the bow (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
While anchoring each of the string loops on the notches of the bow, the bow is braced with the help of the knee by exerting pressure on the middle part of the bow.
, a Bhutan’s national game which is a popular sport especially among the male population. Archery promotes social cohesion, harmony and the preservation of tradition and shared values.
While playing archery, the bow string is fitted into the arrow nock to shoot.
Holding of Bow (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
It is a common practice among the traditional archers to hold the bow vertically with his left hand. However, there are few archers who uses their right hand also. The bow is held from the center with his thumb pressed against the bow from inside.
Pulling of the Bow String (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
A bow string is pulled equivalent to half of one's height.
Target/Bha (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Ba or the Target is usually made up of pine wood. There are different kinds of ba used while playing a game of archery. Some of the targets are relatively longer while some are shorter. The longer target measure about one dom (Dom is a measurement equal to the length of both arms outstretched in opposite direction) or it stands 3.6 ft in height, with a width of 11 inches and 2 inches thickness.
Target is decorated with a white sheet which is glued over the front of the board and then further painted with lime to enhance the white color. In the centre of the target, a circular drawing is painted in rainbow colors.
The bottom line of the target is also painted to signify water and earth elements.
Distance (2017) de Jigme Choden & Ngawang ChodenICHCAP
Traditional archery field spans about 145 meters between the two targets. The targets are fixed on the ground at each end of the archery range facing each other. Archer shoots an arrow at a distance of 145 meters and the archers dance in jubilation if they hit the target .
Essential tools used to make a complete set of traditional bow and arrows.
The online exhibition on,"Dazo: the art of traditional bow and arrow making in Bhutan" is a joint work created by Jigme Choden and Ngawang Choden of National Library & Archives of Bhutan and the National Land Commission of Bhutan.
Financial support: International Information & Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP)
Deepest thank and appreciation also goes to Mr. Sithar Dorji, Professional Traditional Archer and craftsman for sharing his invaluable experiences on the process of making traditional bows and arrows in Bhutan.
Sincere gratitude is offered to Dr. Yonten Dargye, Research Specialist, Mr. Sangay Dendup, Deputy Chief Cultural Officer, Department of Culture, Mr. Pala, local resource person from Wanguephodrang: Bhutan.
Photograph Courtesy: Ugyen Chophel, Jigme Choden and Ngawang Choden.
Movies filmed and edited by Ugyen Chophel, Media Officer, Department of Culture, Bhutan.
Special thanks goes to National Library & Archives of Bhutan for their continuous support in preservation and promotion of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Bhutan.