zaterdag 11 januari 2014

The blowgun, an ancient European weapon.

The blowgun is an ancient European weapon. According to the dutch Wikipedia, this weapon roots primarily in Indonesia, South-Amerika en Japan. 

The section on the European side of the blowgun limits itself to listing some trivia about shooting paper darts. Understandably, the English wikipedia page also does not contain much information on the European history on this weapon. Reason enough for me to write this article!

A Less known fact about the blowgun, is its use as a weapon in Europe. During my research, I happened to stroll across an article by J.A. Loeber Jr. in 'Nederlandsch-Indië Oud en Nieuw', Episode 1 of 1923 (Royal Tropical Institute). In a very interesting and lively written piece, certainly worth of close rading, Mr. Loeber elaborates on his fact finding mission on the use of the blowgun in Europe.

He found his first European blowgun in the Antwerp 'Museum voor Folklore'. This blowgun was used to fire loam projectiles as 'stun dart.

His first inclination is towards the notion that this blowgun was one imported from the Dutch indies into Flanders. Further study revealed that this not true

In Palts (Germany, also Europe) he found another wooden blowgun used for firing loam pellets, next to a tree with stuffed finches. The blowguns originated from Bergzabern (Germany), where the local population used them to hunt finches in winter Vogezen woods. In fact, the still do that today, as shown on this Facebook page of the Boehaemmer Jagdclub e.V. Bad Bergzabern.

He goes on further to describe that around the year 1850 the use of the blowgun to hunt birds was common on the island of Helgoland (Germany). Young men, unable to buy hunting rifles, used the blowgun and got better results than throwing rocks. The birds were stunned and wounded by the impact of the clay pellets and subsequently killed.

Blowguns of that era were made of wood 50cm or longer. Two pieces of wood were carved to enclose a 8 to 9mm channel, forming the barrel of the blowgun. the wooden halves were tied together with rope or steel bands. Pies were used as stundarts, as well as clay pellets.  The use of the blowgun on Helgoland was abandoned around 1890.

The loam or clay pellets were formed using a pair of pliers and a caliber to make them the correct size to fit the blowgun. 

Then, as now, the blowgun was popular with the youth. It used to be more common and accepted that small birds were hunted using the blowgun. But the blowgun was also used for target practice, shooting fresh (soft) loam pellets on a target. This necessitated frequent cleaning of the blowgun bore with a wooden stick.

The Antwerp blowguns were in use since approximately 1880 to scare away birds from the cherry orchards in Boom (Flanders) an by pigeon fanciers. Also, blowguns dart tournaments were held in local bars or taverns, just like the present-day darts.

The artikel (in Dutch) contains many trivia on the blowgun ad is written in a lively manner. I Recommend reading it if you master the language.

The following James Stuart Koch article describes the history of the blowgun in the era preceding te one described in the article above.

The origin of the blowgun is generally accepted to be somewhere in the lost pre-history. One assumes that this weapon has been invented an re-invented in several times an places in history around the globe, because of its simplicity. The simplest form is a hollow tube from natural material like bamboo or river cane. Bamboo is the most obvious material for blowguns for its form and availability. The diaphragms between the bamboo sections must be removed by either drilling through them or by splitting and re-assembling the bamboo. 

Blowguns made of bamboo have been found on all continents. They were used for hunting birds and other small game and as children's toys.

Another variant of the blowgun is made from a solid wood rod. The wooden rod is drilled using a long drill bit. This was done for instance by the dayaks in Borneo.using a long drill bit powered by hand. The image below shows a drill rig used for that purpose. The blowgun-to-be is placed vertically through a platform foe easy access. 

Foto Don Chesnut.
These blowguns are fabricated from hardwood ans often equipped with a spearhead to double as a spear.
The Dayaks used darts coated with a poison (sap of Ipuh or Iren tree) in their blowgun to hunt. The darts are made from palm leaves fletched with cotton like material or animal fur.

In modern France you can find a combination of Yoga/ blowgun practice: Le Sarbacana (Sarbacane = Blowgun). 

Bamboo (Canne) Sarbacane, frmo 19th century France.

This century-old form of blowgun practice (since 1991...) revolves around the use of a special breathing technique.  Michel Lawrence Dioptaz, shown in the picture below, pioneered and promotes this activity. The blowgun used has a large (17.2mm) diameter and the darts are relatively heavy, at 8 to 20 gram. This is a vague application of the blowgun and thus not easy for me to comprehend. But is does provide beautiful pictures!

From wanabee-ninja's it is but a small step to the real ninja's. 

The Shinobi, as is their real name, are secret agets in feudal Japan. The blowgun as just one of the many weapons that they mastered. The Shinobi blowgun, the Fukiya, was usually reasonably short measuring at most 120cm.

Fukiya is also the name of the blowgun sport in Japan and also features in the name of the International Fukiyado Association(IFA). The Japanese use 5 to 20 cm long darts, called fukibari. 

The ninja's also used the blowgun against men, just as the Dayaks did. The fukibari was used to transfer a poison to enhance its effect on the opponent.

In modern  times, the blowgun is in use with veterinarians to facilitate the application of medicines to animals that can not be approached. The medicine or tranquilizer is transferred with a syringe-like dart.

The blowgun is also experiencing a come-back as sports weapon, especially in JapanAmerica en Germany. Fortunately, there is no longer a need to venture into the woods to obtain materials to fabricate a blowgun and darts. A trip to the local hardware store usually is sufficient to find all suitable materials and tools. 

In the west (Europa and USA) blowguns are usually made of aluminium tube, with darts made of wood, plastic or steel with plastic cones.

In de USA lijkt de sport vooral te draaien om de jacht op klein wild, terwijl in Europa het doelschieten centraal staat.

In Japan, the 
glass fiber or even carbon fiber reinforced epoxy tubesglass fiber or even carbon fiber reinforced epoxy tubes are used more frequently. Japanese darts are mostly plastic-foil variants of the paper fukibari used the ninja's in the old days.

For people in the west, this a what a Japanese blowgun athlete must look like:

But you would be wrong. The guy above is Swiss, not Japanese. Blowgunnig Japanese look much more like this: 
Massive crowds in modern sportswear in action in neatly organised gyms. The International Fukiyado Association(IFA) has approximately 20.000 members!

A Description of the modern blowguns shown below can be found elsewhere on this blog. The first one is made from a 1200mm long 
12.7mm aluminum curtain rod. It has a inner diameter of 10mm (.40 Caliber). A Hexagonal aluminum tube supports the main tube and the mouthpiece is fabricated from an Aquarius PET bottle.

The blowgun can be used to shoot home made darts as well as .40 caliber commercial needle darts.
 The handle is wrapped with paracord.
This is my version of the blowgun shown on (Under Bauanleitungen). Stormdrane's blog is a good source for paracord wrapping ideas.

Shooting needle darts is fun, but shooting .625 caliber darts is funner! Look here for directions on how to build a blowgun for 'Coldsteel' .625 mini broadhead darts. The mouthpiece is made from PVC and the handle is also wrapped with paracord.

Here is a close-up of the mouthpiece with protection against inhaling the darts. 
This blowgun also has the Neodymium magnet to keep the metal dart in place.

Read more about blowguns:
Ninja – 忍者
International Fukiyado Association(IFA) met Forum
A Brief History Of Primitive & Traditional Blowguns, James Stuart Koch (in German)

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