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migueldiaz 15th October 2009 10:15 AM

[Time] Kenyan Tribes Wage a War With Bows and Arrows
11 Attachment(s)
Original Time magazine photo essay is here. The captions of the pics below are:
Maasai warriors clash with members of the Kalenjin tribe on a hill overlooking the Olmelil Valley. The battles have been taking place daily and follow codified, age-old traditions.

A Kikuyu girl stands between two warriors armed with bows and arrows. Though political rivals Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga have established an uneasy truce, the violence inspired by the allegedly rigged election between them continues in the form of long festering land disputes.

The fights, which begin around dawn each day, are rarely interrupted by police.

Over 20 people have died in the fighting. This man, a Maasai shot in the face on the hill overlooking Olmelil Valley, survived.

The Maasai man is treated at a clinic in the town of Kilgoris.

A Maasai craftsmen holds freshly made arrows. The tips are made from re-fashioned 4-inch nails.

A Maasai man gives his fellow tribesmen instructions before they face members of the Kalenjin. The daily battles last several hours and are waged from a distance, with very few warriors engaging in close combat.

During the post-election violence, the tribes discovered that the bow and arrow was a more deadly alternative than the machete. "Before this conflict, arrows were mainly used for activities such as hunting," says a policeman interviewed by Agence France Presse. "This is obviously something very wrong and very new."

Says one Kalenjin, "Here, we believe in fighting on a battlefield. We don't go at night to attack. It's no good."

In addition to the bow and arrow, some of the warriors have adopted the slingshot.

A Maasai warrior returns to his village after fighting. "Nobody can remain at home doing nothing," says one warrior. "You have to go. One day, instead of going to church, everybody went fighting."
Looks to me that this a good scheme to wage an armed conflict ...

migueldiaz 15th October 2009 10:28 AM

8 Attachment(s)
More pics from this website.

A forum where the topic was discussed has this comment:
We discussed this in an anthropology class I took in college. It is a real fight for land, but it's also very formal and traditional affair. A time and place is agreed upon by both sides beforehand. Only traditional weapons like bows and arrows, spears, and slings (one can be seen here can be used. In a way it is like a sport... where some of the players die).

As I understand, the skirmishes ends when the head of one of the tribes decides too many of his men have been injured or killed, sends out a call, and his tribe leave the field. The other side then celebrates over winning the fight, as opposed to chasing down the retreating tribe and slaughtering everyone. It's relatively civil as far as warfare goes.
If I recall correctly, isn't this the same scheme that the ancient Greek city-states used? That is, the warring factions will decide meet one afternoon in a field, engage in battle, and then at a certain point a winner is proclaimed or something like that?

Tim Simmons 15th October 2009 03:59 PM

Rather scary.

Atlantia 15th October 2009 04:51 PM

Looks to me like something that should be sorted out by chasing a rolling cheese downhill then getting pissed afterwards.

fearn 15th October 2009 06:58 PM

Better than doing it with AK-47s or shotguns, is my vote.

On a straight-up ethnographic weapons note, did any of you notice that we have (apparently) a new type of bow here?

That first picture shows bows with short, stiff staves--perhaps one was originally a chair leg? The spring power comes from the springs (!) attached to the bowstring. Not all the bows have that, and I'll be that's why the arrow embedded in someone's cheek instead of going all the way through. Short bows like they've made probably aren't pulling more than 10-20 pounds, and a 50 pound pull is the legal minimum for hunting deer in the US.

Still, that re-purposing of springs (from a car?) to power a bow is a new one on me.

Very interesting, at least technically.



KuKulzA28 16th October 2009 01:40 AM

War is war... beautiful and deadly...

I notice a lot of the stuff seems made from scrapped materials.. for example arrowheads made from nails... the Atayal tribe in Taiwan still makes arrowheads this way... but it's more for show, preserving old ways, and the occasional hunting and fishing trip.... and the practice of recycling truck springs for blades... etc.etc.

I wonder when they say that the bow was only used for hunting... and that it was found to be a more deadly than the machete... Does that mean that the traditional spear-based warfare shifted to machetes (when Imperialistic powers made those widely available) only become a bow-based fighting style?

fearn 16th October 2009 02:51 AM

Hi KuKulz,

Thing about machetes is that, unless they're really sharp, they can be stopped by thick cloth, such as these guys are wearing. None of these weapons are terribly deadly, and I suspect that they're less deadly than the old spears and seme were. Still, it is combat.



Andrew 16th October 2009 12:19 PM

Interesting stuff. Let's stay away from the inevitable socio-political discussion and focus on the weapons. If we get thread-drift into other areas, I will have to lock this one.

fearn 16th October 2009 01:42 PM

Happy to, Andrew.

A couple more weapons observations, though.

One is that we seldom talk about African slings, but there is apparently a picture of a maasai slinger (8th down). Anyone know how widespread slings are in that part of the world?

Another is that there is increasing use of recycled and repurposed materials, for lots of socio-political reasons I won't go into here :D. However, it's new area for weapons collectors, and it's going to be interesting for us in the future, because weapons that are made in Africa may increasingly be put together from pieces from elsewhere. Distinguishing these from similar recycled-built weapons elsewhere in the world will be an interesting area of new study.



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