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Old 22nd February 2006, 03:39 PM   #1
yuanzhumin
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Arrow A Taiwanese/Formosan tribal gun

Hello all of you

I have followed regularly these last few months your very interesting exchanges on the tribal world weapons, mostly blades. Iíd like to share with you pictures of a Taiwanese tribal gun, hoping that any of you, fellow forum members, could bring additional infos on this weapon to help me complete what I already know.

On the following pics, you can see a gun that I have collected two or three months ago and that is a typical remodeled one used by the plain and mountain aboriginal tribes of Taiwan till the beginning of the 20th c. To show it in its context, I have displayed pictures of tribal men holding the same kind of gun. On one photo taken at the end of the 19th c., we see warriors/hunters of the Pingpu, a generic term to describe the people from the plain aboriginal tribes.Nearly all of them have the same kind of gun in their hands. On the other pic (the first guy on the right) and the drawing (all of the three), we see warriors/hunters of the famous Paiwan mountain tribe holding the same kind of gun.

This kind of gun was traded or taken from the foreigners as the tribes didnít have the knowledge to make them. The tribesmen were just redesigning them, mostly the wooden structure. So I would like to know if someone could tell me where, originally, was produced the metallic part of this gun precisely ? Was it initially Dutch, Spanish, what I suspect, or other ? The firing mecanism seems to me quite old and appears to be dating before the 19th century. Am I wrong ? Could someone give me some infos on this ? And my last question, as Iím ignorant in the matter of collecting firearms, what should I do to preserve this gun ? Should I just keep it in its rust as a show of its authenticity or should I try to cover it with a product and which one ?

Thank you very much in advance for any answer.
Best,
Yuanzhumin
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Old 23rd February 2006, 02:06 PM   #2
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Arrow

I'm guessing that the firing mechanism is matchlock .
I can see cords showing around most of the examples shown in the pictures .

It would be helpful to know the length of the barrel and the size of the bore , or opening at the end of the barrel ; interesting that there is no provision for a ramrod ; it must have been carried separately .
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Old 24th February 2006, 02:30 PM   #3
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Hello Rick and the others,
I didn't pay attention to this before but, in deed, we can see the cords on the pictures close to most of the guns, at least the ones with the pistol grip handle, except the more modern ones with a wider butt (3rd pic). I think mine is not flintlock but matchlock, like the one we see on the photos.
The opening at the end of the barrel is 1,8 cm and the length of the barrel is 120 cm (total length with the wooden butt : 135 cm )
On all the old pics I have seen, I have never noticed a ramrod. How come ?
I join here two other pics of the barrel and two of the gunpowder flask and horn that these people were using. The gunpowder tubes and leather case are in the collections of the Rev. MacKay that stayed in Taiwan from 1871 till his death in 1901. The shell inlaid powder horn was made by the Puyuma tribe (south of Taiwan) (I'm the happy owner).
Unfortunately, I have to say that the barrel of the gun has been filled with something. I guess this is a reminiscence from the Martial Law time in Taiwan (1949-1987) when all the weapons here were forbidden or neutralised by fear that they could be used by the communists to take over the island.
Concerning the initial location where the barrel was made (Europe?), or when it was made, do you have any idea ?
Thanks a lot for your answers
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Old 24th February 2006, 03:12 PM   #4
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Arrow After Looking Around the Web

I would suggest China or Portugal as the nations that may have supplied these guns .
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Old 1st March 2006, 01:58 AM   #5
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Exclamation A Very Similar Gun

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Old 1st March 2006, 07:17 AM   #6
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Default Spring Matchlock

Something of an oddity that. Certainly looks like a matchlock but far more complicated than it needs to be. Springing the trigger and hammer in such a way is very odd. Would make more sense as a flintlock but with no striker or way of holding the flint, thatís certainly out. Saying that, all Indian matchlocks have an open jaw of some kind on the hammer and this doesnít have that either.
Not sure about supply but definite Chinese influences in the whole stock shape and design.
These things are incredibly difficult to date, as in many regions they copied the designs and fashions of much earlier European mechanisms 100s of years after they were superseded elsewhere. The snaphaunch in North Africa for instance. As to origin in this case, all the mechanism is local manufacture for sure but need better photos of the barrel, as that is the most likely traded piece.
So rare to talk ethnic guns on here or anywhere else. Itís an area rather overlooked in my opinion.
Cheers
Andy
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Old 1st March 2006, 05:50 PM   #7
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The matchlock guns in the pictures don't necessarily have to be the same system as your unvulgar specimen. I would say it is some otherwise percussion system, with a rare or even an exclusive stock.
The action is too dinamic to be matchlock ... it is made to strike, not to lever down and hold. The ignition device looks more like a nipple for caps than a pan for slow combustion.
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Old 4th March 2006, 04:15 PM   #8
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Default aboriginal gun

This is indeed a percussion-based firing mechanism. Clearly visible is a "nipple" which protrudes almost vertically from the breech end of the barrel. It is larger than the nipples found on Western percussion guns (which use a hat-shaped copper cap containing fulminate of mercury which fits over the nipple and is hit by the hammer when it is released by the trigger mechanism). This gun may have been designed to use "pills" of a fulminate compound (the substance used on the heads of "strike-anywhere" matches is adequate). The use of pills instead of caps was also used in Europe during the few short years prior to the development of machinery for mass-producing the little copper caps.

There are several characteristics of this gun which tie it in to neighboring cultures:
1. Pistol-shaped butt which is held against the cheek when the gun is aimed.
2. No ramrod fitted to the forestock, which is typically half-length
3. Tapering smoothbore barrel of small caliber
4. Mechanism utilizing an external leaf- or V shaped mainspring mounted directly to the wooden stock, and a side-mounted trigger

Guns with all these features are found in other tribal groups, including the Miao of Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces (China), the various "montagnard" hill tribes of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and the Kachins of north Burma. Many examples of the Vietnam highland guns exist in the US, having been brought back by American soldiers as souvenirs.

The practice of holding the stock against the cheek was brought to east Asia by the Portuguese in the 16th cent. They were largely armed with a lighter version of the European musket, made at the Portuguese armory at Goa. These guns are considered to be an Indo-Portuguese design, using a snapping matchlock mechanism with an external spring similar to that on the gun under discussion). The short pistol butts became a characteristic of all parts of east Asia which the Portuguese had influence: Burma, Malaya/Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Japan. (see Rainer Daehnhardt, ESPINGARDA FEITICEIRA: A INTRODUCAO DA ARMA DE FOGO PELOS PORTUGUESES NO EXTREMO-ORIENTE (Lisboa, 1994) for more info.

The firearms of SE Asia (and Taiwan) were originally matchlocks, of course, as was the case in neighboring China and Japan. This particular gun is an ingenious adaption of the old matchlock mechanism to the more reliable percussion system. All it took was replacing the priming pan with a bolster and nipple on the side of the barrel, replacing the serpentine or match holder with a percussion hammer, and strengthening the mainspring.

As regards the parts of these guns, I believe that the stock and small metal parts were native-made. The barrels may have been made by Chinese artisans and traded to the natives by Chinese merchants doing business in the area. The native gun barrels are of much smaller bore than anything the Chinese typically used, and generally lack sights which most Chinese guns have. So these would have been manufactured for "export" trade only.

W. W. Greener, in his book THE GUN AND ITS DEVELOPMENT, describes the manufacture of barrels in south China. The gunsmiths were itinerant, carrying all their materials and tools in their carts, and setting up shop temporarily as they travelled. The barrel was forged from strips of iron wound spirally around a mandrel or rod, and forged into a solid tube when in red-hot state. During the hammering process, the breech end was made thicker-walled to withstand the pressures of the exploding powder. The bore was expanded to the desired diameter, and polished smooth, with a succession of hardened steel reamers, square like a chopstick but larger, which were inserted and rotated until the entire length of barrel was bored smooth. After straightening, the breech was plugged and the touch-hole drilled. Greener noted (his observations date to the mid 19th cent.) that the finished barrel was well-forged, of good quality. The manufacturing process is described almost identically in the 17th cent. Chinese treatise on industry and manufacturing, TIANGONG KAIWU.

One thing I have never figured out is why these native guns were not made with ramrods. A rod would have to be carried separately to push the bullet and wadding down to the breech, it would appear cumbersome not to store it under the barrel, in the stock, when not in use.
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Old 10th March 2006, 03:21 PM   #9
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Talking Thanks and new pics

I should have written this post earlier but I was busy. So better late than never.
Thanks to all of you that supplied me with all these precious infos and helped me answer the questions I was having on this gun A special thanks to Philip for his very detailed explanations.
For the ones that could be interested, I displayed hereafter the photos of one of the recent addition to my collection.
It's a very nice and old Taiwan aborigines knife (65cm long) from the Atayal tribe, north of the island.
Best,
Yuanzhumin
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Old 10th March 2006, 04:20 PM   #10
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How nice to have the carrying strap, it is always a pleasure to see simple things 100% complete.
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Old 10th March 2006, 05:10 PM   #11
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Default open-front scabbard on Taiwan aboriginal knife

For those who are fascinated with the relationships between geograpically-dispersed tribal groups, it is interesting to note the scabbard on this knife, with its open front secured by a series of parallel bands or thin bars. Variations on this scabbard concept are found in the Northern Philippines (the Ifugao are one tribe that comes to mind), among the Kachins of northern Burma, and even in the lowlands of Bhutan.

Some years ago, I teamed up with a colleague, the late Sherrod V. Anderson MD, to write an intro essay on Taiwan aboriginal swords. I believe it's still up on www.sevenstarstrading.com . The article does touch upon the relationships between Taiwan's native highlanders with tribes in the rest of SE Asia.
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Old 11th March 2006, 01:34 AM   #12
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Hi yuanzhumin
is this blade what is called a mo duan? When did such blades cease being manufactured or are they still made today?
cheers
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Old 12th March 2006, 04:52 AM   #13
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- Yes, it's nice to have the original carrying strap, mostly when this strap appears quite original as it is a solid piece of bamboo that has been curved and linked at its extremities with a hemp string to the scabbard. Actually, I have the feeling that this knife is however missing a little something. If I'm not mistaking, it could have had some human hair attached to its extremity before, as it was the case for some knives from this tribe. After a closer look, a darker stripe of patina appears on the narrower part of the scabbard, meaning something had be hanging there long before.
-Concerning the article on Paiwan knives : this article is very interesting and one of the only sources of infos on the Paiwan knives published in English. It would be nice if someone was putting it here on the forum to facilitate its reading. I have myself tried recently to connect to the Sevenstarstrading website from Taiwan without success (I don't why). Fortunately, I keep a copy of this article printed on paper for myself.
-'Mo duan' : I don't know the name of this tribal knife in Atayal language. As for the Taiwanese, they call these knives 'dao zi', that simply means knife in mandarin, translated by 'dou' in taiwanese/min nan language. 'Mo duan' means in mandarin one extremity, without specifying which one. I can't tell you more on the other meanings of 'mo duan'.
-For the tribal knife making : only few artists/artcraftmen working the wood are still making the scabbard and the handle following the tribal tradition. Usually old persons. And they are doing it for their family or the members of their village. It's a very, very limited production. For the blade, I don't think anybody is still keeping on the tradition.

Yuanzhumin
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Old 30th August 2016, 12:34 PM   #14
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For Kukulza28, read the thread. I hope it can be of any help on Taiwanese/Formosan tribal guns!
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Old 31st August 2016, 01:01 AM   #15
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Much thanks!
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Old 3rd September 2016, 05:35 PM   #16
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What an interesting gun. And accessories. As Phillip mentions, definately percussion based system. The most primitive percussion based system I've ever seen. Vey neat. I'm sure some sort of "pill" filiment system as Philip mentions. Just when I think I've seen everything, someone comes up with something I have not seen. LOL Very neat gun and accessories. And super interesting.

Rick
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Old 3rd September 2016, 10:54 PM   #17
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Default features in common

Ricky,
There are several design features which link this gun to firearms in other cultures in the region:
1. Pistol-shaped buttstock held against the cheek -- deeply-curved shapes like this are found in the Laos/Vietnam/Cambodia highlands (mostly crude flintlocks), Shan states of Burma (mostly matchlocks), and the tribal areas of southwest China (usually with Indo-Portuguese snap matchlocks).
2. Trigger mounted on the side of the stock, not underneath -- same areas as above
3. The vast majority of guns from all those culture-spheres have half-stocks, and are not fitted for ramrods.

On the lock shown in this thread, note the mainspring pressing upward against the tail of the hammer. Although this is a percussion lock, this feature derives from the snap matchlocks brought to the East by the Portuguese in the 16th cent. The origin of this concept is south Germany/Bohemia late in the 15th cent. (the Portuguese Crown bought a lot of muskets from this area to replace earlier hand cannons on the eve of the Age of Discoveries). This system of motive power also carried over to the "miquelet" flint mechanism which became a hallmark of firearms technology in the Iberian Peninsula and central/south Italy, and later much of the Middle East as well.
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Old 4th September 2016, 01:06 PM   #18
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Philip:

Thanks for your reply. Again, thank you for the education of these firearms. Yes, I can readily understand the mainspring and trigger architecture. But had no clue as to it's origins. But it makes complete sense. Very interesting.
Curious the lack of ramrods. Would have to be carried seperately. Possibly, within these various tribes, there was no apparatus for drilling a straight hole (?). Or carrying the ramrod seperately may just be the tradition.

The gun, shooting accessories, and knife together would sure make a neat display.

Rick
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Old 4th September 2016, 05:44 PM   #19
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Default ramrods or the lack thereof

I did read an account by a British observer of Chinese soldiers at drill firing volley salutes, they dispensed with the ramrod and merely gave the butt a smart rap on the ground after pouring their powder, and went on to prime and adjust the match before presenting and firing. A local reenactment group that does Thirty Years War drill with muskets and cannon does basically the same thing at their demonstrations, they aren't seating any bullets and don't want a forgotten ramrod to launch over the audience like a javelin. So the powder will ignite with a bang even if not actually compressed.

I discussed the lack of ramrods on these tribal guns with one of the club members and he said that a loosely fitting slug will slide down there on top of the powder without ramming if the bore wasn't too fouled. Of course the ballistics won't match that of a patched ball pushed onto the charge with a rod, but at close range it can still be deadly. Considering that these SE Asian and Taiwan tribes lived in dense mountainous rainforests where game was taken at close range, it was probably good enough for them. Stalking and ambush in shooting-stands along trails probably solved the distance problem rather well for them. Much like American Indians, whose bows had limited range.

Regarding the technical aspect of fitting a ramrod in a stock, I've disassembled a lot of Oriental guns and have found that since the overwhelming majority have barrels attached with bands and not mortises, there was no need to drill a long hole for the entire rod. The drilled hole only extends a few inches at the end, and this to keep the end of the rod separate from the bottom of the barrel. The rest is a carefully chiseled trough at the bottom of the barrel channel, just wide enough for the rod. Under the breech, the trough is cut so that the end of the rod nests tightly against the bottom of the barrel so it doesn't slide out. Easy! I've also noticed this construction on a fair number of earlier European long guns as well. This groove approach doesn't require the equipment that deep bore drilling does. A small saw with a radiused blade, and a very narrow chisel, are all you need.

I think that these tribal guns did away with rods is that they tend to have half stocks, and unless you have ramrod pipes attached to the bottom of your barrel, that could be an issue. Hill tribesmen tended to be good carvers, but the ability to make precisely formed small tubes of metal and solder them to the barrel might have been beyond them.
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Old 4th September 2016, 10:07 PM   #20
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More great insights...

Just wondering, is the powder 'horn' made of multiple pieces of wood? 4 for the sides and 1 for the base? 1 that acts as a deep "dish"/container and 1 as a flat covering, secured onto it?

I can get started carving a powder horn or other container...

I guess an important consideration is what ethnic group I'm emulating.... Any idea what the"pingpu"styles were?
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Old 5th September 2016, 04:52 PM   #21
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Philip said:
Regarding the technical aspect of fitting a ramrod in a stock, I've disassembled a lot of Oriental guns and have found that since the overwhelming majority have barrels attached with bands and not mortises, there was no need to drill a long hole for the entire rod. The drilled hole only extends a few inches at the end, and this to keep the end of the rod separate from the bottom of the barrel. The rest is a carefully chiseled trough at the bottom of the barrel channel, just wide enough for the rod. Under the breech, the trough is cut so that the end of the rod nests tightly against the bottom of the barrel so it doesn't slide out. Easy! I've also noticed this construction on a fair number of earlier European long guns as well. This groove approach doesn't require the equipment that deep bore drilling does. A small saw with a radiused blade, and a very narrow chisel, are all you need.

Philip: Interesting you mention this. I too have found the same grooved channels in the long guns. While crude looking, the method does in fact work with everything being compressed with the bands.

Rick
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