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Old 10th March 2013, 01:02 PM   #1
Iain
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Default African bows and archery

Hi all,

I thought this could be a neat topic for discussion, sharing pieces and historical photos.

Bows and archery don't seem to be a particularly popular area of ethnographic arms collecting. Partly because it is hard to find pieces and that is in turn due to the materials involved which don't preserve as well as metal swords, daggers or spears.

Still, I think it is an important area as the bow was one of the primary weapons used across Africa. Sadly I don't have any in my collection yet - but recently I have been more and more interested in them.

Here's an interesting image to start things off - two bowmen from Kousséri in North Cameroon. I particularly like this image for the costumes, the large long bows shown and the massive city walls behind. Photo is taken from Ehe die Gewehre kamen.

Please share what you have in your collections and hopefully we can have an interesting discussion around this seldom talked about area of African arms.

Best regards,

Iain
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Old 10th March 2013, 04:58 PM   #2
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Hello Iain,
Now theres a great idea for a thread! We have often said how little time is given to archery on the forum, especially African. We will post a few pic of the pieces we've had tomorrow. Archery is such fun and a great pastime. Lets hope we get some good examples from around the world up for show.
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Old 11th March 2013, 03:41 AM   #3
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One of the editions of the Traditional Bowyer's Bible covers some African bows. Wish I remembered whether it's two or three.

Best,

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Old 12th March 2013, 08:25 AM   #4
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Thanks for posting guys.

Nobody has bows in their collections to post?

Here's a neat video of a Hadza man making a bow:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um7Ksrx9XKk
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Old 12th March 2013, 02:09 PM   #5
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Hi Iain.
Interesting video, I've made a few bows over the years-nothing Robert Hardy would smile at!- and had great fun in the process. I've found a certain snobbery within the Uk archery fraternity regarding any bows from Africa, the general opinion that they are under powered and made of poor wood. Mention Japanese, Turkish or Indian archery and its all smiles. But africa seems the sad cousin, so this post is a good thing.

The picture below is one of the most common types of quivers found in the Uk, and these are normally described as Manding in origin.The bows that are often with the set look rather pathetic so perhpas for the traveller? I'm not sure. I will try and find some more pics of other bows etc
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Old 12th March 2013, 02:48 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Stevens
Hi Iain.
Interesting video, I've made a few bows over the years-nothing Robert Hardy would smile at!- and had great fun in the process. I've found a certain snobbery within the Uk archery fraternity regarding any bows from Africa, the general opinion that they are under powered and made of poor wood. Mention Japanese, Turkish or Indian archery and its all smiles. But africa seems the sad cousin, so this post is a good thing.

The picture below is one of the most common types of quivers found in the Uk, and these are normally described as Manding in origin.The bows that are often with the set look rather pathetic so perhpas for the traveller? I'm not sure. I will try and find some more pics of other bows etc


Last bow I think I made was when I was about 10. Needless to say it was utterly rubbish!

I think African archery is a fairly broad topic but has been colored in large part by a technique employed by many ethnic groups where the arrows are poisoned. This negates the need for penetrating power. This practice is deeply rooted in hunting where a large animal could be only lightly wounded but would succumb to the poison and could then be tracked.

What I think is neglected is the heavier stuff, like the Cameroon image I posted above. The heavy quilted armor from the Sahel is said to have been developed mainly as a defense against arrows. Some of the bows from Cameroon and Nigeria have a slight recurve as well. Image attached from Waffen aus Zentral-Afrika - 152cm overall. In the same book one can see bows of a flat profile and rounded.

Thanks for posting the arrows and quiver - I recognize the type and have seen a few sets as well. They might indeed be made for those who travel these days. I don't recall seeing many with the bows still - usually just the quivers.
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Old 12th March 2013, 03:06 PM   #7
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Hi Iain

Not sure if you know of it, but there is a well illustrated book solely on African archery called "Ata Epe" by Hendrik Wiethase 2007....
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Old 12th March 2013, 03:12 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Hi Iain

Not sure if you know of it, but there is a well illustrated book solely on African archery called "Ata Epe" by Hendrik Wiethase 2007....


I didn't! Do you own it? From a quick search it looks like the text is only in German. Still I will try to find a copy if it's cheap enough.
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Old 12th March 2013, 03:26 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
I didn't! Do you own it? From a quick search it looks like the text is only in German. Still I will try to find a copy if it's cheap enough.



German text and full of excellent pictures.
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Old 12th March 2013, 04:26 PM   #10
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? - why do they string the bows backwards (string is on the wrong side of the recurve)?
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Old 12th March 2013, 08:01 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
? - why do they string the bows backwards (string is on the wrong side of the recurve)?


No idea! But a good point. It seems to be consistent comparing the drawing with the photo I posted in the first post of this thread.

I'm no expert in bow mechanics but I can't think what advantage it would bring. But I guess there is some reason behind it.
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Old 12th March 2013, 09:06 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
? - why do they string the bows backwards (string is on the wrong side of the recurve)?


It keeps the undrawn string tension low (even zero, if you want). This means you can keep the bow strung forever without worrying about the bow losing its spring (i.e., developing string follow). Gives you more freedom with what materials will be OK for the bow and the string.

You sacrifice power. This gives you a force-draw curve that starts with a gentle slope, which means you get a concave force-draw curve.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bow_shape#Decurve_bow

The reflex-recurve Asian bow does the opposite - the reflex is designed to keep the undrawn string tension high, giving a steep beginning to the force-draw curve, and a convex force-draw curve.
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Old 12th March 2013, 09:38 PM   #13
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thanx, makes sense i guess.
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Old 12th March 2013, 10:40 PM   #14
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Hi Iain,
cannot find the bow now (which is very ordinary, BTW), so at the very least - small bunch of flowers from the North Caameroon...
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Old 13th March 2013, 11:45 PM   #15
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Ian, I think it's good you try to bring up African bows. I have a thread on a Brazilian indian bow, but it hasn't garnered as much interest (if I remember right only you commented on it ). But that's okay, I think like you said, a lot has to do with the fact they aren't as easily preserved so antique bows are harder to come by...

Ian, the bow in the post#6 resembles somewhat the "gullwing" horse-bows of the Plains Indians in North America.

The D shape of the bow in Colin Henshaw's post is a good design in some ways. I'm glad Timo Nieminen cleared up its pros (has obvious cons). I'd like to add that some ancient Egyptian bows were shaped like this too. I think it is before they adopted the reflex(?)

I have noticed many African bows having a circular cross-sections. This is good for solving both arrow-paradox and stability in your bow-hand but there's some issues with it. Flat bows, and semi-circular bows like the English longbow, have their own set of pros and cons.

-----------

Some things off the top of my head...

Ethiopian/Nubian archers were extremely infamous for their skill in archery, and it was this martial tradition that kept all sorts of invaders out, from the Romans to the Muslims. The Ethiopian archer's were also known for being able to snipe the eyes of opponents wearing armor and helmets. Even in the time of the ancient Egyptians, Nubians were considered some of their best archers. I think that's one area to look if you are looking for powerful African bows.

The Hadza are known for their strong longbows. They loose with the "mediterranean" release and have an interesting forward leaning shooting form. Some of their bows have up to 100 pounds of pull. Their way of life, culture, and they themselves are endangered.

Many have observed African archers stringing their bows by stepping down on the belly of the bow (side that faces you as you shoot) while one end is on the ground, pulling the top end towards yourself and stringing it. Apparently they do this in Papua New Guinea as well.

Kenyans were using bows in political-tribal conflicts pretty recently. Not sure if you can get a-hold of those but they might be the most recent form of African martial archery.

Another good place to look is, as mentioned before, West Africa. Here's a photo of 2 Congolese warriors (not sure which ethnic group). Both bear bows. As I understand it, large hosts of warriors used to be mustered by leaders, and they mostly used a combination of spear-and-shield and bows, as well as blades and throwing knives secondarily. I have heard that in the Congo region, it is known that some will use leaves to make the fletchings out of... and that in some areas, they do not use fletchings. Fletch-less arrows are also found in Papua New Guinea and Taiwan. Fletch-less arrows are fine at closer range, and in Papua New Guinea their loooong fletch-less arrows have long heavy heads to keep the forward tilt and prevent the arrow from going nose up mid-flight.

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Old 14th March 2013, 05:54 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timo Nieminen
It keeps the undrawn string tension low (even zero, if you want). This means you can keep the bow strung forever without worrying about the bow losing its spring (i.e., developing string follow). Gives you more freedom with what materials will be OK for the bow and the string.

You sacrifice power. This gives you a force-draw curve that starts with a gentle slope, which means you get a concave force-draw curve.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bow_shape#Decurve_bow



As pointed out in that article and in the <I>Traditional Bowyer's Bible I</i>, aside from ease of use and relative silence, a decurved shape can be forced by dependence on weak wood. Decurved bows are known from the US southwest (when they were stuck using willow wood for bows) and from Egypt (where they had to use acacia). In both cases, the shape allowed them to maximize the power they got from the weak and inelastic woods they had to use. These wouldn't be the equivalent of yew bows, but were the best they could do with local materials. Note that the Indian bows, at least, were often large (relative to their power) to compensate for the weak wood.

Best,

F
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Old 16th March 2013, 12:59 PM   #17
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Interesting thread. One of my main areas of interest is Korean traditional archery (I've been a practitioner for 20 years), so anything dealing with a country's traditional archery catches my attention.
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Old 17th March 2013, 11:50 AM   #18
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Thanks guys for the very interesting posts.

I think a theme that's been identified here is the lack of particularly strong woods for bow making.

Are there cases of horn bows in African cultures? I don't recall seeing any. But there are certainly a lot of wildlife candidates with the appropriate materials available...
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Old 17th March 2013, 01:52 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
Thanks guys for the very interesting posts.

I think a theme that's been identified here is the lack of particularly strong woods for bow making.

Are there cases of horn bows in African cultures? I don't recall seeing any. But there are certainly a lot of wildlife candidates with the appropriate materials available...


The ancient Egyptians had compound bows, although I don't recall offhand how they were made.

Not all African bows were junk, either. There's a story of a Brit on safari back in the days of empire who brought a bow with him to East Africa. One of the natives he employed brought along his own competition archery kit for fun. When they had a friendly shoot-off, the native's bow was better. Granted this was probably in the 1930s, but some tribes had decent bows.

In the tropics, moisture is a huge issue. This keeps archers from using horn for compound bows (since it messes up the glue and promotes rot of all materials). Even drying the bow wood to get maximum performance is impossible. There are two ways around this: making huge wood bows (as in South America and Papua New Guinea), and using smaller, weaker bows but poisoning the arrows. I know the latter was used by the pygmies and others, and from the pictures above, I'll bet the former was used as well.

With the pygmy bows, AFAIK, the idea was to make something close to a throw-away bow. They didn't go in for bows that would last 100 years (as with a Turkish compound bow), because the bows (like all wood) would rot in the tropics. Instead, they went in for simple designs that were easy to build and easy to replace. Even if the result isn't spectacular by our standards, they make sense, given the environment in which they were made and used.

In any case, were I looking for compound bows, I'd look in North Africa. Compound bows are dryland weapons, and you need a good source of horn as well as wood to make one. Unfortunately, most of them were replaced long ago by firearms.

One grim thought: if the war in north Mali brings more western soldiers into the region, I suspect we'll get an efflux of weapons from that area in the coming decade. At that point, we'll probably learn more about Sahelian archery. War seems to have a way of promoting this kind of study.

My 0.02 cents,

F
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Old 17th March 2013, 09:08 PM   #20
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I just noticed this interesting topic and think I also should add something.
The first quiver is from the Borana in Somalia and south Ethiopia. The other a nice example of a Haussa quiver from West Africa.
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Old 17th March 2013, 10:26 PM   #21
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Looking at the featherless arrows made out reed, a thought occurs to me. Was the much bow fishing in sub-Saharan Africa, and given the damp conditions, even if you weren't bow fishing, would fletching on an arrow accomplish much?
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Old 17th March 2013, 10:49 PM   #22
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to show the beauty of African arrow heads, here two excamples.
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Old 18th March 2013, 12:39 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
The ancient Egyptians had compound bows, although I don't recall offhand how they were made.


A whole bunch of composite bows (i.e., horn bows) were found in Tutankhamun's tomb. AFAIK, that's the single biggest find, but there may be others. Some of Tutankhamum's bows appear to be imports, being wrapped in birch bark, which is not common in Egypt.

I don't have details of Tut's bows, but there are books with the details. But this is Egypt as part of the Near/Middle East, rather than Egypt as part of Africa. We also have North African composite bows in the context North Africa as part of the Arab/Turkish world, rather than North Africa as "African".

I don't know of any African non-Near/Middle Eastern/Arab/Turkish influences composite bows. Rawhide backed or cabled bows are quite plausible, but I don't know of examples.

There are West African crossbows. A couple of examples can be seen in Grayson's "Traditional archery from six continents". Otherwise, African bows are self bows, often circular cross-section, sometimes with rawhide or other wrapping for reinforcement (e.g.f of nocks, but sometimes elsewhere).

['Compound" vs "composite" - in the early days, these were synonyms, but these days "compound" usually means the multi-string-pulley-cam things that only a physicist or an archer seeking efficiency would love. Perhaps 'twould have been better if those things had been called "ugly physics bows" or such. (I think they're "compound", due to "compound pulley".)]
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Old 18th March 2013, 04:39 AM   #24
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Great points fearn!

Just something I'd like to add, if it means anything

Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
In the tropics, moisture is a huge issue. This keeps archers from using horn for compound bows (since it messes up the glue and promotes rot of all materials). Even drying the bow wood to get maximum performance is impossible. There are two ways around this: making huge wood bows (as in South America and Papua New Guinea), and using smaller, weaker bows but poisoning the arrows. I know the latter was used by the pygmies and others, and from the pictures above, I'll bet the former was used as well.

Moisture is a problem... Most Amazonian natives replace their longbows every year, and the bowstrings frequently. Daily use combined with moisture make it necessary.

One exception to the moisture negating horn is Java. I believe the Javanese had horn bows made with water buffalo horn. However modern Javanese competition archery uses wooden recurve bows. Here's an article from ATARN (an excellent Asian traditional archery site). However it wasn't like a composite bow, it was two horn slats joined at the grip with a wooden(?) grip strapped on, I think...


Only other culture I know of who made horn bows (not like Asiatic composites) were the Shoshone and maybe some related tribes... using mountain sheep's horn. Very powerful compact bows.
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Old 18th March 2013, 02:59 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timo Nieminen
There are West African crossbows. A couple of examples can be seen in Grayson's "Traditional archery from six continents". Otherwise, African bows are self bows, often circular cross-section, sometimes with rawhide or other wrapping for reinforcement (e.g.f of nocks, but sometimes elsewhere).

['Compound" vs "composite" - in the early days, these were synonyms, but these days "compound" usually means the multi-string-pulley-cam things that only a physicist or an archer seeking efficiency would love. Perhaps 'twould have been better if those things had been called "ugly physics bows" or such. (I think they're "compound", due to "compound pulley".)]


On a side note, copies of the three volumes of the Traditional Bowyer's Bible are available cheap on a certain BigMuddyRiver online bookseller, and volume three has a chapter on African bows.

Thanks for the reminder: I'd forgotten about the crossbows. There's a nicely mounted one in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Reportedly it's based on old Portuguese models of centuries ago, but made out of indigenous materials, of course.

As for modern compound bows, I've heard traditional archers call those things "four-wheel bows." While I agree with your assessment, I can't complain, really. They're simply America's contribution to the history of archery. Probably in centuries to come, people will collect the surviving examples and make all sorts of cooing noises over them. Similarly, the chair leg and car spring bows showing up in east Africa are another novel design, albeit a less powerful one. Despite the ubiquity of guns, people are still coming up with new bow designs even now.

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Old 18th March 2013, 03:12 PM   #26
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Fascinating to read the discussion as it progresses guys.

My understanding of the West African crossbows was also that they were based on designs encountered form the Portuguese.

This is an interesting link to a photo story of the Fulani protecting their herds in the modern day. It shows many interesting photos with bows.

http://www.teddyseguin.com/dotclear...ing-kalachnikov
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Old 26th March 2013, 02:48 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
Fascinating to read the discussion as it progresses guys.

My understanding of the West African crossbows was also that they were based on designs encountered form the Portuguese.

This is an interesting link to a photo story of the Fulani protecting their herds in the modern day. It shows many interesting photos with bows.

http://www.teddyseguin.com/dotclear...ing-kalachnikov


Great story. I was rereading the story about African bows in the Traditional Bowyer's Bible, Vol. 3. About a century ago, the Fulani were the raiders, and the Bassa (who still love their bows and poisoned arrows) were the defenders. I wonder if the reporter got the tribe identified right? The Fulani were not previously known as good archers, and "your back is as stiff a a Fulani's bow" was reportedly used as an insult.

In any case, the Bassa used an all-metal knife (!) called the manga that is used to draw the bow. The metal handle is placed just below the nock of the arrow to draw the bow, so as not to hurt the fingers (and to have a knife in hand while you shoot). Anyone seen a knife like this?

Best,

F
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Old 26th March 2013, 04:22 AM   #28
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Grayson's "Traditional Archery from Six Continents" calls them "bracer knives", but that doesn't bring much joy as a google search term.

They're used like finger tabs, with the blade hanging below the hand. Some examples in this thread: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1882
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Old 26th March 2013, 11:02 AM   #29
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Cool. Now to figure out how to use such a knife to draw a bowstring.

I should point out that, contrary to Kukulz' speculation in the thread referenced, these knives were used with poisoned arrows. The point of using the knife was to take the strain of drawing the bow on metal, not on sensitive skin, and to have the knife ready in the hand, because it took some time for the arrows to kill.

Best,

F
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Old 26th March 2013, 11:23 AM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
Great story. I was rereading the story about African bows in the Traditional Bowyer's Bible, Vol. 3. About a century ago, the Fulani were the raiders, and the Bassa (who still love their bows and poisoned arrows) were the defenders. I wonder if the reporter got the tribe identified right? The Fulani were not previously known as good archers, and "your back is as stiff a a Fulani's bow" was reportedly used as an insult.

In any case, the Bassa used an all-metal knife (!) called the manga that is used to draw the bow. The metal handle is placed just below the nock of the arrow to draw the bow, so as not to hurt the fingers (and to have a knife in hand while you shoot). Anyone seen a knife like this?

Best,

F


Hi fearn, it should be accurate with the tribal attribution, during the Fulani Jihads much of their forces were bowmen, owing to their lack of cavalry. Against the Hausa state of Gobir, who relied on heavy cavalry, Fulani archers proved rather effective at the Battle of Tabkin Kwotto. They made use of poisoned arrows as well.

The daggers in question are usually called loop daggers and are most often associated with the Tiv of Nigeria, although other groups used them as well. Googling Tiv loop dagger should turn up quite a few results.
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