The Invention of the Bow and Arrow - A Tradition
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois


Long ago, the Onkwehonwe, the Natural People, did not have the bow and arrow for a weapon. At that time, the spear was the common weapon used in the hunt.

One day, a young hunter whose name was Okwironto (oh-gwi-LOON-doe) left his village in search of a Bear. His only weapon was a long spear, tipped with flint. Okwironto walked a long way. He saw no signs of Bear. After a while, the thought came to him that perhaps he would find a Bear in a thickly-forested glen that was not far away. In this particular place, there were wild Grape vines. It was at the time of the Moon of Falling Leaves (around October). The Grapes would be ripe, and the Bear would no doubt be eating them.

Okwironto was not wrong in his guess. As he entered the thickest part of the glen, he caught sight of a huge black figure. It was Okwari, the Bear, and he was busy eating wild Grapes. From time to time, he would grunt little squeals of pleasure as he gulped the wild Grapes down. The young hunter crept very close. He was almost within reach of the bear. Quietly, he raised his spear for the death stroke. The something happened.

As Okwironto was about to throw the spear, his foot slipped on a rock, and he fell sprawling to the ground, almost under the Bear's claws. With a frightened grunt, the hunter looked up. He still held the spear, but now he was in no position to throw it. Okwari, the Bear, ordinarily would have run away from a human hunter, but the sudden appearance of the young man startled him, and instead of running away as most black Bears do, he turned and started for the hunter.

Okwironto did not take long getting to his feet. With one jump he was on his feet, and in a moment was heading through the forest. The Bear, seeing that the hunter was running from him, gained courage and quickly took after Okwironto. For a little while, the two, the hunter and the Bear, kept the same speed, but in a short time, the Bear gained rapidly on the hunter.

Okwironto knew that in a very little while, the Bear would have him and that proabably he would be torn to pieces. He thought of his wife and son waiting home for his return. This thought made him determined to kill the Bear, or die in the attempt. Turning quickly, he made ready to throw his spear, but the end of the spear had caught on a twisted grapevine which was clinging to the top of a small ash sapling. The hunter tried to pull the spear free from the vine, but he only succeeded in bending the sapling.

The Bear was almost upon Okwironto. The hunter made one more effort to pull the spear loose. As he tugged at the spear, he pulled the sapling to the ground. He did not wait long. With a startled yell, he let the spear go and turned to run. He had not run many steps when he noticed that the Bear was not following him. He looked back. The Bear was on the ground with the spear stuck through his neck. The blood was rapidly reddening the leaves as Okwari gave a few final kicks before death came.

The surprised hunter went back to see what happened. The spear which had caught on the vine had caused the sapling to bend, thus forming a bow. The vine had been the bow string. When the hunter had pulled the spear, he had caused the sapling to bend. When he dropped the spear, the sapling had sprung upright again. The force of this spring had whipped the vine straight, and at the same time, threw the spear into Okwari's neck.

The hunter again took the spear and put the end of it on the vine. Pulling the vine back, he bent the sapling. When the sapling had bent almost to the ground, he released the spear. It shot through the air - thus the bow was invented.

In time, the Onkwehonwe, the Natural People, made similar bows out of smaller saplings. Instead of a grapevine bow string, they used one of rawhide. Instead of a heavy spear, they used an arrow, tipped with flint, and winged with feathers. The bow became a priceless weapon for the Onkwehonwe.

 

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