An overview of one of the most useful of All technologies
One of the most important and useful of all implements of the Ojibwe people was the bow (or mitigwaab). According to oral tradition there were four types of bows that were used.
The first type was a bow that was created with the outer surface of the bow planed flat and the inner portion made with a ridge or rib. This sort of was particularly strong. The second type of bow was made with both outer and inner surfaces flat. This was a hunting bow and it was said that these were not strong enough for war and broke if used in that manner. The third type was constructed with the sides cut in ‘scallops’. This sort of bow was normally used when hunting small game. The fourth type was made with the outer surface rounded and the inner surface flat. This bow was a hunting bow used for large game and was also used in war. After the bow was shaped it was put in hot water to bend the wood and also to strengthen it. A bow might also be strengthened by burnishing and charring the inner surface. The bows were then decorated in various ways according to taste, with totem symbols, or based on a vision.
Only two materials were used to make bowstrings. These were nettle-stalk fiber (zesab), and the sinew taken from the neck of a snapping turtle. The nettle-stalk fiber was “waxed” or rubbed with pitch to make it waterproof. Turtle neck sinew was made by cutting close to the turtle’s body, then removing the skin and cutting it round and round, making a long strip. This strip would then be twisted into a bow string. This type of bowstring was said to be the best because it wouldn’t stretch or shrink with extended use.
The arrows used were about as long as distance from just below the elbow to the end of the first finger. The shaft was smoothed using a grooved piece of sandstone. The wood was rubbed against it and it was rubbed on the wood like sandpaper. One sort of wood used to make arrows was the stalk of the Juneberry bush (ozigwaakominaganzh). Arrows could also be made of pine or cedar, which were most often used in hunting ducks or other waterfowl, as these would float on the water and recovered if the hunter missed their mark. Arrowheads were often made from bone, stone, or metal and were inserted into a notch and held in place by winding the shaft with strips of green bark from the small branches of the Juneberry.
If arrows with metal points were used in hunting ducks, it was customary to sharpen the metal like a little knife so it would cut the feathers and go through the bird. While hunting rabbits, an arrow might be tipped with the claw of a turtle which would penetrate the fur and leave only a small hole. Bone points were often used for hunting deer, with the arrow head only lightly attached to the shaft so that it would became detached as the deer ran through the bushes, remaining in the animal and not becoming dislodged.
Flight feathers were tied to the arrow shaft with sinew. Most often the feathers from eagles and hawks were used, and these were sometimes dyed in bright colors. A good arrow could travel about 500 feet, but were usually only effective against deer and other game at around 50 feet.
Adapted from Densmore, Frances. 1929. “Chippewa Customs.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. print. off.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities