Bowyers, quivers and cupid
When she’s disarmed Malang high school student Difah [Dwi] Anggraeni (left) looks like any other texting and tweeting teen, seemingly more concerned with friends than future.
But after warm-up exercises on a scorching morning, the 17-year old shoulders her high-tech weapon, garners more gear, straps on a chest protector and gets deadly serious. She’s soft spoken and unassertive, but you wouldn’t want to get between this lady and a yellow disc, whatever the distance.
Standing sideways to the mark she stares through the peep sight. A moment to be pensive. A glance at the trees and their waving leaves. Mmm, a westerly – five knots? A tweak of the sight – half a notch should be enough – no, make that a quarter.
Slowly she takes aim and gives undiluted, unqualified, no-compromise concentration plus what she calls “feeling” to the task in hand: To speed a steel-tipped carbon-fiber projectile at more than 300 kilometers an hour and hit with such force it will puncture the outer skin and penetrate deep inside.
Using a trigger release she fires. A hiss as the strings relax. She checks the result using a ten times magnification monocular. Bullseye [or what the pros call ‘gold’] and more; this shot is in a tight cluster in the four centimeter center. No surprise, for this adolescent archer is the national champion in her class and practising for the June regional competition in Banyuwangi.
“Some friends who hang out in malls think I’m a bit crazy,” Dwi said. “Every day I must do better than yesterday. I’m trying to reach such a level that I’ll represent Indonesia internationally.”
Unlike other archers who need total quiet to focus their eyes and minds, and bristle at interruptions, Dwi claimed she performed better with an audience because noise made her work harder to shut out distractions.
Her shooting partner Nur Amalina [Lina], 17, uses a more traditional long bow. This speaks the ‘twang’ that struck fear in medieval armies faced with squadrons of bowmen launching sheaves of arrows.
It would also have frightened a family at the far end of the suburban wasteland range and across a road when Lina overshot and potted a pot on their veranda about 200 meters beyond her target.
The neighbors blamed Dwi because she was carrying a compound bow that appeared far more formidable with its pulleys and limb bolts, sprouting a stabilizer and making it look like an outdoor television antenna. But even this modern invention (see breakout) is still hard pressed to beat the simple traditional bow in the hands of an expert.
Coach Yudhi Purwanto, (left) who used to practise silat [Indonesian martial arts] before adding another string to his bow, said archery was not a point-and-shoot game. “A good archer needs to be many things, scientist, meteorologist, technician and athlete,” he said. “But above all they must have the right mentality.
“Here we’re practising on targets 50 and 70 meters distant. If Dwi fired straight gravity would drag her arrow down. So she calculates the range, calibrates the bow and fires five centimeters above the center to allow for trajectory.
“Today there’s little air movement, but a cross wind or down draft can deflect an arrow. Horizontal allowances have to be made. On top of all this a top archer must have strong nerves. This is not a sport for those without willpower.”
Although many spend big, archery doesn’t have to be expensive. Sweet potato seller Machbud Junaidi equipped his son Abel Hisyam Azhara (left) with a Rp 90,000 [US $7] length of PVC plumbing pipe to make a passable bow – and no-one in the egalitarian fraternity sneered. Which is as it should be; Robin Hood wasn’t an elitist.
Little Abel is able and ambitious. The 12-year old wants to use his skills to take flight and travel the world; when he’s not lining up an arrow he’s practising English so he can articulate archery everywhere.
University student bowman Danang Kamal Musthofa’s parents helped fund his hobby – Rp 6 million [US$ 460] for a dozen arrows and four times that sum for the bow and accessories. These include a quiver and so many gadgets there’s a separate purse.
There’s even a special grip to help pull arrows out of the target, but a strong wrist does the job equally well. Boots, however, are necessary. Tournaments are supposed to be set in swards of glory, but Indonesia’s Sherwood Forests are thick with mud as adhesive as sticky rice.
Danang claimed archery helped his psychology studies because it has taught him concentration.
“You need to be dedicated and fit, able to stay calm and control your breathing,” he said. “I enjoy challenging myself, trying to be the best I can. You also get to meet other people because archery isn’t dominated by men and it’s really a young person’s sport.”
Another advantage? “My girlfriend is also an archer.”
How Mr Archer got his break
Ten millennia ago some cave dweller with more smarts than pelts reckoned there had to be a better way to get a bison steak than chasing, stoning and spearing. Every week a fellow woodsman was trampled or gored when a wounded beast turned on its tormenters trying to push a pointed stick through its hide.
How could a hunter kill from a distance without getting hurt by his prey? The pioneer of occupational health and safety had probably noticed how tense forest vines could be plucked and used to flick leaves. Why not adapt this idea – and let’s call our family The Archers.
If you don’t like this theory develop another – it can’t be trumped. Like the invention of the wheel and the mastery of fire, the bow has shaped the development of humankind, but its origins are unknown.
The bow appeared on all continents bar Australia, where Aborigines developed the spear launcher known as a woomera, the name now used for an outback rocket range.
Some bows were small, like those used by North American Indians shooting from horseback. Others, like the English longbow, were infantry weapons.
The 13th century Mongolian leader Genghis Khan conquered much of Central Asia with troops equipped with recurve bows. The ends, or limbs of the weapon, are turned outwards, creating greater force.
The weapons still used in Papua are reported to be about two meters long and made of bamboo.
Although the development of strong but flexible materials last century such as fiberglass, carbon, laminated wood and lightweight metals pushed archery into a new level, composites using bamboo stuck to wood or animal horn were pioneered in Asia long ago.
The compound bow, invented in the US in 1966, uses a system of eccentric pulleys and cables, and is now widely seen in contests.
A skill this old has a special vocabulary: Arrows are made by fletchers, bows by bowyers. The notch in the arrow that takes the string is a nock.
East Java has the reputation of being Indonesia’s premier archery province. No-one seems to know exactly why, apart from claiming the people are famous for being straight shooters.
(First published in J-Plus, The Jakarta Post, 19 April 2015)