Today In Fact, 13 July

Today is the last day of Naadam, the annual Mongolian traditional festival in which participants compete in three national games; horse riding, wrestling and archery. The festival is held across the country and its largest festival is in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital.

The Mongolian bow is a very distinctive weapon of war. Originally it was small weapon which was designed to be used on horseback. Mongol warriors were able to ride and shoot accurately because they used a stirrup.

The stirrup was invented in Asia around 200 BC and the Mongols seem to have turned what was a big toe stirrup into a boot stirrup. The Europeans only caught on about a millennium later around 700 AD. The Mongols were good at innovation back in the day.

The other innovation the Mongols used was a composite bow. Now when I was a youngster I loved to make bows and arrows and shoot them at things and animals. My efforts, aside from being malign, were usually ineffective. The arrow would sort of bounce-off even very soft things. My cat was not amused but she was also unhurt by my attempts to kill her off. The reason, I was told by an engineer was that the bow’s torsion or something was not enough to propel the arrow with sufficient force to actually pierce anything.

If I had learned my Mongol history better, I might have hit on their idea of constructing composite bows. These are three pieces of bent and bendy stick, tied together. The stoutest stick goes in the middle and two short bits are tied very tightly on wither end. The bow of course needs to be strung and voila! We have a composite bow with much more torsion than a simple one piece bow. Mongol innovations all seem to promote aggression.

I am however, not alone in failing to come-up with the composite bow. The aboriginal !Khoi and San people also use simple small one-piece bows. This means they need to get really, really close to their prey.

The San though came-up with a unique innovation of their own. An innovation that makes them friendly. They make recycle-able arrows with heads that break-off. You see they tip their arrow heads with a poison that kills and has no antidote. Even a small cut from a San arrow will kill their prey or enemy. It has been argued that this why the San make great efforts to get with each other, they have been living with the equivalent of the atom bomb for millennia.

Perhaps we need to build a society that makes us friendly and not warlike? How might we do this?

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (