I’ve been watching a series called Bushcraft by Ray Mears. The premise is that Mears participates in the cultural skills practiced by various peoples, which he calls Bushcraft. Mears uses the term to encompass anything from fire building, tool making, hunting and gathering. While not really a survival program, Mears is quick to point out and practice the advantages of knowing these various techniques as both practical skill as well as instilling an appreciation for cultures and environment that embrace them. (Video after the break).
What is not typical about the series is that Mears does not only focus on the usual documentary role call of “primitive” peoples and areas, but also spends a considerable amount of time on traditional skills of what we would consider modern cultures and geographies (notably England and Sweden).
One pair of episodes particularly moved me. In the first Mears examines early Britain, showing how thorns were used as fish hooks to catch fish in the muddy flats of the Thames. He culminates the British experience with the manufacture of the legendary English Longbow in the traditional manner. Tucking away this remarkable piece of workmanship, he then travels to Africa to join the Hadza people; a seemingly irreconcilable setting from the English isles.
And that is when he creates a great comparison between the two peoples. Apparently, Mears had visited this area and it’s people years before and many of them remembered him. The Hadza, unlike the nearby and better known Masai, are hunters and gatherers. In particular they are known for their tracking skills and archery.
Mears explains that the bows they use are made from the local trees, a strong but inflexible wood. The Hadza have a unique stance when they draw and fire the bow. It’s hard to describe but their bodies form an elegant curve as they lean into the pull as they aim and fire. It’s very different from the stoic stance of the traditional Western archer, almost like a swimmer poised for a graceful dive. When they release an arrow, you can almost imagine the Hadza archer projecting himself into the flight of the arrow.
Unaccustomed to the modest but effective “draw” of these bows, Mears actually broke one of the Hadza bows on his trip years ago. On this visit, he brought the English long bow from the earlier episode and offered it as a gift to Gudo, the Hadza whose bow he broke on that earlier visit.
The Hadza man seemed very pleased with the trade and deeply moved. Each man in the tribe got an opportunity to use the strange bow from so far away, and the new owner proudly declared that “All the wild animals will know me”.
There is a profound feeling of connectivity as these two cultures who revere the bow intersect.
I know several of my friends also share an intimacy with the bow and thought they might appreciate hearing this story.