1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Blow-Gun
BLOW-GUN, a weapon consisting of a long tube, through which, by blowing with the mouth, arrows or other missiles can be shot accurately to a considerable distance Blow-guns are used both in warefare and the chase by the South American Indian tribes inhabiting the region between the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, and by the Dyaks of Borneo. In the 18th century they were also known to certain North American Indians, especially the Choctaws and Cherokees of the lower Mississippi. Captain Bossu, in his Travels through Louisiana (1756), says of the Choctaws: “They are very expert in shooting with an instrument made of reeds about 7 ft long, into which they put a little arrow feathered with the wool of the thistle (wild cotton?).” The blow-guns of the South American Indians differ in style and workmanship. That of the Macusis of Guiana, called pucuna, is the most perfect. It is made of two tubes, the inner of which, called oorah, is a light reed ½ in. in diameter which often grows to a length of 15 ft. without a joint. This is enclosed, for protection and solidity, in an outer tube of a variety of palm (Iriartella setigera). The mouth-piece is made of a circlet of silk-grass, and the farther end is feruled with a kind of nut, forming a sight. A rear open sight is formed of two teeth of a small rodent. The length of the pucuna is about 11 ft. and its weight 1½ lb. The arrows, which are from 12 to 18 in. long and very slender, are made of ribs of the cocorite palm-leaf. They are usually feathered with a tuft of wild cotton, but some have in place of the cotton a thin strip of bark curled into a cone, which, when the shooter blows into the pucuna, expands and completely fills the tube, thus avoiding windage. Another kind of arrow is furnished with fibres of bark fixed along the shaft, imparting a rotary motion to the missile, a primitive example of the theory of the rifle. The arrows used in Peru are only a few inches long and as thin as fine knitting-needles. All South American blow-gun arrows are steeped in poison. The natives shoot very accurately with the pucuna at distances up to 50 or 60 yds.
The blow-gun of the Borneo Dyaks, called sumpitan, is from 6 to 7 ft. long and made of ironwood. The bore, of 1 in., is made with a long pointed piece of iron. At the muzzle a small iron hook is affixed, to serve as a sight, as well as a spear-head like a bayonet and for the same purpose. The arrows used with the sumpitan are about 10 in. long, pointed with fish-teeth, and feathered with pith. They are also envenomed with poison.
Poisoned arrows are also used by the natives of the Philippine island of Mindanao, whose blow-pipes, from 3 to 4 ft. long and made of bamboo, are often richly ornamented and even jewelled. The principle of the blow-gun is, of course, the same as that of the common “pea-shooter.”
See Sport with Rod and Gun in American Woods and Waters, by A. M. Mayer, vol. ii. (Edinburgh, 1884), Wanderings in South America, &c., by Charles Waterton (London, 1828); The Head Hunters of Borneo, by Carl Bock (London, 1881).