Crossbow and poisonous arrow of Lisu Ethnic Group

It is recorded in Annals of Jingtai Yunnan Pictures and Books of the Ming dynasty that “People called Lisu¡­ always carry poisonous arrows and crossbows to hunt birds and beasts.” Nanzhao Unofficial History records that “Lixie, namely Lisu, is good at shooting crossbows. They often asked their wives to carry a wood shield and walk ahead, and they shot behind and hit the shield without hurting the women.” These are records and description of the Lisus’ excellent skills of shooting. 

The big mountains and canyons inhabited by Lisu people used to be all covered by primeval forest, and all kinds of birds and beasts haunted in the woods. In the long period of life practice, the industrious and brave Lisus invented and created all kinds of manufacturing tools. They also trained themselves and got a whole set of technical ability and skills for fighting with ferocious birds and beasts, getting adjusted to the environment and transforming nature. Crossbows and poisonous arrows are representatives.

Crossbow is a kind of bow that makes use of mechanical power for shooting. Crossbows of the Lisus are composed of body, board, trough, string, tooth and trigger. The board is made of rock mulberry or Qinggang (name of a place) chestnut wood both of which are hard and also springy. The sizes of different boards are different. The string is twisted with four proper nettle threads. The tooth and trigger are made of bone. When being used, the tough and tensile string is pulled on the tooth, the arrow is put on the board and the trigger is pushed after taking aim. The arrow is shot by elastic force of the board and string.

Crossbow arrow is cut from bamboo and iron arrowhead is put at the top of it. There is a triangle-shaped end wing, which is folded with skin of bamboo and can increase stability when flying. Arrows are divided into two kinds: normal ones and poisonous ones. Normal arrows usually are used in shooting flying birds, squirrels, pheasants and hares. Big and ferocious animals like tigers, bears and wild boars should be hunt by poisonous arrows. The poison is made of rhizomes of a wild plant—Heicaowu, which is hyper-toxic. Poisonous arrow is made when the poison is painted on the groove of the head. When the arrowhead is shot into an animal’s body, it spreads over the body once it get in touch with blood, and the animals die of it. 

The Lisus’ crossbow and arrow seem simple, but actually many aspects of scientific theories are reflected in the choosing of shape and materials, fixing of arrowhead and design of the end wing. These also reflect the scientific ability and wisdom of the Lisus. 

Lisu people’s strong crossbow and poisonous arrow are not only their traditional hunting tools but also used as weapons. They played great function in battles resisting the national oppression and economic exploitation of the feudal autocracy and invasion of foreigners, and protecting the border of our motherland.

Nowadays, the face of the Lisu region has changed greatly. The use of crossbow as producing tool has decreased a lot, but it appears very often in many sports meetings and common entertainments.