Tag Archives: native

How to Make a Rabbitstick (non-returning boomerang)

See my earlier posts How to Make a Returning Boomerang and Boomerangs are awesome! for more info about boomerangs.

The non-returning boomerang, aka rabbitstick was a ubiquitous and important weapon among hunter-gatherer cultures around the world, especially those living in open environments like desert, scrubland, and grassland.

The rabbitstick was used, obviously, to hunt rabbits, but also many other animals such as ground fowl, squirrels, and even large ungulates such as deer. The rabbitstick could instantly kill smaller animals when struck, but could also take down deer and antelope since it could break their legs, rendering them unable to flee.

The rabbitstick took many forms, but was always flattened and a foot to several feet long, and was usually bent along its length. Being thrown bend-first (with the V facing forward), the angle gave more force to the blow if it hit properly since the momentum would be directed along the length, striking with a smaller area of the weapon.

The rabbitstick was superior to a regular stick since the modification to be flat, bent, and with airfoils allowed it to travel much longer distances. A proper rabbitstick could be thrown with enough force to kill up to 200 yards, whereas a stick could only be thrown at most third of that distance. The flat shape, beyond enhancing flight distance, gave a more powerful blow since it concentrated the force to a small area.

The rabbitstick is fairly simple to make, and would be a great weapon to fashion in a survival situation. It is also pretty effective as a hunting weapon in general since it makes a two or three foot by 600 ft long killing zone. Compared to a bow and arrow or even a rifle, the rabbitstick may be better to hunt for medium-sized ground game in open areas, in such situations being only inferior to a shotgun.

Here are some basic instructions how to make one. More in-depth treatments of how to make rabbitsticks with different methods can be found in these blog posts: https://naturalskills.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/non-returning-boomerangs/ and https://naturalskills.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/boomerang-build-a-long/(also an awesome blog in general), and in the Bulletin of Primitive Technology #4 (1992) article by Errett Callahan “The non-returning boomerang.” Callahan (1999) has a similar article in a book (see reference).

1) find a piece of wood. It should have the bend of the angle you are looking for. If you try to artificially make a bend in an otherwise straight piece, you will have to cut across the grain, weakening the rabbitstick at the bend. It should be wide and thick enough to end up after trimming bark and shaping to be several inches wide by about an inch thick. The heavier the wood, the better. If you don’t have a saw or don’t want to use one, take into account the splitting ability of the wood. Many pines and cedars split cleanly. I chose incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) since it was easy to find a flattened, well-bent piece, and I knew it would split easily. This wood is not particularly heavy though, so I made the boomerang pretty wide to give it some heft. Another benefit to using this tree species is that it makes an excellent hearth-board for friction fire starting (the board you put a hole in that you spin a stick on), being used by many Californian Indians for this purpose.

2) cut it to size then split it down the middle. You will need at least two wedges and a mallet, which can be fairly easily obtained in primitive situations. A very hard wood, bone, or best, antler, ground to shape makes a good wedge. A hard wood or rock makes a good mallet. I used a hatchet and splitting axe in place of wedges and a hammer for a mallet. I started the split on one end, got stuck in the middle so started again there, and to keep it splitting in the center, started a split once more at the other end. Pics below show this:

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3) choose the better half and split that. Put your wedge in the center at one end (pictured below) and work it as far as you can. It may veer off and you’ll have to start at the other end and middle. If it won’t split at all just trim with your hatchet, knife, or saw. It should be only an inch or so thick uniformly along the length. I used the piece to the left in the below photo.

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4) trim the split piece to size, giving one end a good hand grip, and making the edges pointed. It should be somewhat elliptical in cross section like this shape: (), with the edges near the center of its thickness. The cross section of mine was more rhomboid or diamond-like, like this shape: <==>. Callahan (1999) discusses the effects different airfoils and edge shapes have on the flight of the non-returning boomerang. Most importantly, if the edges are too blunt or too near the top or bottom, it may not fly well. The finished rabbitstick should weigh about 12 ounces for optimum performance (Callahan 1999)

Here is my finished (I left it pretty rough) rabbitstick. It’s about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick throughout the length, and 1.5 to 2.5 in wide on the ends, with the max width of 5 in in the middle. The end I’m holding is more elliptical in cross section to make a good grip, while the other end is more flat on the top and bottom, with edges angled like an axe blade.

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Tips:

Many different shapes and sizes will work.

The most important factors are keeping it flat, straight, and with edges along the centerline. A good bend helps, but it may also be more of a gradual curve like this shape: (.

You can work the wood green (which is better for splitting or using stone tools), but keep in mind it may warp when dry. You can take steps to secure it in shape as it dries, or bend it back to shape after it warps by applying oil or grease and heating it steaming hot over a fire, bending it to shape, and allowing it to cool while holding it in shape.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any injury or death resulting from any information in this blog.

REFERENCE

Callahan, Errett. 1999. How to make a throwing stick: the non-returning boomerang. In D. Wescott (ed.) Primitive Technology: a book of earth skills. Gibbs Smith, Publisher, Layton UT.

Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex sp.) Used as Ritual Hallucinogen by California Indians

Pogonomyrmex sp., probably P. californicus – harvester ants; were used as a hallucinogen and medicine by southern California Indians (Blackburn 1976, Groark 1996).

This genus of ants has the greatest mammalian toxicity known of any arthropod (Schmidt and Blum 1978, Groark 1996), with an intravenous LD50 of 0.3-1.1 mg/kg (Schmidt and Blum 1978, Groark 1996).

For use as a ritualistic hallucinogen, in the context of a “vision quest” of Indian youth, harvester ants were eaten after three days of fasting from food, water, and sex and not contacting blood (Groark 1996). In the daytime at an isolated location fully exposed to the elements, an experienced elder administrator, the ant doctor, would lay the youth on their back and feed him, somewhat forcibly, balls of moistened eagle down with about 5 ants inside each (Blackburn 1976, Groark 1996). The dose was regulated, from dozens to ninety or so balls, and the ant feeding stopped when the eyes of the youth turned red and he became lethargic and refused more (Groark 1996). The ant doctor then acts as if they are leaving momentarily, then sneaks up behind and pokes the ribs hard to startle the youth, provoking the ants to all sting his insides at once, causing the youth to pass out (Groark 1996). In most cases, the ants were eaten just once, but in some cases, when the youth awoke several hours later, he would be asked if they can take more ants, repeating the process if able for 2-4 days (Groark 1996).

In the near-death state, the youth would have visions, wherein he would obtain spirits of animals, dream-helpers, to help him in certain abilities in life (Groark 1996). For 4 days afterward, the youth must stay alone and he and the ant doctor must not speak to anyone (Groark 1996). To obtain shamanistic powers, the ants would be eaten in a similar mannar every summer until the powers were obtained (Groark 1996). The ants were also eaten similarly for a variety of ailments, from paralysis to severe colds (Groark 1996).

 

References:

Blackburn, T. 1976. A query regarding the possible hallucinogenic effects of ant ingestion in south-central California. The Journal of California Anthropology 3(2): 78-81.

Groark, K. P. 1996. Ritual and therapeutic use of “hallucinogenic” harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex) in native south-central California. Journal of Ethnobiology 16(1): 1-29.

Schmidt, J. O. and M. S. Blum. 1978. A harvester ant venom: chemistry and pharmacology. Science, New Series 200(4345): 1064-1066).

Santa Barbara Sedge Baskets

Santa_Barbara_sedge

Carex barbarae

Santa Barbara Sedge – Carex barbarae

The Pomo Indians of California called this sedge Kä-höm’ which translates “water-gift.”

This species was very often used in basket making, being the white or creamy groundwork of most Pomo baskets (Chesnut 1902).

 Many hundreds of species of Carex are found across the US, and many were used for basketry by the American Indians.

Roots were collected during the summer and early fall (Chesnut 1902). A root end by the plant is grasped between the first and second toes, while a clam shell is used in one hand to scrape away dirt and a stick is used in the other hand to pry away stones and other roots and loosen the ground (Chesnut 1902). Women would gather about 15-20 root strands each day but men only about 10 on account of his long siesta (Chesnut 1902).

To maintain the root’s flexibility and soften its bark, roots are immediately placed in water to soak overnight (Chesnut 1902). The next morning, the end of the roots are chewed to separate the bark, which is then scraped away while one end of the root is held in the teeth and the other between the toes (Chesnut 1902). This white or tan inner root is coiled for carrying (Chesnut 1902). When ready for use, the roots are thoroughly soaked in warm water, then the ends split with fingernails into three parts, which were grasped by the teeth, and two hands to carefully and very evenly split the root into three sections (Chesnut 1902). Each of these sections is then split again in the same way, and the resulting sections split again the same until the desired fineness of strand is reached (Chesnut 1902). The value, beauty, and quality of the basket increased with fineness of strands used (Chesnut 1902). Finer strands were used like thread to wrap around horizontal withes (Chesnut 1902).

Since each basket was created from the mind with no model or skeleton, exacting care was necessary to make symmetrical designs (Chesnut 1902). It required many months to years of leisure work for a high quality basket (Chesnut 1902). A single regular-sized basket could take 600-800 hours of work to finish!

Such baskets were made to be watertight. They were used as cooking vessels, with rocks heated in a fire stirred with water and food in the basket to boiling temperatures. On account of their beauty and durability, they were passed down as heirlooms despite heavy, intense usage (Chesnut 1902).

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

basket made by Pomo

Sedge basket made by Pomo Indians (Wikipedia)

Juana Basilia, Chumash presentation basket with Spanish colonial coin designs, 1815–22. Deer grass, Indian rush, sumac, 24 ½ in. diameter, 4 in. height. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Juana Basilia, Chumash presentation basket with Spanish colonial coin designs, 1815–22. Deer grass, Indian rush, sumac, 24 ½ in. diameter, 4 in. height. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

See the below blog posts about modern-day basketry by California Indians, where I got these photos of amazingly beautiful (& functional!) baskets made by Abe Sanchez.

http://deborahsmall.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/basket-sumac-rhus-trilobata/

http://deborahsmall.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/yokuts-style-basket-abe-sanchez/

http://deborahsmall.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/gathering-rhus-trilobata-aka-basket-sumac/