Angkorian Bow-Making Skills Live on

Archery was an important skill for Cambodian soldiers and hunters. Photo: Touch Sovandy

SIEM REAP – For centuries, archery was an important skill for Cambodian soldiers and hunters. Images of bows and arrows being used in battle can be found on the walls of Angkorian temples.

Now, the art of making traditional bows and arrows is being kept alive at the Royal Archery Club near Siem Reap city.

Chea Borin, 25, makes bows from wood selected from the talipot palm tree, which grows wild in the province.  

The wood is cut to size and heated while it is held in the shape of a bow.  Wax is applied, which allows the bow to keep its shape as it cools. Rattan bindings hold the handle in place and strengthen the ends of the bow.

Traditionally, fighting bows came in three forms.  The king had one with a Naga head at one end. Generals had a  bayonet-like  weapon attached, while ordinary soldiers’ bows were not adorned.

Borin makes all three but there is one concession to modernity.  His strings are nylon.  The knowledge of how to make a string from forest material has been lost.

Arrows are made from bamboo shaved with glass. Bird feathers are used for the flights but the art of making the metal tips, again, has been lost.

The club is expanding Borin’s workshop so that visitors will be able to see the bow-making process.  Tourists will also be able to finish the work on part-complete bows.

Bow prices range from $75 for a soldier’s bow to $300 for a king’s bow and come with a holder and arrows.

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