THE INUINNAQTUN BOW MAKING TRADITION
PITIKHILIUQTIIT / BUILDING THE BOWS
Inuinnait built their bows with wood that was gathered at the tree-line or found as driftwood. The preferred wood for bows was found in selected spruce trees that have a type of wood called itkiq. This type of wood is red in color and is often found in trees that grow on slopes such as river banks. Under these conditions the trees must grow upward and have a curve in their trunk. The underside of the curve consists of itkiq.
The wood used in the Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk workshops was harvested by Don Gardner of Oldways in the foothills of the Alberta Rocky Mountains. After wood has been harvested it must be seasoned or dried. It is split using wedges and then allowed to air dry for a long period. These bow staves are not reduced too much at this stage to ensure that they do not warp while drying.
Bob Appatok of Kugluktuk reduces his stave using a plane.
When a stave is sufficiently dry and ready to make into a bow it is reduced using hand tools so that it begins to take the shape of a bow. The ihiun'naqtaq design of bow is thickest at the handle (ajagvik) and is increasing thinner as one approaches the nocks or ends. The final shape of the bow is referred to as it's correct 'tiller', and the process of removing wood from the stave to achieve a certain tiller is called 'tillering'.
Cambridge Bay Elder Tommy Kilaudluk reducing and shaping a piece of spruce with a knife.
Wood is removed, or the stave is tillered until it begins to bend. Wood is removed from the belly of the bow - the side that faces the archer. At this point nocks are cut on the ends and the braided sinew backing is put on to the back of the bow by wrapping it tightly between the nocks. The back is the side of the bow that faces away from the archer. During the two workshops nylon cord was used to simulate braided sinew.
Cyril Maksagak of Cambridge Bay wraps nylon backing between the nocks of his stave with the help of Tommy Kilaudluk.
With the backing applied and twisted tight on the back it is now safe to begin bending the stave and bringing it to its final tiller.
This is done by making a tillering string that is strung between the nocks. By pulling on the tillering string, and setting it on a tillering stick, the tiller of the stave can be checked. The bend of the stave on the tillering stick if the two limbs are bending the same amount, and where there are stiff spots that need to have more wood removed.
The tiller of a stave can be checked on a tillering stick.
The stave can be tillered using hand tools while it is on the tillering stick. This makes it easy to check the tiller visually after taking more wood off belly of the stave. When the stave is bending enough, and bending evenly it is time to string the bow. With the bow strung some final tillering can be done to bring the bow to the correct draw weight and draw length.
Roy Inuktalik of Kugluktuk tillering the belly of his stave while it is on a tillering stick.
Drawing the finished bows.