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From feathers to cellophane tapes

Picture by Kuenga Dendup
In Bhutan archery is more than a game. It is a rich cultural heritage. And for that matter archery was never even a hobby. For our forefathers, archery was not something that they could play every day or on weekends. But they could afford to shoot only a few times in a year during special occasions such as losar (New Year), where Bhutanese men would come out in big numbers to play. 

In our rural villages, farmers gather to shoot arrows only during these festive days. Even now. That's when one village would comepete with its neighboring villages and young men compete against the senior archers.   
Picture by Kuenga Dendup

However, in towns today, we have people playing archery almost everyday. And some archery ranges are always occupied. That's astounding. Sometimes, I marvel how these men could go on shooting day after day and also be able to feed their families. That makes me think that some of our men are playing archery full time. But that's a topic for another blog post. 

Today, urban archers play on heavy and expensive imported equipment. These equipment are used as hunting tools in the west. Here, they are highly valued possesions. Sometimes the type of shooting equipment also determines the archers' social status. 
Picture by Kuenga Dendup

Today, in the national competitions, the authorities would not allow archers to use modified traditional equipment to take part in the tounament. They insisted that we must follow our tradition. But do we realize that imported equipment is gradually killing our traditional bows and arrows? Bhutanese archers have modified the tranditional bows in the shape and form of their imported cousins and use modern bowstrings, which are durable compared to our traditional neetle-fibre bowstrings.

Picture by Kuenga Dendup
Traditionally, feathers are sourced from beautiful birds that dwell in the high altitude regions. These birds are endangered species and we need to protect them. And with our environmental conservation policy that prohibits from killing these birds it is only proper that we resort to better substitutes. In fact some innovative archers had discovered that cellophane tapes make the best susbstitute. Necessity, indeed, is the mother of invention! 

All cultural practices must evolve and develop. Same logic applies to our national sport. That's why I feel modified bows and arrows should be allowed in national archery tournaments and even encouraged. What is heartening is now Bhutan Archery Federation is training our young people with the modified recurve bows. Welcome news! 
Picture by Bhutan Archery Federation


  1. You just shared an interesting topic using the wise title of From Feathers to Cellophane Tapes! How clever! LOL
    We don't have such traditional games of archery here, so I appreciate to learn some insight how it is being observed and carried out in Bhutan since ancient times. Here, the archery is a special sports activity which is being played by few until the World Olympics level.

    1. Thank you so much for your time. Archery is the national sport in Bhutan. Two targets are placed about 476 feet apart. Each archer is allowed to shoot two arrows. Each hit earns him two points while if his arrow lands closer to the target by an arrow's length, he earns one point. Hitting on the bull's eye is equal to three solid points. Each team consists of 11 players each. Here is something I wrote about archery years ago: and another one here

    2. Thank you so much for taking time to enlighten me. I am impressed and always wished to shoot some arrows someday! Perhaps at my boss at work!! Muahahahaaha


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