The Cheyenne Arrowmaker
I peel with care the straight shoots of the cherry
Or sometimes the red willows for the shaft
[For red of juice or leaf will red attract]
To check their inner strength, their grain and weight.
The arrow making medicine's that of death:
I must respect their power and with skill
Guide them through the path of their becoming
As arrows or the spirit shoots at me.
A shaft must never have one in its sight,
But point it to the fire as that is red.
I hang them in the lodge in bundles of ten
To dry in skins to teach them of their aim.
Most will be straight but some few slightly bent.
My straightener is a wolf's tough vertebra,
A tool great-grandpa earned to make his arrows,
For wolf is never hungry always knows
His food and finds it killing with sharp teeth.
I pass the shaft into a hole there drilled
To peel the wood just dried and make it straighter
And finish on my teeth so it's refined.
I next take two carved blocks of bone smooth sandstone
Their faces grooved to match, four inches long,
To smooth and round the wooden arrow shaft
By pulling back and forth inside the grip.
I then will take the sharp rib of a bear
And cut a long groove on one side to let
More blood escape; the prey thus becomes weaker.
I twist it through a piece of rib for polish,
Perfect the diameter of the stiff light shaft.
This leaves the little ridges eyes can't see
But gives the fingers stronger grip and hold.
The feathers guide the flight as with the birds.
The turkey feather and the buzzards' are
The best as blood won't ruin them at all.
The hawk and eagle feathers are for dances.
The shaft's then split and cut with measured care,
Three feathers glued into their place and wrapped
With threads of sinew wound from right to left.
To trim the feathers they are placed on elk horn.
The glue is made of boiled rawhide chippings
From necks of buffalo-bulls; a jelly-like soup.
The arrow then is ready to be painted
Receive the private sign to show the owner.
The gall of buffalo yields the yellow paint,
The blue I learned from Blackfoot secret ways
With dried duck dung, the green from plants
And black from charcoal, red the willow buds
All ground with minerals for tones in mortars
But women know this even better than I.
In painting colors or marks upon the newborn
Young shaft it must be done from right to left.
The arrowhead's the last part to be done
And they must come from their own maker ready.
A notch is made to hold it in its place,
Set there with glue then bound in wet sinew
In careful turns from right to left the path.
Then balanced with the notch into the wood
Are cut a few thin scratches to help the hold
There on the nock, a delicate touch of art.
I learned this craft and the songs I use,
Those sacred words and tunes I can not tell,
From hands that stretch from far beyond my memory
And I'm now one in giving to my sons.
My arrows bring not only death but life:
Food for the people, defense and the young
Who seek out wives will trade them with the horses.
In such respect our skill is held by all.
-© Copyright Santiago del Dardano Turann