Source: Various historical sources
Sumpitan is the Malay name for the blowgun. It is called sumpit in Iban, sipet in Dayak, seput in Kayan, and sumpit or put in Iban.1 The Acehnese call it sumpit or setumpit, the Bataks ultup and in Javanese it was called tulupan.2
It is the main distance weapon of the Dayak, used in both hunting and warfare. It shoots small poisoned darts with speeds exceeding 180 km/h, and is very accurate up to about 25 meters with a max effective range of about 50 meters.3
The darts are made of a sliver of hardwood or the rib of a palm leaf, with a cone of soft wood or tree marrow. The poison is a plant-based, fast-working nerve poison that is dangerous when it comes into the bloodstream but not when ingested, so animals killed this way can still be eaten.4
A Dayak blowgun.
Mandarin Mansion inventory 2022.
Notes to introduction
1. Albert van Zonneveld; Traditionele wapens van Borneo, De uitrusting van de koppensnellers, Deel II, speren en blaasroeren. Sunfield Publishing, Leiden, 2017. Pages 61-62.
2. C.M. Pleyte; Sumpitan and bow in Indonesia. Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie. Band IV, Heft VI. Leiden. 1891. Pages 265-281.
3. Albert van Zonneveld; Traditionele wapens van Borneo, De uitrusting van de koppensnellers, Deel II, speren en blaasroeren. Sunfield Publishing, Leiden, 2017..
Use across Indonesia
C.M. Pleyte wrote an article in 1891 that investigated the use of the blowgun throughout Indonesia.1 Here follows a condensed version of his findings:
By the time of writing, the blowpipe had falled out of use here as a weapon but was still used as a toy for boys. Wouter Schouten however wrote in 1664 that the Javanese used blowguns with darts with "a terrible poison". An anonymous account of 1782 reconfirms their use up to that period.2
Sakai People, Riau, Sumatra
Their blowgun is the only native weapon they use, all the other weapons being bought from neighboring cultures. Made of a straight tube of bamboo, thin and delicate, with a bore of 9-15mm. Darts are 8-11 inches and made from the hard midrib of the Berretan-palm, about 1 mm in diameter. The cone is made of pulp. Their tips dipped in poison, usually from the Ipoh tree (Antiaris toxicaria).
Rest of Sumatra
At the time of writing, the blowgun only remained in use among two independant Batak tribes; the Lubus and Tapanuli Bataks, the population of "afdeeling Sinkel" and the Minangkabau Malays. In the Pedang Highlands it was used to shoot burning arrows onto roofs.
The Lubus people (Lampung?) use a bamboo blowgun much like the Sakai people which they call hina. It consists of an inner tube called anaqnao inside an outer tube made of Bambusa longinodis. The lower end is fitted with a mouthpiece called tahawan, fastened to the tube with plaited rattan. The darts are made of splits of a piece of bamboo or wood and called talepoq. Their point, called damaoq is dipped in the sap of the aunao tawau epoo (Antiaris toxicaria). The cones are made of "loluq", taken from the anau palm (Arenga sacharifera).
The Menangkabau Malays used the sumpitan balasan, similar to that of the Lubus, but shorter and made of a single piece of bamboo. The tube was called bulua kasoq, the darts damak or djuing. Djuing are made of the hard fibers fro the trunk of the saga-anau (Arenga sacharifera). Their base are fitted with a piece of reed, timbarau, which they cover with raw cotton before shooting.
Gunung People, Riau Lingga Archipelago
Similar to Sakai People.
Using a bamboo tube with a wooden point that could be used as a spear.
The blowgun was the native weapon of this place, bows were also used but only imported ones. The blowgun was called tulup, the darts punglu.3
The Dayak know no other than the blowgun, they call it sumpitan or sipet. Their blowguns are about 8 feet in length, made of hardwood, often kayu besi (Eusideroxylon Zwageri). A young tree is taken, bored with an iron instrument, and polished with dawen ampala (Ficus politoria). Their darts are called damek and are made of bamboo slivers, 7-8 inches long, conical piece of pith or soft wood. At at the point are sometimes a shark-tooth, a piece of brass, etc. A few of them are furnished with wing-like appendages along the shaft.
Tepus is an arrow that is sharpened at the tip, ladjau is one with a brass tip. Tangiri is an arrow with a separate bamboo head.
On the poison used by the Dayak, Peyte writes;
"The arrows are so small that the wound which they inflict is in itself insignificant. They are, however, converted into weapons of the most formidable character by being smeared at the tip with poison obtained from the upas-tree.
A wound made by an arrow, poisoned with upas-juice is sure to be fatal, provided that the poison be quite fresh; but it loses its power very rapidly, and after it has been exposed to the air for two hours it is useless and must be renewed. When fresh it is fatal in a very short time, as was found by Mr. Johnston, who led an attack on the Kanowit-Dyaks in 1859. He lost thirty men in the attack, every one of them being killed by the tiny sumpit-arrow , and not one having a mark on him, except the little wound made by the arrow's point.
Should the poison have been exposed to the air, the wounded man has a chance of recovery; and it has been found that a large dose of spirits, sucking the wound, and keeping the sufferer continually in motion will generally overcome the virulence of the poison.
The juice of the upas-tree is procured simply by boring a hole in the trunk, from which the juice issues in a white, creamlike state. It is received in little flasks, made of bamboo, which are closed in the most careful manner, in order to exclude the air. One of these flasks Mr. Wood describes as follows: „It is flve inches in length, and about half an inch in diameter. One end is naturally closed by a knot, and the other is sealed with the most scrupulous care. First, a plug of soft wood has been inserted into the end, after the manner of a cork. Over the plug a lump of beeswax has been flrmly kneaded , and over the wax a piece of membrane has been tied when well. Although the upas is white when it first issues from the tree, it speedily becomes black, when exposed to the air."
It must still be mentioned that the Dyaks use also sumpitans without a spearpoint and that they smear another poisonous substance on their missiles called strew, made of the Nux vomica."
"The blowpipes used among the aborigines of Celebes are not alike. Those used in the northern parts are made of a straight cut of bamboo fitted inside with another tube of the same material and provided at the tip with a V-shaped piece of wood, the aim.
The blowpipes of the southern tribes I cannot describe as I was unable to see any specimens of them, except the one, used by the To-radja's, brought back by Professor Weber."
1. C.M. Pleyte; Sumpitan and bow in Indonesia. Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie. Band IV, Heft VI. Leiden. 1891. Pages 265-281.
2. Pleyte quotes: Wouther Schouten; Aanmerkelyke Voyagie gedaan naar Oost-Indie. Amsterdam 1676, Book III page 153. Valentijn, Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indie. Vol. IV, 1. pag. 55 and Beschryving der stad Batavia, hoofdstad van Nederlandsch Oost-Indië (1782), page 51.