Bolas The Unsung Primitive Weapon

By Benjamin Raven Pressley

   The bola is a primitive hunting weapon that was used by many primitive people and is still a viable weapon in a survival situation. The bola is most well known as used by the South American cowboys, known as gauchos, for wrapping the legs of runaway cattle, when thrown from the back of a horse.

This is a two-weighted bola that is often as long as its thrower, from weight to weight, but remember this variety is thrown from the back of a horse. This particular bola is thrown holding one of the weights in one hand and swinging it toward the target. I remember as a child being fascinated by the full scale replica of a gaucho throwing a bola from horseback in the Smithsonian.
    The bola was also used by the Chinese and many Native North American tribes. They would throw it into a flock of flying ducks or geese. When contact was made with a target it would literally wrap its body, preventing flight, and cause it to fall from the sky where it could be captured and killed.

    The bola used by Native North American tribes is constructed with three lengths of sturdy cord, the length of the thrower’s arm or shorter and about ¼ inch in diameter, all tied together at one end and a weight on each of the other ends. These weights may be stone, clay or leather pouches filled with gravel or sand. Each weight should be equal to the others in shape, size and weight.

    This bola is thrown by inserting the first two fingers of your throwing hand between the spaces of the three cords, holding the cords apart from one another and keeping them from tangling about each other. Maintaining this finger grip, the bola is then swung in an arc above the head, aiming and then releasing in an overhand throw. You will know when it is thrown properly, for it will open up in flight, much like three fingers reaching out for an object. This is the only purpose of the weights, to open it up in flight, not to wrap around something and knock it out as some have mistakenly thought; So, the weights need not be that heavy, if they achieve their purpose. Other variations on the bola that are seen in primitive hunting cultures, is the round, hand-thrown net of the Eskimo. It has weights around its perimeter that open the net up in flight. Some bolas even had up to eight weights and one longer cord to ‘guide’ i through the air.
Here are some interesting first hand accounts of using a bola:

From Lee Tonkasila:”The ones I use to catch emus on my friends ranch have 3 leather bags full of steel shot and soft nylon braided 3/8 inch rope tied an equal distance (38 inches) from a central knot. I hold one ball in my left hand, swing the other two horizontal to the ground, and let the bola fly a little in front of the running bird. Just as I release the 2, I release the third with a slight flip to the right. They fly like a helicopter and will wrap up a 45 kg emu instantly. I don’t know if I’m doing this right as I have never seen a Gaucho demonstrate, but I can catch a 35 mph emu without hurting him. Of course they aren’t thrilled with the procedure.”

From Mariano Nucci:” When our Indians from the plains domesticated the horse, they left the bow and they specialized in the use of two main devices: the boleadoras and the “chuza”. The “chuza” is a gigantic spear, between 5 meters and 7 meters (16 ft to 23ft) made of a very flexible, massive, light kind of cane which grow up in Patagonia (“colihue” cane). The chuza is useful only if you are riding a horse. Indians from the plains taught their horses to run with their hind legs “boleadas”; it mean, with their hind legs tangled up by the bolas. Then, although they were attacked with bolas, they were able to escape. Those Indians included the “Patagonian”, “Charruan”, “Pampas”, “Tehuelches”, “Ranqueles” “Araucanos” and “Mapuches”. The Smithsonian display is a good representation of a “Pampa” or “Ranquel”. They were brave warriors, but the Argentine Army destroyed them in 1878 or 1880, similar to the sad story you had in North America.”

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