Kichwa Lessons in How to Use a Blowgun

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It may not have been keeping you up at night, but if you have ever wondered how to use a blowgun, we can tell you. We got the opportunity to try it, because our Amazon tour took us to a Kichwa village. Also known as a dart gun, it’s the traditional method of hunting for many Amazon tribes.

The Kichwa use dart guns when they hunt small animals, like monkeys. And yes, they do eat monkeys. (Ew!)

Closeup of a cute monkey in the Amazon

What does a blow gun look like?

Our Kichwa guide brought out a straight, hollow stick that was “only” two meters long. Just right for tourists. He doubted we would have the hand strength to handle a larger one.

Think of it: The largest blowgun is 4 meters long and a healthy hunter with good lung capacity can send a dart 50 meters!

Our Kichwa guide explains the finer points of blow dart gun use.
Okay, but what use is a blowgun without darts?

How to make darts, Kichwa style

Our first lesson was in how to make poison darts. This was getting interesting.

  1. Peel a long splinter off the hard part of a palm frond.
  2. Sharpen the tip.
  3. Cut a narrow channel a few centimeters from the tip.
  4. Wrap fibers from a kapok tree down near the other end. (This is super-important. The dart is really thin, much smaller than the blowgun channel, and it needs to fit snugly or it won’t go anywhere.)
  5. Insert a little curare into the channel near the tip.

The curare, not the dart, is what kills their target. Curare, which they make from plants, is a poison that paralyzes voluntary muscles. Once an animal is paralyzed it is easy to kill.

Our guide holds a dart gun over his shoulder and holds the dart

How to make a blowgun

Depending on their length, Kichwa make their dart guns from a number of things. Ours was made of palm branches that had been hollowed out, glued, then tied together.

The thing is surprisingly lightweight, which I guess is important if you’re going to be carrying it through the forest on a hunting expedition. Even at two meters it was easy to balance and aim; I didn’t have to use much muscle to hold it steady.

Guide shows the two halves of the gun

How to use the blowgun

(I would have said “how to blow a blowgun,” but that sounds kinda funny.)

Our tour guide had set up a target: a great big, green, fake parrot atop a tree stump. The fact that their chickens were walking around the target area gave me a little concern, but it didn’t seem to bother the Kichwa any. Had there been a casualty I would guess they would have eaten it for dinner.

Here’s how to blow a dart in 5 steps:

  1. Load the gun with a dart
  2. Raise it to your mouth
  3. Aim the other end at the target
  4. Get a big lungful of air
  5. Blow hard.

There’s a precaution here: Never rest the gun on the ground. Don’t forget that, my friends, or you may end up with a mouthful of dirt.

Dan holds the dart gun and blows
I hold a blow gun up to my mouth

So, how well did we do with the dart gun?

As expected, my Eagle Scout husband outdid me. I hit the stump (see below) but he nailed the parrot full in the chest. Those darts travel so fast, I (sort of) caught it on video. Maybe I will put it online one of these days.

our artificial bird target sits on a log

Dan put two darts in the bird target. Sorry it’s blurry. That’s why Dan is the photographer.[/caption]

[su_box title=”Inspired?” box_color=”#8cc640″ title_color=”#333333″]Here is some more information to help you plan your own trip.

Our tour was similar to this one and with the same company.

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Places to stay

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Where we stayed

We stayed at Cotococha Amazon Lodge on the Napo River.

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Visit a Kichwa community in Ecuador's Amazon basin and learn their ways, like how to make and use a blowgun for hunting.

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to around 60 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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