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Tam Duong’s unique sport of stone archery
During the two-day festival of Mong People in Tam Duong District, Lai Chau province (9-10 of March), we witnessed a unique sport game in the first time – stone archery.




The unique sport from a children’s game

While we were eagerly waiting for the countryside horse-racing game (bareback horse racing) to see if it would be different from the game in Bac Ha or not, Mr. Nguyen Chi Cong, sport manager of Cultural and Information Department of Tam Duong District invited us go to watch the stone archery competition. He said “This is the unique game which cannot be found in anywhere else. In fact, we haven’t seen this game anywhere, even though my friend had searched on Google.

At about 2 p.m in March 9th, approximately 30 stone archers of 7 communes such as Nung Nang, Khun Ha, Giang Ma, Ban Hon, Son Binh, Ban Bo, Ban Giang… had gathered on the stadium of Giang Ma Commune. The “arena” was about 50m in length, from the archers to the place that the “bullets” would drop besides the hill. Hearing that the stone archery game would start shortly, people immediately moved from the rod pushing games to the “arena” to watch this interesting competition. It took nearly one hour for the officials to arrange the audience to avoid accident that could happen by the game when the stone can dangerously hurt people. After that, the arena became wide and safe enough. People gathered very crowded and shouted loudly after each shoot…

In the meantime, Giang A Vang (from Giang Ma Commune) - an archer showed us his bow and explained that its principle is very similar to a normal bow shooting bamboo arrows. The bow is a bamboo stalk about 1.2 m in length. Uniquely, the bowstring is not actually a string; it is a limber, thin and long strip of bamboo, split in the middle with a holder attached to keep the stone bullet (see photo). The archer keeps the bow vertically by the right hand, then use the left hand to pull back using the bullet holder, then release to shoot it away. The bullet can go as far as 40-50m, but the effective range is about 15-20m. The targets are three plastic plates with different sizes and placed 20m from the archers. Each archer will fire 5 shots to each plate, totally 15 shots, and the scores will be calculated from big targets to the smaller ones.

Mr Cong said this game has been officially established as a completion sport by Tam Duong Cultural Department for 2 years, after it is noticed that any Mong people from old to young in Tam Duong can play this game to hunt birds and small animals…

Stone archery had been used to fight against the colonial French …

Thinking it would be easy to use, my friend borrowed Vang’s bow to try. The bullet went out, hit the bow and bounced back. Everyone around was laughing. As Vang explained, it is not easy to use this weapon. Shooting an arrow would be much easier. Instead, when shooting the stone from this bow, an untrained archer can lose his thumb, or get hurt in the face with his own bullet. The bow must be kept firmly, do not keep the thumb vertically with the bow and perpendicular to the trajectory. When drawing the bow, screw the wrist to the right to make the gap for the bullet to fly out.

 “It is too difficult to shoot”, my friend protested. The Mong archers started laughing again, pointing at a slim young man: “If Sung A Lan shoot birds, from 10-15m, each bullet will kill one bird…”

When was this game born? Wondering about this, we met Mr. Sung A Khoa, Senior Secretary of Giang Ma Commune who had a passion of playing stone archery since he was young. He said, this game was born long, long ago. Legend has it that there was a group of Mong people going to hunt a tiger. When the tiger was trapped, all the hunters intended to use the arrow and bow to shoot it. Suddenly, the tiger broke the trap and leaped towards one man who had not readied his arrow. He immediately grab a stone as the bullet and shoot it. Luckily, the stone hit the tiger’s eye and drove it back. And thus this game was born.

Mr. Khoa also said that, during the war against the colonial French, a Mong guerrilla fighter in Tam Duong using this weapon, shot and blinded 2 French soldiers carrying Thompson submachine gun, forcing them to retreat. The stone bamboo archery’s triumph against US guns has become a legend, often heard from the old people in Tam Duong District…

Back to the competition, on March 10, after the final game, Sung A Lan (from Nung Nang Commune) won the champion, Giang A Nang, who taught us the game,  won second place  and the third place was awarded to Chao A Thong (from Son Binh Commune)

Saying farewell to the Mong festival in Tam Duong, we heard that the Cultural Department is planning to bring this game to the provincial competition level and introduce this game to the whole Northwest area…

Vũ Lâm
Translator: Thu Phương