Beetle and plant arrow poisons of the Ju|’hoan and Hai||om San peoples of Namibia (Insecta, Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae; Plantae, Anacardiaceae, Apocynaceae, Burseraceae)
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AbstractThe use of archery to hunt appears relatively late in human history. It is poorly understood but the application of poisons to arrows to increase lethality must have occurred shortly after developing bow hunting methods; these early multi-stage transitions represent cognitive shifts in human evolution. This paper is a synthesis of widely-scattered literature in anthropology, entomology, and chemistry, dealing with San (“Bushmen”) arrow poisons. The term San (or Khoisan) covers many indigenous groups using so-called ‘click languages’ in southern Africa. Beetles are used for arrow poison by at least eight San groups and one non-San group. Fieldwork and interviews with Ju|’hoan and Hai||om hunters in Namibia revealed major differences in the nature and preparation of arrow poisons, bow and arrow construction, and poison antidote. Ju|’hoan hunters use leaf-beetle larvae of Diamphidia Gerstaecker and Polyclada Chevrolat (Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae: Alticini) collected from soil around the host plants Commiphora africana (A. Rich.) Engl. and Commiphora angolensis Engl. (Burseracaeae). In the Nyae Nyae area of Namibia, Ju|’hoan hunters use larvae of Diamphidia nigroornata Ståhl. Larvae and adults live above-ground on the plants and eat leaves, but the San collect the underground cocoons to extract the mature larvae. Larval hemolymph is mixed with saliva and applied to arrows. Hai||om hunters boil the milky plant sap of Adenium bohemianum Schinz (Apocynaceae) to reduce it to a thick paste that is applied to their arrows. The socio-cultural, historical, and ecological contexts of the various San groups may determine differences in the sources and preparation of poisons, bow and arrow technology, hunting behaviors, poison potency, and perhaps antidotes.