Apr 4, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Strychnine Arrow of the Zande Warrior

You might ask yourself, what is so special about an arrow? Why not a bow? To simply put it, the standard bow that the Zande Warrior used in battle was just like most standard archaic bows. It’s a hard material, either bone or wood that is flexible enough to bend. Then a strand of horse hair or other animal hair is tied to either end to create a slingshot effect when pulled. That was the simplest way I know of describing the construction of a bow.

However, the bow is not my focus in this post. Zande warriors trained with bows as did many people of the Azande. It was a hunting tool as much as a weapon. What was different with the Zande Warrior firing a bow was that his arrow had an extra ingredient. It is something common enough that it is still easily accessible today and still as dangerous.

You have probably heard of Strychnine. This stuff is real nasty, too. Not only is it painful, it will keep you awake and alert until you actually die a slow agonizing death. Once introduced into your blood stream, Strychnine will basically cause uncontrollable muscle spasms. That includes all of your muscles, your face, abdomen, and eventually your lungs.

Your body would arch and become super sensitive to movement. Even just the slightest twitch could send you into more spasms and convulsions. The muscle spasms themselves may not kill you, but they will be very painful. The poison makes you hyper and along with the spasms you’ll start having convulsions. These convulsions will get more and more severe until your lungs squeeze shut and you suffocate, still wide awake and aware.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be shot with your standard arrow just about anywhere than be scratched by an arrow fired by a Zande Warrior. This stuff is used today in pesticides for killing all kinds of rodents and birds. This is also why they say to wash your fruit and vegetables before eating them. Don’t put yourself at risk folks. Okay, getting off my soapbox. Where did that come from anyway?

These poison arrows were easy to make, and the Zande often carried a little jar with the Strychnine poison mixed with other things to help it get into the bloodstream. The Zande only applied the poison before firing his arrow. This reduced the chance of accidently scratching himself when reaching for an arrow.

The Zande Warrior weren’t the most accurate marksman, but they didn’t have to be. One arrow breaking skin anywhere on the enemy could be potentially incapacitating or even fatal.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. I love it! Deviously destructive. Let the poison do the work if the arrow can't. Nice!

    I love your weapons weekly posts. :-)

    1. Thanks Kendall. The Zande warriors were quite imaginative. Just wait till I get to my favorite weapon in their arsenal, I'm saving that for last.