Today, many of us learn so-called “primitive” survival skills as a precautionary measure, or simply a fun pastime. It's nice to know the traditional methods of crafting a pair of sandals or making pottery from scratch, even if you've already got modern hiking boots and titanium cookware. But for many cultures throughout history, these skills were essential. By studying them today, we can learn to appreciate the way our ancestors survived adverse conditions.
In order to document some of these ancient techniques, filmmaker Ross Harrison traveled to a village on the island of Borneo in southeast Asia. There, he met an elder named Balan, who says he is the only one left in his village who knows how to make a traditional blowpipe. This weapon is used to hunt animals ranging from birds and squirrels to wild boar.
Although the blowpipe is powerful on its own, the real key is the use of tajem, a poison derived from the sap of a local tree. The blowpipe's darts are coated in this sap, then dried over a fire. Balan says even a tiny scratch from one of these poison darts will kill a man, so they must be carried and loaded with caution.
The 5-minute short film below shows how Balan makes a blowpipe from scratch, using only basic hand tools and knowledge that has been passed down for generations.
In the second 5-minute film, Balan shows how he collects the tajem poison for his darts. It appears that this may be another name for upas, the byproduct of Antiaris toxicaria, a tree that has become notorious for its poisonous latex sap.