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Archery Games from Various Eras and Cultures

Archery games have been enjoyed by people all over the world for thousands of years. Sometimes the games were purely for sport and enjoyment; others were to train for battle. Some of those competitive archery games are still practiced today. 


Jemparingan is an archery game popular in Indonesia. Its name derives from the name of the arrow, which is “jamparing.” A document dating to 1920 in Tasikmalaya, Indonesia, said there was no other similar traditional archery activity. In this game, archers sit side by side in a row, cross-legged, about 98 feet away from the target. There is no bull’s-eye. The target is a stick made of sponge and hay, wrapped in cloth, about 12 inches high and 1 inch in diameter. The small top section is red, scoring three points, and the rest of the stick is white, scoring one point. The bow riser, limbs and arrows must all be made of natural materials like wood and bamboo. Duck or turkey feathers are used for the fletching. The bow must be exactly as tall as the archer. So, if you’re 5 feet, 6 inches tall, your bow must be 5 feet, 6 inches long. The arrow must match the length of your arm.

In the 1990s, there were jemparingan tournaments in every region around Yogyakarta, all leading up to the final competition at a palace, where the winner was awarded the Duke’s Cup. The game began to fade in popularity but has recently seen a resurgence. Originally exclusive to the members of Yogyakarta’s royal family and others that society considered nobility, the game later expanded to include everyone.

Participants of jemparingan recognize that the game has a higher purpose than just archery. The game is seen by many as a spiritual connection between the soul and the body. “The philosophy is indeed more to synergize, harmonizing thoughts, hearts and actions,” Agus Primajati, head of Guyub Jemparing Siliran, said in a video by SEA Today News. He also spoke of the responsibility of the archer to recognize and accept the result of the shot, whether the arrow landed in the target or not, and manage emotions accordingly. In that regard, there is a synchronicity between the body and mind. 

Fun fact: Archery also has historical significance in Indonesia of another kind. The country’s first medal in the Olympic Games was in archery in 1988.


Archery games or tournaments occasionally have roots in military training, as is the case with the tournament called papingo, or popinjay. The king and Parliament used to require that men practice archery. Soldiers needed to be able to successfully hit a target that was positioned upward at a steep angle. The game was designed to test medieval soldiers in their battle skills. “In times gone by local lairds and landowners used to gather their armed men periodically so they could demonstrate they were fit and ready for battle should the need arise,” Gillian Sharpe said in a BBC article. It has since evolved into a specific tournament style that is still active today.

The Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers in Ayrshire, Scotland, hosts an annual papingo tournament that, records show, dates back all the way to 1483. A wooden pigeon is suspended from a pole that extends out from the Kilwinning Abbey tower, 100 feet above the archers. Archers stand near the base of the tower and aim blunted arrows upward at the bird. The game was originally practiced with traditional longbows, but the tournament now allows contestants to use recurve and compound bows as well. The first person to knock the bird off the pole, or “ding doun the doo” as they refer to it, wins and receives the title of Captain of the Papingo. In 1688, the original prize was a piece of silver plait. In 1724, the tournament introduced a silver arrow known as the Papingo Arrow as the winner’s trophy. Then, in 1859, the trophy received another adjustment in which the original silver arrow was mounted on top of a silver bow with two more crossed arrows on the front. Today, the trophy is the Walker Trophy, which is a scale model of the Abbey tower. Each year, the winner’s medallion is added to the trophy, marking their name and the date of victory. As of 2017, the silver arrow has 170 medals commemorating winners.

Fun fact: Those winners include Alexander Hamilton’s uncle and cousin.

In regular tournaments practiced today, there are multiple birds, all varying in size and point values. The archers aim at birds on their various “perches,” or crosspieces. The largest bird is set at the very top and scores the most points. The birds decrease in size and point value as you work your way to the ground. Each bird must be completely knocked off the perch to score the points. For safety, the arrows are tipped with blunt rubber instead of points.

Another fun fact: At the Paris Games in 1900, the first time archery appeared in the Olympic Games, local rules for target archery and popinjay archery were used.

Wand Archery

Wand archery is another style of archery event with roots in medieval times that sharpened soldiers’ skills but has since become recreational. In this event, archers aim at a tall, narrow piece of wood, the “wand,” which is set into the ground and is about 6 feet tall. Originally, the distance was “100 paces” from the archer, but now distances vary slightly. The wand is positioned at the edge of a ring. Archers score 10 points for hitting the wand and one point if the arrows land inside the ring. You can still find wand shoots in areas of the United Kingdom today. 

Whether you compete in field archery, target archery, jemparingan, popinjay or wand archery, we can all agree that the joy of the sport wraps around the globe. These archery games demonstrate how archery can connect the mind and body and provide us an avenue to connect with others who share our passion.



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