The Fang Crossbow, Gabon
The Fang peoples of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and southern Cameroon had developed a range of functional and beautiful tools and weapons, mainly made of iron, but also, as is the case with their crossbow, from wood.
Du Chaillu (1861) in his early account of the Fang peoples he met in Gabon wrote, "They have a great diversity of arms. Among the crowd today I saw men armed with cross-bows, from which are shot either iron-headed arrows, or the little, insignificant-looking but really most deadly, poison-tipped arrows. These are only slender, harmless reeds, a foot long, whose sharpened ends are dipped into a deadly vegetable poison which these people know how to make. The arrows are so light that they would blow away if simply laid in the groove of the bow. To prevent this, they use a kind of sticky gum, a lump of which is kept on the underside of the bow, and with which a small spot in the groove is lightly rubbed."
He described the crossbow as follows, "The handle of the bow is ingeniously split, and by a little peg, which acts as a trigger, the bow-string is disengaged, and, as the spring is very strong, sends the arrow to a great distance, and, light as it is, with great force. But the merest puncture kills inevitably. 'They are good marksmen with their bows, which require great strength to bend. They have to sit on their haunches, and apply both feet to the middle of the bow, while they pull with all their strength on the string to bend it back."
On the arrows, Du Chaillu wrote, "The larger arrows have an iron head, something like the sharp barbs of a harpoon. These are used for hunting wild beasts, and are about two feet long. But the more deadly weapon is the the little insignificant stick of bamboo, not more than twelve inches long, and simply sharpened at one end. This is the famed poison-arrow-a missile which bears death wherever it touches, if only it pricks a pin's-point of blood. The poison is made of the juices of a plant which was not shown me. They dip the sharp ends of the arrows several times in this sap, and let it get thoroughly dried into the wood. It gives the point a red colour. The arrows are very carefully kept in a little bag, made neatly of the skin of some wild animal. They are much dreaded among the tribes about here, as they can be thrown or projected with such power as to take effect at a distance of fifteen yards, and with such velocity that you cannot see them at all till they are spent. This I have often proved myself. There is no cur for a wound from one of these harmless-looking little sticks death follows in a very short time."
Bennett (1899) stated that "The crossbow is used for shooting birds and small bush cats" and found that poison arrows were not used with the crossbow.
Tessmann (1913) provided descriptions and illustrations of crossbows, mechanism and quivers, and a photograph of the crossbow in use. He emphasised that the crossbows were not weapons of war, but rather used in hunting.