What is a Ketoh, Bowguard (Bow Guard) or Wrist Guard?

 

When shooting a bow, depending on the bow but more importantly, the anatomy, musculature and skill of the archer, it is possible for the bow string to contact the inside of the arm that is holding the bow.

Examples of various archers to illustrate the above point.

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When the bow string contacts the inside of the arm, it results in “string slap”. Here are some examples of the after effects of “string slap”. The location of the injury will vary depending on the person and the bow.

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To protect the inner arm from string slap, arms guards can be used. They can be full length or partial. Partial arm guards are usually centered on the inner forearm (bow guard) or at the wrist (wrist guard).

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Native Americans were skilled with their bows but with the frequent use for hunting and protection, in all types of weather, in variety of positions and when fatigued, it is easy to see why bow guards and wrist guards were used. At first they were just wide strips of the heaviest hide leather. Later other stiff materials such as metal were added.

Navajo began making bowguards are early as 1895; some say earlier.  The Navajo bowguard is called a ketoh. It consists of a metal plate affixed to a leather wrist or arm piece.

The metal plate is either wrought or cast.

A wrought piece is one that has been made from metal either cold (no heat) or using a fire (forge) and hand tools. The term wought is most often used to describe the shaping, altering and molding of various metals using a hammer. In the case of Navajo silver work, this often includes stamping and repousse work. (Repousse is a method of forming a pattern on metal by stamping, hammering or pressing a design from the back to produce a three-dimensional bas-relief surface on the front.)

Indian Silverwork of the Southwest, Illustrated Volume One Harry P. Mera

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See the slide show below for examples of modern wrought pieces.

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A cast piece is one that has been made using a mold and molten metal. Early cast pieces were sand cast. Today they are usually tufa cast. Read more about casting in my previous post Native American Cast Jewelry.

Indian Silverwork of the Southwest, Illustrated Volume One Harry P. Mera

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See the slide show below for examples of modern cast pieces.

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Following are some more historical examples of bow guards from this book.

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Today decorated ketohs and Plains beaded wrist guards are mainly worn for ceremonial and social occasions, including dancing at pow wows. See the slide show below for examples of modern beaded Lakota wrist guards.

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There has been a recent surge in popularity of bow guards as a jewelry item including smaller ketohs for women. See the photo group below for examples of womens’ ketohs.

Following is a slide show that that show the various ways ketohs can be worn. The sky is the limit as to where you position your ketoh and how you tie it on.

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Paula