Heirloom Technology — Papuan Speargun

John Waromi
John Waromi
PAPUAN SPEARGUN: Built in 1978 by Abram Waromi. Still used by his son John Waromi (above) in 2004.

John Waromi lives in Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia. He went to college in Jakarta and traveled the world in a theater troupe before returning home. When he fishes, he uses the speargun his father made, sailing his outrigger canoe out to a fishing spot in the bay.

This speargun gets its power from a strip of red rubber. It came from the inner tube of a giant mining truck at Tembagapura, the “city of copper.” The copper mine is hundreds of miles away, across mountains so high they have glaciers despite being near the equator.

Waromi has a cousin who works in the mine. He was driving a giant mining truck in a convoy of three when he saw the other two disappear in a landslide. The other crews were killed and the trucks destroyed. Waromi’s cousin would be considered a very distant relative in our Western kinship system, but they belong to a kinship system that would make our cousins into brothers and strangers into cousins. Waromi’s got family everywhere, and his speargun has fresh, bright red elastic as a result.

If you see a fisherman with cracked, faded elastic on his speargun, you’ll know that his family is not so well connected by the sort of human networks that once brought cowry shells to the high mountains of Papua and fine stone adze heads to the coast.

Before World War II, Jayapura was a collection of villages called Hollandia, with a population of a few thousand. Then hundreds of thousands of American troops moved in for the war in the Pacific.

When they left, they dumped equipment and munitions in the harbor. Those underwater dumps have become something of a hardware store for the locals.

The barbed head of Waromi’s spear was made from stainless steel welding rods. The shaft was pulled from the edge of a discarded mattress. The tail is forged into a ring, which the trigger wire fits into. A notch is cut in the shaft near this ring to engage a wire loop tied to the tail of the elastic sling. The spear shaft and the gun are both about 4 feet long.

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Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson is the founder of Z Corp. See a hundred more of his projects at instructables.com.

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