If you check this documentary, you'll see that Borneo natives used blowpipes vs Japanese during 1944-1945. I find this sort of engagement fascinating, since the poison used in the blowpipe dart must have been fast-acting to prevent retaliation by a firearm-wielding soldier. What accounts/sources exist about these skirmishes? What kind of poison was used? What were the outcomes of the skirmishes?

EDIT: Another documentary.

  • It would be helpful to know more details from the documentary but link is not working :(
    – Brian Z
    May 29, 2020 at 23:36
  • 1
    @BrianZ fixed now Jun 9, 2020 at 19:18

2 Answers 2


Google's first response provides an answer, that describes the likely toxin. The paper mentions that, "Animals hit by a poison dart, irrespective of the part of the body that is pierced, start to twitch after a few seconds." and, "Reports on dosage specify that 0.3 mg would be lethal for a rabbit. One mg. causes death in dogs (Boer et al. 1999:127), while 0.1mg. is the lethal dosage (L50) per kg. weight for cats (Zahorka 1986:58). The toxicity of [beta]-Antiarin is much higher than that of curare."

I am not a pharmacologist, nor do I play one on the internet. I haven't seen the documentary. With those caveats out of the way.

  1. "Start to twitch after a few seconds" implies that there are (at least) two different models of the blowpipe as a weapon. "a few seconds" is ample time to fire a weapon, if you are aware that you have been attacked. I think it is more likely that the blowpipe wielders were acting from stealth and that the victims were unaware that they had been attacked.

  2. It may be that the victim thought they were attacked by an insect, and were unaware of an attacker; they therefore did not retaliate until the toxic effects had started.

  3. It may be that the victim knew that he had been attacked, but couldn't find the (stealthed) attacker. (I'm also not infantry, but my understanding is that spraying 360 degrees with an automatic weapon is, at a minimum, foolish and wasteful.)

  4. I would like someone to explain why the toxicity for rabbits and dogs is measured as an absolute, while the toxicity for cats is in mg/kg. Which is a better model for humans? Is it possible to deliver 3mg to a human via a blowpipe?

  • Yes, point 4. is the big question. 3 mg may not be such a small amount from my experience, 3 mg is, for example, the standard dose for a melatonin capsule and it is a pretty big capsule and quite a lot of powder in it. I've seen the paper you reference, but the dose is the big doubt I have. A human is, after all, a pretty big/large "game" and a rabbit/cat lethal dose may not apply to us primates anyway. Jul 26, 2016 at 13:37
  • 1
    If you're putting snipers in trees blowpipe war will be at a disadvantage in a big way. The Japanese regularly put snipers in trees when engaging an enemy. Americans regularly expending copious amounts of ammo to deal with said threat...usually to good effect...during the Island Hopping Campaign in WW2. Jul 26, 2016 at 14:08
  • 7
    @user1095108 in most commercial drugs, the capsule is way too big related to the mass because almost all of this is excipient (i.e., not the active principle but inert chemicals(excipient). If it were not for this, a) pills would be too small to manage and b) the pharma industry would need way tighter tolerancies (if the active principle is only 0.1% of the weight, their scales can be three orders of magnitudes less precise than for dealing with the pure substance). Excipients are also useful for other reasons.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 26, 2016 at 18:04
  • sJuan76 - excellent point - do you believe that it is reasonable to deliver 3mg via a needle? And can you illuminate why cats are different than dogs & rabbits?
    – MCW
    Jul 26, 2016 at 18:11
  • 2
    This site, snakedatabase.org/pages/LD50.php , gives LD50 for several species of snake, according to 4 different methods of administration: intravenous, subcutaneous, intraperitonial, and intramuscular. You will notice that for most venoms, IV adminstration is by far more lethal, though also much less common. Blowpipe darts probably deliver their poison by IM injection. That considered, 0.1 mg/kg is quite potent, rivaling with the LD50 of most dangerous snakes when administered by SC or even IV. To compare, the venom of monocled cobra's poison LD50 is 0.115 mg/kg in IV administration. Jul 26, 2016 at 20:22

I will focus on the two parts of the question that have not been addressed yet: "What accounts/sources exist about these skirmishes? [...] What were the outcomes of the skirmishes?"

Unfortunately the most substantial account I've found so far is a single paragraph in this article, "The Form of a North Borneo Nativistic Behavior":

On December 17, 1941 the Japanese invaded North Borneo with a force of 25,000 men. Main centers of occupation were established in the Murut area at Tenom, Keningau and Pensiangan. For three years, large patrols of infantry regularly moved from these points through Murut territory, conscripting labor for construction of military airfields, women for army prostitution centers, commandeering rice and other foodstuffs, imposing head taxes, fines and punishing offenders. In late 1943 allied guerrilla agents, parachuting into the area, enlisted Muruts in a force for raids on Japanese patrols and outposts. Re-occupation of North Borneo by the Australian Ninth Division led to heavy fighting through Tenom and Keningau. The 6,000 Japanese stationed in Pensiangan were ordered to stack arms and march 150 miles to the coast at Beaufort. Australian army records show some 400 Japanese reached Beaufort. The remainder were killed by Muruts along the line of march (Tregonning 1958: 221).

Wikipedia has briefer mentions of indigenous involvement in the Jesselton uprising and operations like Agas and Semut. None of this refers directly to blowguns or other traditional weapons.

EDIT: I will try to watch the video and expand this if I can. The description on YouTube refers to Dayaks of which the Murut are one of many subgroups.

  • Last line of the quote : "The remainder were killed by Muruts along the line of march". I would suspect that many of them also died from sickness, starvation and exhaustion.
    – Evargalo
    Jun 15, 2020 at 12:46
  • @Evargalo Any sources you might see to support that might be helpful.
    – Brian Z
    Jun 15, 2020 at 13:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.