5 Med. Sci. & L. 44 (1965)
Kenya: Arrow Poison

handle is hein.journals/mdsclw5 and id is 56 raw text is: 


             3.-KENYA: ARROW POISON

                       JULES P. DE MELLO *

DEATus caused by arrow poison have been
recorded quite frequently in Kenya. Recently
in Nairobi an accused was found guilty of
murder with arrows. The study of poison
arrows is therefore an important subject in
forensic medicine in African countries.
  Archery was always a much needed accom-
plishment among African tribes. The Kipsigis
and the Nandis are skilful archers, but the
Kambas of Kenya are famous for their pro-
ficiency in the art of preparing and using
poison arrows, both as offensive and defensive
weapons. It is also customary among the
Kambas to go out game-hunting with poison
arrows, and they readily eat the flesh with
relish and without any untoward symptoms!
In 1963, near Sultan Hamud, which is about 60
miles from the city of Nairobi, raiders armed
with bows and poison arrows killed several
herds of prized cattle for meat. Poaching of
wild life with poison arrows is not uncommon,
not only to procure elephant tusks or rhino-
ceros horns, but also for the flesh of these
animals, which is considered very tasty.

  Arrow poison is prepared by the Kambas by
a process of boiling the branches of a shrub
belonging to the genus Acokanthera,t until
the concoction is reduced to a thick and
gummy paste. A portion of this paste is then
smeared onto the arrow shaft, just below the
arrow-head. The poison is effective only when
it enters the blood-stream. The Acokanthera
bush or arrow-poison bush is a large bush
with dense, dark-green, leathery foliage and
abundant small white flowers which have a
delightful perfume. Two species are indigen-
ous in Kenya:

   M.B., B.S., Police Pathologist, Nairobi.
  See plates facing p. 32, above.

  1. Acokanthera longiflora, which has large
     purple fruits.
  2. Acokanthera friesiorum, which has small
     red fruits.
The Acokanthera friesiorum bush commonly
grows to a height of 20 ft. It is indigenous in
hilly areas of Kenya, at an altitude of 6,000 ft.
to 7,000 ft. above sea level.

  Fresh branches from the Acokanthera frie-
siorum bush are cut into small pieces and
boiled in water, until the whole infusion is
reduced to a sticky black mass. Chemical
examination of this extract has shown that it
contains over 10 per cent. of ouabain, which is
a powerful toxic cardiac glycoside. The poison
is effective only when it is introduced into the
blood by a wound. It is inactive if adminis-
tered by mouth. The strength of the poison
remains unimpaired for a long time, provided
it is preserved in closed wooden containers, and
kept free from exposure.
  Ouabain affects the heart musculature and
causes death within a half hour or even within
ten minutes, depending upon the potency of
the extract.
  In snake-bite poisoning, there are usually
both local necrosis and systemic symptoms,
depending upon the type of venom, which can
be neurotoxic or cardiotoxic. Severe pain in
the region of the punctured wounds due to
snake-bite is a predominant symptom. The
general physical symptoms are manifested later.
Similarly in cases of a bee- or a wasp-sting,
there is the local reaction which is first to
appear before the systemic symptoms are
  In arrow-poisoning, there is no local reaction,
except for the pain due to the wound caused

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