The name comes from the dart (arambai) and thrower (hunba).  The head of the dart is a thin rod of iron about ten inches long with a point at one end, a slight flange about half way along it, above which a flight of peacock tail-feathers are attached.   They are carried in quivers strapped either side of the saddle, both in front and behind.  They were tipped with poison in time of war.

They could be thrown singly or in bunches.  If thrown singly, a throwing stick was used to increase range and also support the feathers, because if they buckled when the thrower was about to throw, the poisoned tip could scratch him and kill him.  Throwing with a throwing stick is always done over arm, but throwing a cluster of five or six together is done underarm.  They can be thrown forwards going into the attack, behind if being chased or to the side.

For many years it was the secret weapon of the Meiteis, the main tribe of Manipur.  Only certain families were trained in the martial art, a good thrower could hit a target a hundred yards away at full gallop.  The families were not part of the army but were separate and answerable only to their king.  Although they did charge enemy formations their main use was attacking the flanks or ambushing an army on the march.

In their heavily wooded country the Manipuri pony, which is small, between 11 and 13 hh, extremely agile, fast and brave, was the ideal throwing platform.  The throwers could gallop in, throw their arambai and depart before the enemy could react.  It was said that one time the Burmese attacked Manipur the walked round looking at the skies for the next shower of darts.

When they were galloping into the attack, the ponies were trained to turn as soon as the rider had thrown.  This kept the horsemen at a longer range from the enemy and they could concentrate on throwing, knowing their horse would retreat as soon as they had thrown.

With the coming of rifles with a longer range the riders were used much only in ambushes.  The last professional thrower died in 1934, but the art has been carried on to the present and as long as the Manipuri (Meitei) pony* survives, so will the martial art that was once the scourge of Manipur’s neighbours.

*The numbers of Manipuri ponies are declining, and because of their versatility, those that are left are being ridden into the ground playing Sagol Kangjei, show jumping and tent pegging, sometimes all on the same day.  Dedicated horsemen are trying to halt the decline, but not nearly enough is being done.  In the gallery note the mare with a broken leg with a foal at foot.  She was a good Polo mare until she was injured, but there are so few good mares that she was put to the stallion despite her leg.

Arambai Humba (Manipur, N.E. India)

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