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Bolas (from Spanish bola, “ball”, also known as boleadoras) are a throwing weapon similar to the surujin made of weights on the ends of interconnected cords, designed to capture animals by entangling their legs. They are most famously used by the South American gauchos, but have been found in excavations of pre-Hispanic settlements, especially in Patagonia, where indigenous peoples used them to catch guanaco and ñandu.
Gauchos use boleadoras to capture running cattle or game. Depending on the exact design, the thrower grasps the boleadoras either by one of the weights or by the nexus of the cords. He gives the balls momentum by swinging them and then releases the boleadoras. The weapon is usually used to entangle the animal’s legs, but when thrown with enough force might even inflict damage (e.g. breaking a bone).
There is no uniform design; most bolas have two or three balls, but there are versions of up to 8 or 9 balls. Some bolas have balls of equal weight, others vary the knot and cord. Gauchos use bolas made of braided leather cords with wooden balls or small leather sacks full of stones in the ends of the cords.
Bolas can be named depending on the amount of weights used:
Bolas of three weights are usually designed with two shorter cords with heavier weights, and one longer cord with a light weight. The heavier weights fly at the front parallel to each other, hit either side of the legs, and the lighter weight goes around, wrapping up the legs.
Other unrelated versions include qilumitautit, the bolas of the Inuit, made of sinew and bone weights and used to capture water birds.