In every corner of the world with heavy rainfall the need for a long knife to cut a path through dense overgrowth led to the development of a machete like blade.
In Latin America the blade is called the machete, in Cuba and Hawaii it is named the cane knife. While in Africa it is known as the bush knife.
No matter the name, this long blade has a long history cherished by knife collectors and in this article we will show you the history of this totally utilitarian blade.
History of the Machete
Decades ago a traveler in North Thailand would come across boys signaling to elephants with their long knives. Using the reflective blade in a deft dance or a whack on the elephant’s head as they coaxed the massive elephants to follow their lead. These youth needed their machetes to get the elephants to move logs.
The machetes used were single edged blades with simple wood handles. Most you will see are about 18 inches and were reminiscent of a fighting sword with their strong edge and sharp point.
These machetes were integral to life in the jungle and every working age man would have one at the ready.
In Hong Kong you would find Gurkhas with their kukri knives being used for everything from setting up camp to fighting off the enemy.
The kukri has a strong downward curve making it not ideal for stabbing. But they were great for chopping. They were quite heavy and often used for hammering as well.
The Gurkhas though cherished their knives as fighting weapons and ancient tradition called for the knife to only be sheathed once it tasted blood. This meant that strictly adhering to this tradition meant a quick slash to one’s own wrist before putting the kukri in it’s place.
The kukri was an integral part in the Hindu Dessehra festival where a large kukri was used to take off the head of a buffalo, cow, or goat in one elegant stroke.
Traditional kukri collectors will want to have the traditional dagger and sharpening steel in it’s kukri sheath. While not an ornate blade, the kukri is a strong knife ideal for heavy use and life and death situations. The kukri has been used to defend from attacking tigers and even the German army in the world wars.
Kris or Bolo
In the Philippines there are many names for bush knives but two of the most common are the kris and bolo. These names were primarily used by the Moros people who are attributed with many of the most highly collected bush knives.
These knives played a major role in battles against foes ranging from Spanish conquistadores to the US army. They are characterized with one or more bands connecting the guard to the handle and a stout strong blade capable of hacking through thick jungle growth.
These knives were highly prized and numerous schools of martial arts centered on the use of the kris were found throughout the region going as far back as before Magellan.
These fighting schools were largely independent so there is no singular fighting system from the region but all of them were focused on being highly proficient in fighting situations with the kris.
Originating in Latin America, the machete is a light weight field knife used throughout the region.
The machete is a simple thin full bodied knives that are flexible. They usually have wood or plastic handles. They come in varied sizes but generally speaking, the longer the blade the better suited the blade is for cutting through thick overgrowth.
In Cuba and Hawaii the blade is called a cane knife and offered a square blade intended primarily for cutting sugar cane.
Some examples have a curved back hook and almost all examples I have seen come with simple wooden handles. These knives were meant for working.
Original owners of the knife would have also used it to cut through growth and palm brush.
There are stories of the handle being removed and being replaced with a long stick to create a spear used in the hunting of wild hogs.
This is the name for the machete in the African regions. Many came with a point that was squared off but they come in more variations than I can count. These knives were generally simple in design and used for numerous daily tasks as well as for fighting.
There are many amazing machete knives out there worth collecting. You can collect examples from specific regions, time periods or blade shapes. There is no one way to go about putting your collection together.
Some of my most prized pieces include Cattaraugus and Imperial machetes produces during WWII. In particular I love the folding machetes produced at this time. If you find one be sure to let me know!