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Older machete from Latin America

The machete (/[unsupported input]məˈʃɛti/; Spanish pronunciation: [maˈtʃete]) is a large cleaver-like cutting tool. The blade is typically 32.5 to 60 centimetres (12.8 to 23.6 in) long and usually under 3 millimetres (0.12 in) thick. In the English language, an equivalent term is matchet,[1] though it is less commonly known. In the English-speaking Caribbean such as Jamaica, Grenada and in Trinidad and Tobago, the term "cutlass" is used for these agricultural tools.


In various tropical and subtropical countries, the machete is frequently used to cut through rain forest undergrowth and for agricultural purposes (e.g. cutting sugar cane). Besides this, in Latin America a common use is for such household tasks as cutting large foodstuffs into pieces—much as a cleaver is used—or to perform crude cutting tasks such as making simple wooden handles for other tools. It is also common to see people using machetes for other jobs such as splitting open coconuts, working the lawns, clearing brush. Because the machete is common in many tropical countries, it is often the weapon of choice for uprisings. For example the Boricua Popular Army are unofficially called Macheteros because the machete wielding laborers of sugar cane fields of past Puerto Rico.

A machete may also be classified as a sword, because it can be used like one. Many of the killings in the Rwandan Genocide were performed with machetes,[2] and were the primary weapon used by the Interahamwe militias there.[3] Machetes were also the distinctive tool/weapon of the Haitian Tonton Macoute.[4]

In 1762, the Kingdom of Great Britain invaded Cuba in the Battle of Havana, and peasant guerrillas led by Pepe Antonio, a Guanabacoa councilman, used machetes in the defense of the city.[5] The machete was also the most iconic weapon during the independence wars in that country (1868–1898), although it saw limited battlefield use.[6] Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, owner of the sugar refinery La Demajagua near Manzanillo, freed his slaves on 10 October 1868. Armed with machetes, he proceeded to lead them in revolt against the Spanish government.[7] The first cavalry charge using machetes as the primary weapon was carried out on 4 November 1868 by Máximo Gómez, a sergeant born in the Dominican Republic, who later became the General in Chief of the Cuban army.[8]

The machete was (and still is) a common side arm and tool for many ethnic groups in West Africa. Machetes in this role are referenced in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.[9]

Some tropical countries have a name for the blow of a machete; the Spanish machetazo is sometimes used in English.

In the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, the word planass means to hit someone with the flat of the blade of a machete or cutlass.[10] To strike with the sharpened edge is to "chop". Throughout the Caribbean, the term 'cutlass' refers to a laborers' cutting tool.[11]

The Brazilian Army's Instruction Center on Jungle Warfare developed a machete with a blade 10 inches (25 cm) in length and a very pronounced clip point. This machete is issued with a 5-inch Bowie knife and a sharpening stone in the scabbard; collectively called a "jungle kit" (Conjunto de Selva in Portuguese), it is manufactured by Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil (IMBEL).[12]

International variations

Mexican Machete, from Acapulco, 1970. Horn handle, hand forged blade taper (hammer marks visible.). Has been sharpened by owner. Rust marks visible.

The panga or tapanga is a variant used in East and southern Africa. This name may be of Swahili etymology; not to be confused with the Panga fish. The panga blade broadens on the backside and has a length of 16 to 18 inches (41 to 46 cm). The upper inclined portion of the blade may be sharpened.[13]

This tool has been used as a weapon: in the Rwandan Genocide; in South Africa particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s when the former province of Natal was wracked by conflict between the African National Congress and the Zulu-nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party.

Bolo or iták

In the Philippines, the bolo is a very similar tool, but with the blade swelling just before the tip to make the knife even more efficient for chopping. Variations include the longer and more pointed iták intended for combat, and was also used during the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish colonial authorities, later becoming a signature weapon of guerrillas in the Philippine-American War; the longest variation, called a kampilan, was used by the ancient sultanates of Mindanao. Filipinos still use employ the bolo for everyday tasks such as clearing vegetation or chopping various large foodstuffs. These are also commonly found in most Filipino kitchens, with some sets displayed on the walls and other sets for more practical usage.

Other similar tools include the parang[14] and the golok[15] (from Malaysia and Indonesia); however, these tend to have shorter, thicker blades with a primary grind, and are more effective on woody vegetation. The Nepalese kukri is a curved blade which is often used for similar tasks. Some types of Chinese saber (dao) are similar.

In the various regions of Ecuador it is still used as an everyday tool in agricultural labors, such as clearing, chopping, cutting and felling. In the Pacific coast the machete has a long history of use and can be seen as part of the everyday dress of the rural male inhabitants, specially in the provinces of Manabi, Los Rios and Guayas[disambiguation needed ]. In its day the machete and the skills related to it were seen as a token of manliness, and it was carried, sword-like, in ornamented sheaths made out of leather or in sashes around the waist. Its use wasn't limited to agriculture: it also had a double role as a ready-to-hand weapon for self-defense or attack. Although modern laws in Ecuador now prohibit its use as a weapon, there are still cases of vicious fighting or intimidation related to it. Being a part of the male dress, it also has a part in the cultural expressions of the coastal rural regions of Ecuador, such as dances, horsetaming contests and skill exhibitions.

In the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, the machete is largely used by the native inhabitants. It is used to clear paths through the bush, and was used to fight against the Brazilian Empire in the Farrapos' war (War of Tatters). There, the machete is called "facão" or "facón" (literally "big knife"). Today, there is a dance called dança dos facões (machetes' dance), that is danced in this region. In this dance, performed only by men, the dancers knock their machetes while dancing, simulating a battle. Maculelê, an Afro-Brazilian dance/martial art, can also be performed with facões. This practice began in the city of Santo Amaro, Bahia, in the northeastern part of the country.[16]

In southern Mexico and Central America it is widely used to clear bush and often hundreds of macheteros are contracted to assist in clearing paths for the construction of new roads or structures. Many people in the rural regions own machetes to clear the constant overgrow of jungle bush. In the recent drug cartel wars of the region, many homicides and decapitations are suspected of being caused by machetes or similar tools.

Similar historic tools and weapons

The modern machete is very similar to some forms of the medieval falchion, a short sword popular from the 13th century onwards. The cutting edge the falchion was curved, widening toward the point, and had a straight, unsharpened back edge.[17] The machete differs from the falchion mainly in the lack of a guard and a simpler hilt, though some machetes do have a guard for greater protection of hands during work.

The kopis was an ancient Greek tool/weapon comparable to the machete. The makhaira was also similar, but was intended primarily to be a weapon rather than a tool.

The seax was a Germanic tool/weapon that was also similar in function, although different in shape.

The kukri is a Nepalese curved blade used for many purposes similar to the machete.

The parang was a Malaysian knife that many machetes are based on.

The grosse messer was a Medieval large knife, employed both as a tool and as a weapon.

The fascine knife is a somewhat similar tool/weapon used by European armies throughout the late 18th to early 20th centuries. In fact, the Spanish Army called its fascine knives machetes.[18] Whereas infantry were usually issued short sabres as side arms, engineers and artillerymen often received fascine knives,[19][20] as besides being side arms they also served as useful tools for the construction of fortifications and other utilitarian tasks. They differ from machetes in that they generally have far thicker, tapered blades optimized for chopping European vegetation (the thin, flat blade of the machete is better for soft plants found in tropical environments), sword-like hilts and guards, and sometimes a sawback-blade.[19] Some later models could be fixed to rifles as bayonets as well.[20]


Gerber machete/saw combo
Cane knife

In manufacturing, both the materials used and the shape of the machete itself are important to make a good machete. In the past, the best and most famous manufacturer of machetes in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean was Collins Company of Collinsville, Connecticut.[21] The company was founded as Collins & Company in 1826 by Samuel W. Collins to make axes.[22] Its first machetes were sold in 1845[23] and became so famous that all good machetes were called "un Collins.".[24] In the English-speaking Caribbean, Robert Mole & Sons of Birmingham, England, was long considered the manufacturer of agricultural cutlasses of the best quality. Some Robert Mole blades survive as souvenirs of travelers to Trinidad,[25] Jamaica, and, less commonly, St. Lucia.

Since the 1950s however, manufacturing shortcuts have resulted in a quality decline of machetes. Today, most modern factory-made machetes are of very simple construction, consisting of a blade and full-length tang punched from a single piece of flat steel plate of uniform thickness (and thus lack a primary grind), and a simple grip of two plates of wood or plastic bolted or riveted together around the tang. Finally, both sides are ground down to a rough edge so that the purchaser can sharpen the blade to their specific geometry using a file. These machetes are occasionally provided with a simple cord loop as a sort of lanyard, and a canvas scabbard—although in some regions where machetes are valuable, commonly used tools, the users may make decorative leather scabbards for them.

Toughness is important because of the twisting and impact forces that the relatively thin blade may encounter, while edge retention is secondary. Medium to high carbon spring steels such as 1050 to 1095 are well suited to this application (with better machetes using the latter), and are relatively easy to sharpen. Most stainless steel machetes should be avoided, as a lot of high carbon stainless cannot stand up to repeated impacts, and will easily break if abused.

After hardening, many blades are tempered to maximum toughness, often nearly spring tempered. In comparison to most other knives which are commonly heat treated to a very high degree of hardness, this results in a tougher blade more resistant to chipping and breaking, with an edge that is easier to sharpen but does not retain sharpness as well, due to its lower hardness.

A properly constructed machete will have a convex or flat primary bevel from the spine to the edge, which is formed by a secondary bevel. Better machetes will also have a slight distal taper.

Cultural references

See also


  1. "matchet". Dictionary/thesaurus. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  2. Verwimp, P. (2006). "Machetes and Firearms: the Organization of Massacres in Rwanda" (PDF). Journal of Peace Research. 43 (1): 5–22. doi:10.1177/0022343306059576. edit
  3. Braid, Mary (3 March 1999). "The Jungle Massacre: African rebels who revel in their machete genocide". The Independent. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  4. "Tonton Macoute". Haiti History. Haitian Media. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  5. Ponce, Mildrey. "Why Did The English Take Over Havana?". Cuba Now. Retrieved 6 February 2009.[dead link]
  6. Tone, John Lawrence (2006). "Chapter 10: Mal Tiempo and the Romance of the Machete". War and Genocide in Cuba, 1895-1898. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 126–127. ISBN 9780807830062.
  7. Gravette, A G (28 September 2007). "Chapter 7: The Southern Peninsula". Cuba (5 ed.). New Holland Publishers. p. 106. ISBN 9781845378608.
  8. "Major General Máximo Gómez Báez". Revolutionary Armed Forces. Gobierno de la Republica de Cuba. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  9. "Plot Overview". Things Fall Apart. SparkNotes. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  10. Allsopp, Richard (2003). Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. University of the West Indies Press. pp. 442–443. ISBN 9789766401450.
  11. Allsopp, Richard (2003). Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. University of the West Indies Press. p. 184. ISBN 9789766401450.
  12. "Conjunto de Selva". Produtos. Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  13. Lua error in ...ribunto/includes/engines/LuaCommon/lualib/mwInit.lua at line 17: bad argument #1 to 'old_pairs' (table expected, got nil).
  14. Lua error in ...ribunto/includes/engines/LuaCommon/lualib/mwInit.lua at line 17: bad argument #1 to 'old_pairs' (table expected, got nil).
  15. Lua error in ...ribunto/includes/engines/LuaCommon/lualib/mwInit.lua at line 17: bad argument #1 to 'old_pairs' (table expected, got nil).
  16. Lewis, John Lowell (1992). "3: Capoeira in Salvador". Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira. University of Chicago Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 9780226476834.
  17. Edelman, Charles (2000). Shakespeare's Military Language: A Dictionary. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 127. ISBN 9780485115468.
  18. Lua error in ...ribunto/includes/engines/LuaCommon/lualib/mwInit.lua at line 17: bad argument #1 to 'old_pairs' (table expected, got nil).
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Machetes de Artillería y de Ingenieros del Ejército (I) 1802 - 1843" (PDF) (in Spanish). Catalogación de Armas. Retrieved 12 February 2009.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Machetes de Artillería y de Ingenieros del Ejército (II) 1843–1907" (PDF) (in Spanish). Catalogación de Armas. Retrieved 12 February 2009.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  21. Jones, Chester Lloyd (1906). The Consular Service of the United States: Its History and Activities. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 72.
  22. Kauffman, Henry J. (1994). "III: The Nineteenth Century". American Axes: A Survey of Their Development and Their Makers. Masthof Press. p. 30. ISBN 9781883294120.
  23. Henry, Daniel Edward (1995). Collins' Machetes and Bowies, 1845-1965. Krause Publications. p. 15. ISBN 9780873414036.
  24. La Farge, Oliver (1956). A Pictorial History of the American Indian. Crown Publishers. p. 219.
  25. Vintage Trinidad Machete in Leather Sheath
  26. Machetearte, Periódico Satírico y de Combate

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