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Older machete from Latin America

A machete (; Spanish pronunciation: ) is a large cleaver-like knife, similar to a kukri. The blade is typically 32.5 to 45 centimetres (12.8 to 17.7 in) long and usually under 3 millimetres (0.12 in) thick. In the Spanish language, the word is a diminutive form of the word macho, which means male or strong and was used to refer to sledgehammers.[1] In the English language, an equivalent term is matchet,[2] though it is less commonly known. In the English-speaking Caribbean, such as Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada and in Trinidad and Tobago, the term "cutlass" is used for these agricultural tools.


Agustín Cruz Tinoco of San Agustín de las Juntas, Oaxaca uses a machete to carve wood

In agriculture

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).[3] 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.[3] It is common to see people using machetes for other jobs, such as splitting open coconuts, yard work, and clearing brush.[3]

As a weapon

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 of the machete-wielding laborers of sugar cane fields of past Puerto Rico.[4]

Many of the killings in the Rwandan Genocide were performed with machetes,[5] and they were the primary weapon used by the Interahamwe militias there.[6] Machetes were also the distinctive tool/weapon of the Haitian Tonton Macoute.[7]

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.[8] The machete was also the most iconic weapon during the independence wars in that country (1868–1898), although it saw limited battlefield use.[9] Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, owner of the sugar refinery La Demajagua near Manzanillo, freed his slaves on 10 October 1868. He proceeded to lead them, armed with machetes, in revolt against the Spanish government.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

Some countries have a name for the blow of a machete; the Spanish machetazo is sometimes used in English.[13]

In the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago, the word planass means to hit someone with the flat of the blade of a machete or cutlass.[14] To strike with the sharpened edge is to "chop". Throughout the Caribbean, the term 'cutlass' refers to a laborers' cutting tool.[15]

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).[16]

Cultural 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.[17]

This tool has been used as a weapon: during the Mau Mau Uprising; 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.[18]

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 - this was used during the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish colonial authorities, later becoming a signature weapon of guerrillas in the Philippine-American War. Filipinos still use 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 less practical use. The bolo is also used in training in Eskrima- the indigenous martial art of the Philippines.[19]

Other similar tools include the parang[20] and the golok[21] (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 that is often used for similar tasks.

In Thailand, more variations exist, such as the E-nep, or Nep, which translates as "Leaf" (มีดเหน็บ). It may resemble some forms of Muslim blades like the Jambiya, or the Pakistani/Nepali Khukuri, having aspects of both with the up-swept tip and protruding belly. Another design found in Thailand is the E-toh, which is prominent in Southern China, Laos, and other northern parts of South East Asia. Generally, E-tohs must have forward weighted tips, and are used around the home for splitting stove wood or chopping bone. The Chinese Dao, with its triangular tip, is found in Thailand as the Hua-Tad, which translates roughly as "Head Chopper." The most common blade in Thailand is called "Pra," it can describe long straight designs, or billhook designs. The primary purpose of a "Pra" is farm work and clearing vegetation. During the 2006 riots in Bangkok, Red-Shirt protestors carried "Sapatda", which resemble an over-sized bowie knife with sawback cuts in the spine.

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 region, the machete has a long history of use and can be seen as part of the everyday dress of the rural male inhabitants, especially in the provinces of Manabi, Los Rios and Guayas. 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 was not 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 Ragamuffin War. There, the machete is called "facão" or "facón" (literally "big knife"). Today, this region has a dance called the dança dos facões (machetes' dance) in which the dancers, who also always men, 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.[22]

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 committed with machetes or similar tools. The Taiga is a machete of Russian origin that combines the functions of machetes, axes, knives, saws, and shovels into one tool. It is easily distinguished by the large swell at the end of the blade to facilitate chopping. The taiga is used by military air and special forces, including Spetsnaz.

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 of the falchion was curved, widening toward the point, and had a straight, unsharpened back edge.[23] 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 is 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.[24] Whereas infantry were usually issued short sabres as side arms, engineers and artillerymen often received fascine knives,[25][26] 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.[25] Some later models could be fixed to rifles as bayonets as well.[26]

The katana, typically acquired through trade, was used by the Ainu people in a machete like fashion rather than a tool of war as it was originally intended to be.


Gerber machete/saw combo
A bolo machete made in South Africa for the Cold Steel Knife company. It is constructed of 1055 carbon steel with a non slip handle

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.[27] The company was founded as Collins & Company in 1826 by Samuel W. Collins to make axes.[28] Its first machetes were sold in 1845[29] and became so famous that all good machetes were called "un Collins".[30] 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,[31] 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 many high-carbon stainless-steel machetes cannot stand up to repeated impacts, and will easily break if abused.

In comparison to most other knives, which are commonly heat treated to a very high degree of hardness, many machete blades are tempered to maximum toughness, often nearly spring tempered. 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.

Colombia is the largest exporter of machetes worldwide.[32]


Machetes are often considered tools and used by adults. However, many hunter–gatherer societies and cultures surviving through subsistence agriculture begin teaching babies to use sharp tools, including machetes, before their first birthdays.[33]

Cultural references

  • The flag of Angola features a Machete, along with a cog-wheel.
  • The machete is also a performance weapon used in variations of the Brazilian martial dance called maculelê, often practiced by proponents of capoeira.
  • In the Mexican state of Durango, the folkloric dance called Danza de los Machetes consists of blind-folded dancers juggling machetes and pitching them at increasing speeds between one another in synchronicity.
  • In some Central American regions, the machete is believed to be the best weapon to kill the mythical cadejo.
  • In Colombia and other countries in South America, machete is a term often used to describe a kluge.
  • Mexican news journal Machetearte adopts the name in a game of words, where it can mean Machete Art as well as Striking you with a Machete. Its distribution is mainly throughout Central and Northern Mexico, as well as online.[34]
  • Jason Voorhees, the fictional mass murderer from the Friday the 13th film series, uses a machete as his weapon of choice in killing his victims.
  • Machete is a 2010 film by Robert Rodriguez, named for the character played by Danny Trejo it also stars Steven Seagal and Robert De Niro. It is a follow-up to Grindhouse and based on the character developed in Spy Kids.
  • Machetes are a common item for tribes on the television series Survivor.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "matchet". Dictionary/thesaurus. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 7 February 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c Franz, Carl; Rogers, Carl Franz, Lorena Havens, Steve; Havens, Lorena (11 December 2012). The People's Guide to Mexico. Avalon Travel Publishing. pp. 277–278.  
  4. ^ Martin, Gus (15 June 2011). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Terrorism, Second Edition. SAGE Publications. p. 490.  
  5. ^ Verwimp, P. (2006). "Machetes and Firearms: the Organization of Massacres in Rwanda" (PDF). Journal of Peace Research 43 (1): 5–22.  
  6. ^ Braid, Mary (3 March 1999). "The Jungle Massacre: African rebels who revel in their machete genocide".  
  7. ^ "Tonton Macoute". Haiti History. Haitian Media. Retrieved 6 February 2009. 
  8. ^ Ponce, Mildrey (2007). "Why Did The English Take Over Havana?". Cuba Now. Retrieved 6 February 2009. 
  9. ^ Tone, John Lawrence (2006). "Chapter 10: Mal Tiempo and the Romance of the Machete". War and Genocide in Cuba, 1895-1898.  
  10. ^ Gravette, A G (28 September 2007). "Chapter 7: The Southern Peninsula". Cuba (5 ed.). New Holland Publishers. p. 106.  
  11. ^ "Major General Máximo Gómez Báez". Revolutionary Armed Forces. Gobierno de la Republica de Cuba. Retrieved 6 February 2009. 
  12. ^ "Plot Overview". Things Fall Apart.  
  13. ^ Sturges, James Walter (August 2010). Machetes in the Trunk: Three Weeks in Panama. James Sturges. p. 31.  
  14. ^ Allsopp, Richard (2003). Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage.  
  15. ^ Allsopp, Richard (2003). Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage.  
  16. ^ "Conjunto de Selva". Produtos.  
  17. ^ Mothander, Björn; Finn Kjærby; Kjell J. Havnevik (1989). Farm Implements for Small-scale Farmers in Tanzania. Nordic Africa Institute. pp. 36–37.  
  18. ^ Cavaleri, David P. (2005). The Law of War: Can 20th Century Standards Apply to the Global War on Terrorism?. DIANE Publishing. p. 66.  
  19. ^ Wilson, Frederick T. (1 January 2004). A Sailor's Log: Water-tender Frederick T. Wilson, USN, on Asiatic Station, 1899-1901. Washington: Kent State University Press. p. 130.  
  20. ^ Stone, George Cameron; Donald J. LaRocca (1999). A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times: In All Countries and in All Times. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 481–482.  
  21. ^  
  22. ^ Lewis, John Lowell (1992). "3: Capoeira in Salvador". Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira. University of Chicago Press. pp. 54–55.  
  23. ^ Edelman, Charles (2000). Shakespeare's Military Language: A Dictionary. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 127.  
  24. ^ L'Estrage, C. J. (January–June 1888). "Europe in Arms, No. X - The Spanish Army". Illustrated Naval and Military Magazine: A Monthly Journal Devoted to All Subjects Connected with Her Majesty's Land and Sea Forces 8: 263. 
  25. ^ a b "Machetes de Artillería y de Ingenieros del Ejército (I) 1802 - 1843" ( 
  26. ^ a b "Machetes de Artillería y de Ingenieros del Ejército (II) 1843–1907" ( 
  27. ^ Jones, Chester Lloyd (1906). The Consular Service of the United States: Its History and Activities.  
  28. ^ Kauffman, Henry J. (1994). "III: The Nineteenth Century". American Axes: A Survey of Their Development and Their Makers. Masthof Press. p. 30.  
  29. ^ Henry, Daniel Edward (1995). Collins' Machetes and Bowies, 1845-1965. Krause Publications. p. 15.  
  30. ^ La Farge, Oliver (1956). A Pictorial History of the American Indian. Crown Publishers. p. 219. 
  31. ^ Vintage Trinidad Machete in Leather Sheath
  32. ^
  33. ^ Day, Nicholas (9 April 2013). "Give Your Baby a Machete".  
  34. ^ Machetearte, Periódico Satírico y de Combate

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