Probably the worlds most versatile weapon of choice 

The machete is perhaps the most widely used utility tool and weapon on the planet. It has a very long history and has been made famous and indeed, infamous, by its use in various conflicts around the world. The word ‘machete’ itself actually derives from the Spanish word ‘macho’. In the English speaking islands of the Caribbean the machete is referred to as a ‘cutlass’. This is an interesting usage as the machete does actually qualify as being a sword, especially the larger variants, although in some ways I would liken it more to the modern Scottish dirk.

The blade of a machete is usually around 32.5 to 60 centimetres (12.8 to 24 in) in length and typically under 3 millimetres (0.12 in) in thickness, although there are larger variants around. It is a one sided blade that is in essence, the same as the Old Norse and Saxon Seax, although the shape of the blade differs. It is an extremely sturdy piece of kit and will take a lot of punishment.

A machete has proven to be the ultimate outdoor and survival tool for well over three hundred years. It will cut, chop, slash, hack, split, scrape, scoop, hammer, dig, crush, carve, whittle, crack or smash just about anything you can put in front of it. It can be used to kill both fish and game and will gut, scale, filet, skin, quarter, and butcher them for the table as well. In a survival situation, this is the one thing you would want as a companion. It is quite literally, a life saver when the chips are down and the going gets tough.

The machete at war

The machete is a very popular implement in the third world and as such, has played a pivotal role in many uprisings and rebellions. Many of the killings in the Rwandan Genocide were performed with machetes, and they were the primary weapon used by the Interahamwe militias there. Machetes were also the distinctive weapon of choice of the brutal and sadistic Tonton Macoute in Haiti. The machete remains a common side arm and tool for many ethnic groups in West Africa and whenever one watches news reports of violent disturbances in that area of the world, the ubiquitous machete is always in evidence.

An African uprising and the ubiquitous machete

In east and southern Africa there are distinct variants of the machete called the panga or tapanga. 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. This tool has been used as an offensive weapon in the Rwandan Genocide and also in South Africa. In particular during the early 1990's, when the country was on the cusp of black majority rule and was a seething cauldron of conflict between the African National Congress, and the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party.

The machete was also used prior to that in South Africa, when simmering resentment of the local black population boiled over in respect to the resident Asian population of Indian origin. They tended to run many of the local businesses, and were seen as exploiting and over-charging the local Africans for goods and services. It was the exact same issue that saw the expulsion of Asians from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, after those nations had achieved independence. I have heard some truly horrific stories from South African friends of mine of just what the consequences for the Asians were, when that African resentment boiled over into violent action.

Machete manufacture

The best machetes are made from carbon steel, which gives them the strength and durability required. Plain, cheap stainless steel machetes will not withstand a lot of punishment and will break when worked hard. Given that a machete is an essential tool of survival, experiencing a broken blade is not a good idea at all.

The machete I have in my collection

As part of my own weapons collection I possess a high quality carbon steel machete, which came on order from Leipzig in Germany. My machete is surfaced with a black, baked-on anti-rust finish that will protect the blade in adverse conditions and also affords it a very attractive and purposeful look. It is 18.5 inches in overall length, has a blade 14 inches long and is well weighted and comfortable in the hand. Obviously in the UK, this is not something one can legally walk around with, nor would one wish to, but as part of a collection of historical weaponry it provides an admirable conversation piece.

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