A bolo (Tagalog: iták; Cebuano: sundáng; Hiligaynon: binangon) is a large cutting tool of Filipino origin similar to the machete. It is used particularly in the Philippines, the jungles of Indonesia, and in the sugar fields of Cuba.
The bolo knife is common in the countryside due to its use as a farming implement. As such, it was used extensively during Spanish colonial rule as a manual alternative to ploughing with a carabao. Normally used for cutting coconuts, it was also a common harvesting tool for narrow row crops found on terraces such as rice, mungbeans, soybeans, and peanuts. Because of its availability, the bolo became a common choice of improvised weaponry to the everyday peasant.
Bolos are characterized by having a native hardwood or animal horn handle (such as from the carabao), a full tang, and by a steel blade that both curves and widens, often considerably so, at its tip. This moves the centre of gravity as far forward as possible, giving the knife extra momentum for chopping.
Various types of bolos are often employed for different purposes (see photo at right):
- The all-purpose bolo: Used for all sorts of odd jobs, such as breaking open coconuts.
- The haras: Similar to a small scythe, it is used for cutting tall grass. It called "Lampas" by people from Mindanao.
- The kutsilyo: The term comes from the Spanish word cuchillo ("knife"). Generally used to kill and bleed pigs during slaughter.
- A smaller bolo.
- The bolo-guna (or simply guna): A bolo specifically shaped for digging out roots and weeding.
- The garab: Used to harvest rice.
- A large pinuti: Traditionally it is tipped in snake, spider, or scorpion venom and used for self-defence.
- The sundang (also "tip bolo" or "iták"): Supposedly used mainly to open coconuts, the sundang was a popular weapon of choice in the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish Empire and during the subsequent Philippine–American War.
On 7 December 1972, would-be assassin Carlito Dimahilig used a bolo to attack former First Lady Imelda Marcos as she appeared onstage at a live televised awards ceremony. Dimahilig stabbed Marcos in the abdomen several times, and she parried the blows with her arms. He was shot dead by security forces while she was taken to hospital.
The bolo serves as a symbol for the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution, particularly the Cry of Pugad Lawin. Several monuments of Andres Bonifacio, as with other notable Katipuneros, depict him holding a bolo in one hand and the Katipunan flag in the other.
Other uses of the term
In the United States Military, the slang term "to bolo" – to fail a test, exam or evaluation, originated from the combined Philippine-American military forces including recognized guerrillas during the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection; those local soldiers and guerrillas who failed to demonstrate proficiency in marksmanship were issued bolos instead of firearms so as not to waste scarce ammunition.
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