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Hal Siegel 27th January 2005 07:20 PM

Bolo with wide blade and t-grip for identification
I've run across a couple of these bolo - preliminary identification is/was Mandaya, but now that there have been more Mandaya items recently discussed here I don't think that's correct. It's a rather distinctive style -

Tom Hyle found this new example.

Here's one I had in my collection a couple of years ago, it went as a gift/swap to Conogre (who may still have it, I'm not sure):

Gotta love eBay seller ingenuity - when I found the Conogre chopper it had a bowling trophy finial on the tang spike:

We think this is the "original owner":

Any ideas on who/when/where?

Ian 27th January 2005 09:19 PM

Not from the Philippines
1 Attachment(s)
.. IMHO. The full tang construction and T-hilt is unlike anything from the Phils: northern, central or southern. Also, does not fit Borneo.

My inclination is Central or South America for several reasons. First the picture with the maddeningly unreadable inscription (can you get a better image, Hal?) -- I can make out HEADHUNTER ..... KNIFE CANA.. (or CAHA.. or CAMA..) .....

The guy in the picture does not look like anyone from SE Asia -- wide nose, thin well demarcarted lips, round face -- and the tattooing on the chest is something I have not seen anywhere in Asia, even in New Guinea, Borneo, etc. The scabbard construction, with its particular style of rattan binding, is also not reminsicscent of anything I've seen in SE Asia.

And the shape of this knife is quite similar to some of the machetes from Latin America.

That's my best guess. Be very surprised if the guy and his bolo turn out to be SE Asian. :confused:


This is the best I can manipulate the inscription on the photograph above.

Hal Siegel 27th January 2005 10:42 PM

My inclination is Central or South America for several reasons. First the picture with the maddeningly unreadable inscription (can you get a better image, Hal?) -- I can make out HEADHUNTER ... KNIFE CANA.. (or CAMA..) ...

From the date on my copy of that picture, I found it sometime before December 2000. I just dug around in my "armor_images" folder, looking at earlier dates, but couldn't find a larger original. I may have to start looking through old CD backups ....

Here's a few more pictures of the Tom chopper:

Loose brass guard - for a moment, I toyed with the idea that this was a seppa (washer) from a Japanese sword, but the hole the tang mounts through is rectangular and not triangular as found on seppa.

Another view of the grip/pommel.

Gimping on back edge

There's a tiny museum/collection label with faded ink on the back of the scabbard that reads: "Phillipine (47)"

Battara 28th January 2005 12:10 AM

For me that is as Filipino as my sgian dubhs. :p

Andrew 28th January 2005 01:50 AM

The lines on the spine are similar to those found on some dha and other SEA weapons.

tom hyle 28th January 2005 02:18 AM

The lines on the spine and the "okar" at the front of the blade base are things I've encountered only in SE Asia. Berber and Celtic spine markings are not the same.
The blade shape is identical to the simpler of the Mandaya/Manobo pieces we've been seeing, except (big exception, I know, but big similarity, too) lacking a ricassoe (angled or otherwise).
The hilt shape is markedly similar to Mandaya daggers.
The man's nose looks Malay to me.
Those are some Asian looking eyes, too.
Not saying you don't see these features on S Americans, but sure looks plenty Malay (etc.) to me.
Check his belt and ear-rings; what was that "fashion sense"? Those may be our clues.
Aside from weight, these are markedly similar to Collins 1005, which is generally said to be copied from a PI "bolo" (tenuous, I know; just covering bases).
Blade is similar to machete, or parang nabur.
The hilts on both are covered in brass/copper sheeting, for whatever that means.
Hilt section is rectangular, with fairly sharply defined edges.
No buttspike on mine; how sure are we that's tang, anyway? What's the coresponding feature on a Mandaya dagger? Tang?
Blade is folded steel.
End of handle can be seen through large guard hole (remember the wiggle?) looks porous; could it be antler? Rattan?
The rattan bindings on sheath and hilt look SE Asian to me; why not to you?
In any event, neither is original, though both are old.
That's some kind of old (adhesive?) paper/tape down the edges of the sheath.
The criss-crossing of the overbinding (repair? joining method for a talismanic cloth?) particularly reminds me of Moro handle wraps.
How 'bout that red cloth? A small piece of a different old red cloth came tied to the sheath.
Blade is light and thin, with, as I recall, a humped wedge section.
Sheath is made in two shells in ordinary fashion; only the long, non-hollow "tail" is one-sided.
Sheath has remains of/biniding site for three or four rattan suspension-loops. I see the mouth of the sheath under his left armpit.

tom hyle 28th January 2005 04:28 AM

A further note is that that is not the original sheath-tip; the original end was a squared-off expanded-end rectangle, I should think, somewhat like the throat end; one of the corners is broken off, giving an illusion of a clipped tip.

Ian 28th January 2005 05:39 AM

Conclusively not Mandayan ...
Wrong blade -- the spine of the blade is upcurving in the photo above and has no sharp angle. Mandayan blades are straight along the spine, with the exception of an angled area a short distance in front of the hilt.

Wrong ricasso (as noted above)

Wrong hilt (as noted above)

Presence of a disk guard -- Mandayan bolos have no guard.

The only clear similarity to a Mandayan bolo is the shape of the belly of the blade.

On the Mandayan dagger, the central protrusion from the top of the hilt is an extension of the tang. The bolo, however, has a blind tang construction.

Hal Siegel 28th January 2005 05:44 AM

Tom Hyle: That's some kind of old (adhesive?) paper/tape down the edges of the sheath.

Actually, it looks like palm frond or a similar leaf material used for edging and repairs. Some of the frond is old and yellow/white, some of it looks to be newer and still a slight shade of green.

fearn 28th January 2005 02:05 PM

About the photo:

To my uneducated eyes, it looks like the tribesman is sitting on a rice mortar. That puts him in Asia.

I'd also add that tattooing (nice Polynesia word) is pretty widespread in Asia. I've certainly seen examples from Thailand, China, and Japan (Yakuza, anyone?).

I've been googling Cana/Canas/etc. There is a Canas river in Basilan Province, Philippines, for what it's worth. No other major hits yet. Most of the hits seem to be hispanic, for what it's worth--to me, that kind of points toward the philippines (under US occupation for a while), but I don't have a good clue.

The only Canas tribe in South America was defeated by the Incas. Somehow, I don't think the blade comes from there.

Also for what it's worth, that scabbard reminds me a lot of those half-scabbards with the open sides that we've seen on Taiwanese and Naga blades. The other side isn't open, by any chance, Hal?

Neat blade. A better picture of its owner would be nice, if that's possible--to read the text.

tom hyle 28th January 2005 02:09 PM

Good point about the spinal curve, although I note it's pretty slight curve; I went back to some old threads and couldn't find a Mandaya example with any.
About the "high shinogi" I'm not sure you're correct; it's my impression that this feature is not universal.
Mind you, I'm not saying it is Mandaya; I don't know what it is; I'm saying I see an awful lot of similarities, and I bet something accounts for them. My inclination overall is that this is a form of parang nabur with a hilt similar to a Madaya dagger hilt. I'd sure like to know more. It's got that great helpful provenence; "Philippine 47" on a little paper tag.
BTW: "headhunter......cannibal.....?"

tom hyle 28th January 2005 02:15 PM

Thanks, Fearn; I didn't consider we could ID his chair, stupid man that I am.
No, the sheath is not open on any side. It has one long shell that goes it's whole length, while the other shell is only part-length, covering the cavity for the blade; the remaining length being a solid wooden "tail". A small triangular piece at the end of the shorter (back side) shell is an old repair. One corner, as I note is broken off, and this expanded-rectangle sheath-tip also seems SE Asian to me
The edges are lined/wrapped with a "channel" of natural fibre material, either leafs or paper of some kind, then wound over with split giant grass (rattan?) skin. On the front, which is the side we see here, there are thin red and black strips of rattan skin than run lengthwise under this wrapping, and they are otherwise loose to wiggle around.
The sheath appears intended for edge-up wear, if worn as seen in the photo.

tom hyle 28th January 2005 02:27 PM

BTW, the look of the musculature on the man's cheeks gives me to suspect he is "making a face" perhaps a formalized toothless smile, much like the Giaconda/Mona Lisa everyone thinks so significant, perhaps sucking on a quid, so I wouldn't try to read any racial/regional data into his lips, not that one can conclusively ID origins that way, of course.

Spunjer 28th January 2005 02:27 PM

what about the "golden triangle" (thailand, laos, burma) area? possibilities?

tom hyle 28th January 2005 02:34 PM

The sheath tip, the disc guard; the blade partakes of course of a dha-likeness (dha and parang nabur being somewhat similar and probably related). It's a thought; I like the Canas river thing, too; research; you can't beat it; thanks again.
I think the point about the tattoo is not that it exists, but its central chest placement, which would be atypical in SE Asia (pectoral pairs are more common, or even one pectoral muscle, yes? though I think I've seen central ones; in Borneo? The Japanese tatoos, suposedly placed for concealment under clothing, IMHO actually follow this Pacific "tatoo suit" tradition, BTW). I'm not sure it is a tatoo; it looks almost like a cigarette burn or something on the photo to me. Awfully asymetrical for a SE Asian tatoo. Too bad no access to the original photo, but that's the shakes.

Ian 28th January 2005 06:56 PM

Interesting discussion
One other tidbit not previously mentioned is the square cross section of the handle. Has anyone seen that before? I can't recall any Philippines or other SE Asian weapons with square handles.

Perhaps John, with his knowledge of Sabah and environs, could help with this one. Any thoughts, John?

Andrew 28th January 2005 08:02 PM

The square handle is perplexing, Ian. Don't some Ainu weapons have a similar feature? Some Chinese dao I've seen do, as well.

Curiouser and curiouser... :D

fearn 28th January 2005 08:16 PM

Hi Spunjer,

You're not the only one thinking Golden Triangle. The question then is: what tribe? The sheath construction that Hal describes definitely sounds like what some of the daos have, except that instead of being open, with the blade restrained by wrappings, it has a second piece held in place by wrapping.

The other thing I think is fascinating is the apparent piercing at the base of the edge. That seems characteristic too, and unique only through location.

Hmmmm. Neat!

Let's line up what we have:
--Tropical (from clothing--hard to believe he's a highlander and wearing so little)
--Asian (from body type and rice mortar).
--Blade looks like it could be a) a bolo, or b) a dha, but c) it has characteristics of a bunch of things (like the apparent pad on the T-hilt, the piercings on the blade, the square hilt cross-section, and circular guard) that don't often show up together. Similarly, the sheath could be something out of southern Himalayas or Taiwan.
--there's more than one of them, so it's unlikely that some blacksmith put this one together just to annoy blade collectors :-).

If we start drawing circles on maps for each of these traits, do we get overlaps somewhere? Kinibalu? Innermost Laos? Basilan province?

Neat puzzle!


Jim McDougall 29th January 2005 12:41 AM

This extremely deep bellied chopper type weapon is most intriguing, and I cannot resist being fascinated by the brilliant forensics and observations of everyone on this thread! Excellent deductive reasoning, and very informative.
Since the weapons of these regions are admittedly far out of my field of study,it is a great pleasure to learn from everyone participating here and the knowledge shared.

When I first looked at this incredibly broad bladed chopper, I thought of the Moplah knives and Coorg ayda khatti, which obviously are completely out of sphere in this case. I found an interesting entry in Burton's "Book of the Sword" (p.170, fig. 193) which showed a line drawing of a 'cleaver of the Habshi people' of an island off Bombay, noting these people's ancestry from Zanzibar, again simply a note as this is even more away from the regions we are considering.

I viewed the photo of the native tribesman repeatedly last night, and cannot escape the conclusion that the tribesman is ancestrally Chinese, and appears almost Korean in facial features.
In looking at the weapon, the rattan lashings, hilt, all seem to suggest the Philippines. The broad blade and its curve, while having no direct similarity to the bolo, seem to allude to association by type. The second weapon shown with the 'horned' type hilt and fixture in center give it a three prong appearance such as is similar on the Mandaya weapon. Both of these are of course, as discussed, Philippines weapons. The disc hilt, which seems atypical of Philippine weapons, does allude to Chinese influence, as does the reference to the squared cross section of the grip. The pierced holes in the blades, one with circles and one with triangles, make me think of similar holes that appear in the Dayak parang ihlang (mandau) of Borneo. I believe these holes are often flled with brass, but am unaware of the significance, which I'm sure can be explained by those better versed in these weapons.
As Andrew has mentioned, the lined motif on the back of the blade is seen
on not only Philippine weapons, especially Moro, but on SE Asian as well (I have a Laotian dha with these type linear marks).

The Philippine archipelago is situated in latitude south of China, with the island of Taiwan directly in line closest to the Chinese mainland and further south are many islands comprising the northern part of the archipelago.
It is noted in Encyclopedia Brittanica that "...the people of China are the archipelagos nearest civilized neighbors and the source of far more of its culture than is generally suspected", referring of course to the Phillipines.

Chinese trade with not only Phillipines but continuing to the Indonesian archipelago was constant, so as always, trade and interaction between the mainland and locations throughout provided channels for continuous diffusion and influence. Since the individual we see in the photo seems of more pure Chinese appearance, and the population further south in the Philippines seems to have more pronounced diffusion, I would suggest the possibility of northernmost islands, especially more toward Taiwan, where it has been noted that the rattan lashings on scabbards is more likely on weapons. The similarity of the hilt in gestalt to the Chinese dao may have more plausibility in such regions also. It has been noted that even in Taiwan, there were contacts with with the seagoing Dayaks, and possibly the piercings in the blades may have been influenced by them. The tribes in Taiwan are also noted to trace certain ancestry to Assam, with note of the openly lashed scabbards there and a degree of distant association.

While these observations offer no conclusions, they are simply to add to what has already been presented and I look forward to comments from those here who know this sector of ethnographic weapons exceedingly well.

Best regards,

John 29th January 2005 06:18 AM

Originally Posted by Ian
Perhaps John, with his knowledge of Sabah and environs, could help with this one. Any thoughts, John?

Hi Ian,

I've not seen anything like that in the vicinity or at the state museum and it's likely to be something NOT from Northern Borneo I'd say.

BTW, great picture of you with Dan at the other thread.

Ian 29th January 2005 07:02 PM

Thanks John
Originally Posted by John
Hi Ian,

I've not seen anything like that in the vicinity or at the state museum and it's likely to be something NOT from Northern Borneo I'd say.

Thanks, John, for your feedback. My impression also.

We seem to be trying to shoehorn this guy and his bolo into an Asian/SE Asian scene, and I'm still not seeing any hard evidence for such an attribution. Notwithstanding the suggestion he is sitting on a "rice mortar" (I've seen a few, but none like the object this guy is sitting upon), I still don't get a strong sense that the photo is from Asia/SE Asia. We are all making highly intelligent guesses, but coming up empty.

In my personal travels in Asia/SE Asia, including the Golden Triangle area, since the mid-1960s, I've not encountered a similar looking individual or that particular bolo. I have obviously not been to every corner of the region, so it would be nice to hear from others who live or have traveled there and can contribute some first hand experience, if any, on the origin of the photo or the bolo.

Perhaps DA Henkel could help us, with his expereince of the Malay and Indonesian cultures. Any thoughts, Dave.


Federico 29th January 2005 07:15 PM

As noted in another post by Tom, I also seem to be seeing the word headhunter in the caption of the picture. Are there headhunters in S America? I am not familiar with the tribe in S America.

Hal Siegel 29th January 2005 07:35 PM

Originally Posted by Federico
As noted in another post by Tom, I also seem to be seeing the word headhunter in the caption of the picture. Are there headhunters in S America? I am not familiar with the tribe in S America.

Most famous are the Jivaro/Shuar of the Eucadorian and Peruvian Amazon:

Headhunting: History of the Shuar

I've take a quick look through the website. Unfortunately, no weapons are depicted ...

Federico 29th January 2005 07:40 PM

Originally Posted by Hal Siegel
Most famous are the Jivaro/Shuar of the Eucadorian and Peruvian Amazon:

Headhunting: History of the Shuar

I've take a quick look through the website. Unfortunately, no weapons are depicted ...

Thanks for the link. Looking through the site at the pictures, and then comparing it to the BW picture in the thread, I could see one of the modern color pics, done in BW with the grainy quality of an old pic, there could be some relation.

Rick 29th January 2005 08:00 PM

S. American Headhunters
I believe the practice of shrinking heads is done only in S. America .
A childhood friend of mine had one , IIRC it was a little smaller than a softball .
We found it endlessly fascinating to examine and contemplate .

Where are the swords of these peoples ?

Were any of these tribes metal workers ?

If they depended on trade for metal implements wouldn't the machete be the only real edged weapon available to them ?
The blade/s pictured don't strike me as trade goods ; if they were then why haven't we seen more of them ?

Jim McDougall 29th January 2005 09:21 PM

Definitely not South America.....not SE Asian triangle.

Tribesman is probably ethnic Chinese from Northern Philippine Islands between there and Taiwan.

fearn 29th January 2005 10:00 PM

I agree with the majority who places these knives from Asia.

I'd also point out that the Shuar (Jivaro I believe is a derogatory name) were Stone-Age at contact, and I suspect that to this day, they don't work metal.

Otherwise, yes, headhunting (as opposed to head shrinking) was widespread. We can start with the Celts, if we want. I know more about it from modern groups in Irian Jaya and Papua, but certainly the Toraja, the Mentawai, and various Dayak tribes were headhunters in Indonesia.

I've been Googling for Philippine headhunting tribes, and so far, I've found references (real or not) to the Ifugao, and to other tribes in the hills of northern Luzon. If I had to guess, I would start looking at the minority groups from the Philippines as the source for this blade. I haven't tripped over a cana (Cane?) tribe yet, but potentially it's out there.

What do the PI people think?


Ian 30th January 2005 12:59 AM

Taiwan - Northern Philippines ...
... suggested by Jim. Definitely worth careful consideration since both areas were home to head hunting groups that were active well into the 20th C. The US presence in the Philippines during the first half of the 20th C. did much to reduce the practice there, and the Japanese had a similar influence in Taiwan.

We actually have quite a wealth of information already on the old Forum that can help with discussion of this region. On a relationship between the Taiwanese aboriginal groups and the various tribal groups in northern Luzon, our colleague "Cy" had these comments in an earlier thread (found here

“FYI Taiwan formerly Formosa Island the indigenous inhabitants were made up of several Austronesian tribes commonly called the Paiwan. Of these tribes, 9 are currently recognized. It is speculated by a number of Anthropologists that the Paiwan were the forefathers/ancestors of all of the races of Austronesian people, i.e., the hill tribes of Northern Luzon, the Dayaks of Borneo, and other peoples across the Indonesian Archipelago.

The weapons are not just a factor but similarities in customs, you see the Paiwan and other tribes of Taiwan/Formosa were headhunters. Some even used the tattoo in a similar manner as the Kalinga and Bontoc of Luzon, as well as the Dayaks of Borneo.

I can go on and state various other similarities, etc., but I do not want to be accused of going off on a subject. The tribes of Taiwan: Atayal, Paiwan, Saisiat, Ami, Rukai, Tsou, Yami - of Orchid Island: Puyuma, Bunun.”

The knives and swords of the Taiwanese aboriginal groups were also discussed and illustrated in several topics on the old Forum, of which these had the most material:

Some time ago, I wrote quite a lengthy piece on the various edged weapons of the main Taiwanese native populations (, with illustrations and text taken from an excellent reference: Material Culture of the Formosan Aborigines by Dr. Chen Chi-Lu, Taiwan Museum:Taipei, 1968. This reference also provides details of the dress, textiles, tools, and much of the other materials of daily living used by the various tribal groups of Taiwan.

In the lexicon of knives and swords presented by Dr. Chen, there is nothing that resembles the heavy-bellied chopper that appears at the head of this topic. Nor is there a resemblance to the scabbard above.

I have just read through Dr. Chen's discussion of the dress of men of these various tribes, and they did use a breechclout quite commonly (which is the attire of the gentleman in the picture above). However, the predominant material was black cloth, and many men wore a short "skirt" over the breechclout, neither of which matches the picture above. The Atayal tribe was particularly fond of making belts and beads of threaded shells, and I think the man in the photograph has a narrow belt of threaded somethings, perhaps small shells but could be bone or teeth. Shell belts are not unique and may be found elsewhere in SE Asia, so this may not be a very helpful observation.

I have looked also at the line drawings of the various tribal peoples in Dr. Chen's book, and they really do not look much like the man in the picture above. I have not searched the web for pictures of the various groups, but someone might like to do that to judge the similarity or otherwise of facial features.

Bottom line, however, is that there is no record I can find of a fat-bellied bolo being used by any of the Taiwanese aboriginal groups, while the knives and swords that are documented are very different in style and construction.

Tribal groups of northern Luzon are numerous and diverse. With the exception of the Ilocanos, who are quite tall, the majority of "Igorotes" are small and dark skinned. The shortest are probably the Aete, who can be found on the Bataan Peninsula. There are many pictures and old post cards of the various hill tribes of northern Luzon. They are much darker skinned than the man in the photo above and have different facial features altogether. Many of the men wear breechclouts, but dissimilar to the one worn by the man above.

Of the various northern Luzon groups, the Aete do have a short, fat bellied bolo but nowhere near as massive as the one carried by the man in the photo or illustrated in the two examples above.

Other hill tribes, of which there are many (Ifugao, Bontoc, Kalinga, etc.), use heavy knives, some of which have quite a wide belly. Elsewhere on this site there is discussion of the hinalung and pinahig (, and it is the hinalung that sometimes has a fat belly. However, even in its fat-belly form, the spine of the blade is flat and never upcurving (as in the pictures above). Moreover, the style of rattan bindings is quite different, and many of the Igorot scabbards are open faced.

Another tribal group of northern Luzon is the Ilongot, very notable head hunters into the second half of the 20th C. There is an excellent book about this relatively small tribal group and its head hunting practices: Ilongot Headhunting 1883-1974: A study in society and history, by Renato Rosaldo, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1980. The traditional knife of the Ilongot is distinctive and separate from those of the Igorotes, but is not of the heavy fat-belly form that we seek and the scabbard is totally different, being closed and adorned with thin wires on which there are tiny colored beads strung and small pieces of mother of pearl at the end. [I have several of these knives and will post pictures when I can again upload from my digital camera. :(]

Once again, there are virtually no data to support an association between the tribes of northern Luzon and the bolo that is the subject of this discussion. The man in the photo shows few, if any, physical features to suggest he might come from this region. There is an old article by Dean Worcester entitled Headhunters of Northern Luzon in the September, 1912 National Geographic that has many pictures of the tribal groups that live in the mountainous areas of this region. Another article by the same author, The Non-Christian People of the Philippine Islands, provides further photographs of many other Filipino tribal groups. While the text is dated and somewhat "paternalistic," the photographs are a good historical record of the times, and are helpful to the present discussion.

A lot of the thoughts on this thread have been by analogy rather than based on data. Our friend, Ruel, would urge us to be more critical in our thinking on this subject. I don't wish to stifle people's comments, but what we need now is reliable information in the form of historical records or direct observation. Saying what we have not seen, or what other people have not found, only takes us so far.


Jim McDougall 30th January 2005 03:53 AM

The well presented and detailed data you post here is outstanding! Exactly what I had hoped for, supported observations and comments on the ideas and suggestions added in the discussion thus far. Knowing that your personal knowledge and expertise on the weapons and culture of these regions is well established and based largely on travel and first hand field study throughout them, places your observations in key importance and qualifies the material discussed thus far accordingly.

While I understand Ruel's emphasis on critical thinking based on academically based discussion, I think that in our 'discovery' stage of analysis it is important to 'put all cards on the table',so to speak. I think that reading the various thoughts and perceptions posted on this thread, whether they are plausible or not, are important to be aware of, and as I have noted, are very educational to those of us not as well versed in this particular sector of weapons study. In the reverse sense of identification, it is sometimes important to consider what something is not, and progressively eliminate, to reach the most plausible conclusion of what it is.

Your excellent and categoric attention to the thoughts discussed to this point on this elusive chopper form establishes an important benchmark for us to continue with direction, and as you have well stated, bring in supported and referenced data to move toward the most plausible, or even better, final conclusion.

Thanks very much Ian :) !
Very best regards,

Andrew 30th January 2005 04:20 AM

Great post, Ian.

I once casually mentioned that I consider what we do on this forum as a kind of "sword free-association". This thread is a perfect example of this.

I also like Jim's playing card metaphor. I offered up the only observation I felt comfortable making. My "cards" if you will. By itself, that observation is useless. Factor in the other comments, and we may get somewhere. Maybe. :D

If not, I imagine someone will dig this thread up when more information comes to light. *shrug*

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