Join Date: Mar 2005
From 1723 onwards the Spanish rulers introduced extremely restrictive weapon bans and this is the reason that the navaja was invented. There were no navaja (as we know them) before that date. Up to that date Spaniards had far better weapons at their disposal!
After the bans, all effective weapons were restricted to the upper nobility. The lower nobility were allowed swords, but not firearms and the plebes nothing! In time the authorities accepted folding knives, but only if the blade could not be locked into position.
These bans were backed with an extremely harsh penal code. Anyone caught with a prohibited weapon got the works! (see pic of executed man for possessing a navaja). However, we do know that the degree of enforcement varied with the times and across jurisdictions, Southern Spain being more tolerant. Nevertheless, the laws were enforced sufficiently to just about kill off their own cutlery industry and ensuring that the majority of navajas in use by 1860 did not have full mechanical locks.
In my very carefully considered opinion, after examining all the facts available, the navaja is a vastly over rated knife, be it as a tool or weapon; Requiring two hands and being slow to open, as well as fragile, it cannot be considered an appropriate weapon - A mere 4ft wooden stick can overcome it with ease!
The Spaniards did not choose navajas because it was a great weapon, rather they defaulted to it, because:
a) Knives were an essential tool in agricultural societies and they needed a knife that they could carry; and
b) everything else was prohibited
They knew perfectly well that the fixed blade "cuchillo" (knife) and its variants were the best cut and thrust short arms, but so did the authorities and for this very reason they were banned.
That the opposite perception prevails is due to the misconceptions of present day writers who either make up their own version of history, or in their ignorance base their opinions on the Spanish myths and folklore invented by their intellectuals; These, in their nationalistic writings and paintings, mostly in the late 19th and early 20th century, eulogized the Spanish peasant and his ways, equating him with all that was noble and heroic in the land. Actually, this was in keeping with the then global literary trends and not unique to Spain. Just look at the image and lore surrounding the US cowboys, Argentinean Gauchos and our own pioneers and bushrangers.
None of this is to say that there was no violence in Old Spain, because there was plenty. But most of the blood-letting was in likelihood not committed with navajas, "mano a mano", but rather with whatever lay at hand, from kitchen knives, to axes and sticks, as was and remains the case today all over the world. As for the Spanish criminal elements, they considered themselves outside the law and used everything from swords to firearms, as they tend to do everywhere, regardless of bans.