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Old 27th January 2017, 07:19 AM   #1
Ian
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Lightbulb Those "Negrito bolos" are actually Ilocano knives

Part I: The "Negrito bolo"

Anyone who is interested in edged weapons of the Philippines, and searches online for such items, will eventually come across knives labeled "Negrito bolo." For the most part, these are inexpensive, well made working knives that have been dressed up a bit for the tourist trade. U.S. servicemen who served in the Philippines during and after WWII were a prime target, and many of these knives found their way back to the US and ended up on our markets.

The blades on these bolos come in three main forms: (1) a heavy, clipped, single-edged blade that resembles a so-called "Bowie" knife; (2) a wavy double-edged blade that has sometimes been called a "Luzon kris" (a blade, however, completely different from the Moro kris); and (3) an intermediate form with a single-edged recurved blade. Blade lengths vary from about 6 inches up to 20+ inches.

Features often found on the blades of these knives are rather crudely inscribed versions of "Phillippines," "Philippine Islands," and "negrito bolo." Occasionally, wavy patterns have been added to the sides of the blade with a small grinding tool—these are crude decorations that appear to have no special significance. Less common blade decorations include incised scenes of huts, vegetation, water buffalo and other Philippine motifs. Deeply incised initials (usually two) are found at forte on some examples, especially on the "Bowie" types. It is possible the initials are makers' marks.

These bolos almost always have a straight brass guard and brass ferrule that is usually brazed on to the guard. Because the "Bowie" style does not have a central tang, but one offset toward the back of the blade, the length of the guard on the cutting edge side is longer than the other side; the result is that equal lengths of the guard protrude beyond the blade on either side. For the "kris" style blade, the tang is centered on the top of the blade, and the two sides of the brass guard are of equal length. For the intermediate, "recurved blade" style, the tang is offset similar to the "Bowie" style, and there is a corresponding unequal length of the two sides of the brass guard. These are consistent features, and can be seen in the examples shown in the pictures below.

The remainder of the hilt is made of dark horn, or less commonly wood, with a full length tang either peened over a brass plate, or, less commonly, the end of the tang has a screw thread that takes a washer and nut. It is my impression that peened tangs are found on older examples of these knives, and that threaded tangs were made more recently, but I have found no reference to indicate that this is the case.

The end of the horn hilt is almost always carved in a characteristic fashion. About 1.5–2 inches from the end of the handle, there is a prominent groove on the under surface of the hilt (i.e., the side continuous with the edge of the blade), after which the pommel widens into a three-lobed structure that might represent a flower bud. The tang protrudes slightly from the middle lobe of this structure, where it is either peened over a plate, or threaded to take a nut and washer to secure the hilt to the blade. On the "Bowie" style and intermediate, "recurved blade" forms, the tang bends down a little at the pommel. In contrast, the "kris" style has a straight tang, and the groove that precedes the three-lobed structure may continue all the way around the hilt.

The groove just before the pommel seems to accommodate the little finger ("pinky notch") and may be a feature that assists in gripping the bolo. The "Bowie" and "recurved blade" styles, being single-edged, need only one such notch, whereas the double-edged "kris" style has one on each side to accommodate gripping the knife from either side of the hilt (see attached pictures).

Many of these knives come in leather sheaths of varying quality and decoration. Wooden scabbards are uncommon and probably reflect earlier manufacture.


-----------------Attachments showing "Negrito bolos"--------------------

Figure 1. Various swords posted previously on this site by PepperSkull
A. Visayan sundang
B. "Negrito bolo" (Bowie type)
C. "Negrito bolo" (Kris type—recent interpretation from Kris Cutlery with atypical hilt)
D. Dahong palay, Luzon
E. "Negrito bolo" (Bowie type—note wavy pattern of decoration on the blade from small grinding device)
F. Older "Negrito bolo" form (Bowie style) with iron ferrule, small disc guard and wooden scabbard
Figure 2. Typical "Negrito bolo" (Kris type). "Negrito bolo" inscribed on blade.

Figure 3. "Negrito bolo" (Recurved blade type). "Negrito bolo" inscribed on blade.

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Last edited by Ian; 28th January 2017 at 06:42 PM. Reason: Spelling
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Old 27th January 2017, 08:28 AM   #2
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Lightbulb Part 2

Part 2: Not Negrito but Ilocano

Simply put, "Negrito bolos" bear no resemblance to typical Negrito knives. The Negritos are hill tribe groups who have the capacity to work iron into bolos, but they are metal poor communities with little access to the auto leaf springs from which the "Negrito bolos" are made. Historically, the Negritos had to scrounge for iron to make their knives and arrow heads, and they seldom ventured into the market places frequented by tourists. The Negritos often bought bolo blades from other ethnic groups to meet their needs. Furthermore, they produced almost nothing made of brass or bronze. Many of these points are covered in the article by Fox who conducted his research in 1946-1947 and published it in 1952. The "Negrito bolos" were emerging around the time of his research.

So where do these bolos come from?

Based on the style of knives produced and the materials used, especially the use of brass for the guards and ferrules, we can say with some confidence that these are most likely Ilocano in origin. The Ilocano are the third largest ethnic group in the Philippines (after the Cebuano/Visayan and Tagalog groups) and are a sophisticated culture well versed in metalworking in iron and brass. Ilocanos are found widely throughout much of the Philippines, but they are particularly concentrated in the lowland areas of northern Luzon, extending down to Pangasinan, Zambales and Pampanga Provinces. Their range overlaps that of the Negritos whose preferred habitat are the hills.

Attached below are several examples of Ilocano knives that reflect many of the same features seen in the "Negrito bolos."

All of this raises the question of why would the Ilocano knife makers put "Negrito bolo" on their knives for sale to US servicemen and tourists? I have my own thoughts on this but I'm interested to hear from others also.

Ian.


-----------------Attachments: Examples of Ilocano knives that reflect features seen in "Negrito bolos"------------------

Figure 1. Ilocano knife from Calaciao, Pangasinan Province. Note the brass ferrule and "pinky notch" with tri-lobed pommel. Tang is placed off center. This knife was discussed here previously.

Figure 2. Ilocano dahong palay. The brass guard and integrated ferrule are well seen, as well as the off center placement of the tang.

Figure 3. Pair of small Ilocano knives. Again, the typical brass guard and integrated ferrule are evident. Tang is placed centrally for these double-edged knives.
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Last edited by Ian; 27th January 2017 at 06:08 PM.
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Old 27th January 2017, 05:45 PM   #3
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Default More examples from completed online auctions

To further illustrate how common these items are, here are some of the sellers' pics for items described as "Negrito bolos" that were sold on the most popular online auction site since October, 2016.

All three blade forms are represented. There is one interesting presentation knife from the Commander of Clark AFB to Maj. Gen. Coverdale that reads:

MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT F. COVERDALE............COL JIMMY L. MAIURO
.................................................. ...........................COMMANDER
......................MOMENTO (sic) OF VISIT.................374TH TAW (MAC)
.................................................. .............................CLARK AB
.................................................. ...........................PHILIPPINES

These "Negrito bolos" were probably readily accessible to personnel on Clark AFB. A map showing the location of Clark AFB in Central Luzon is shown here, and it is apparent that it is close to substantial populations of Ilocano in the neighboring provinces of Pangasinan, Zambales and Pampanga.

---------------Attachments----------------
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Old 28th January 2017, 09:26 PM   #4
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Thank you Ian for this essay and info.

I have always wondered where these came from. There seems to her a plethora of them.
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Old 29th January 2017, 09:41 AM   #5
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Great post !!! Thank you very much, the information is very apreciated .
Thanks again
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Old 29th January 2017, 10:46 AM   #6
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Hello Ian,
interesting thread. This "Negrito Bolos" seems to be made only for selling to US servicemen and tourists like you said before so the inscription is done maybe to make them more interesting. Just a guess!

Regards,
Detlef
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Old 29th January 2017, 01:43 PM   #7
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I have a knife very similar to a few of these. The blade just says "Philipines"
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Old 29th January 2017, 02:59 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sajen
Hello Ian,
interesting thread. This "Negrito Bolos" seems to be made only for selling to US servicemen and tourists like you said before so the inscription is done maybe to make them more interesting. Just a guess!

Regards,
Detlef
Hi Detlef:

Yes, I think the "Negrito bolo" designation is for marketing purposes, targeting a particular audience, but why would the Negritos be considered a positive marketing "brand?" That's the interesting question here.

Ian.
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Old 29th January 2017, 03:44 PM   #9
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To suggest an answer to the question I posed—What is so special about the Negritos when marketing to US servicemen?—the attached obituary that appeared in the Chicago Tribune on March 8, 1970 offers clues.

This article talks about the death of a Negrito chief who was a WWII war hero, helping the US in its fight against the Japanese occupying forces. It also speaks of special treatment for the Negritos, ordered by General Douglas Macarthur, in recognition of their guerilla services to the US during WWII. I have not been able to find a copy of Macarthur's directive on this subject, but it seems to have been a substantial recognition of the Negritos because there was unhappiness among other Filipino groups about it.

My conclusion is that the designation "Negrito bolo" on these Ilocano knives was meant to capitalize on the esteem in which the Negritos were held during WWII, and the friendship that existed between the US troops on Clark AFB and the local Pinatubo Negrito population, many of whom lived within the boundaries of the base. This would explain why these "Negrito bolos" first appeared right after WWII.

It may also explain why Robert Fox chose the Pinatubo Negritos for his anthropological studies in 1946-1947.

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Old 30th January 2017, 08:49 AM   #10
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Very informative!
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Old 16th March 2017, 05:07 PM   #11
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Some recently sold Ilocano/Negrito knives.

The three on the left, with steel guards and ferrules, are all of recent manufacture--late 20th C. to the present. The largest one in the middle has a fist pommel, indicating that this style of hilt is still being made.

The two on the right have traditional brass fittings and are post-WWII but older than the others. The one on the farthest right has an atypical stacked hilt and no ferrule--perhaps a modified or custom made piece.

Ian.

-------------------Attachments--------------------

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Old 16th March 2017, 05:23 PM   #12
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This one is interesting. Dated "1946," it is one of the earliest of this distinct style of knives which likely were produced near the old US Clark AFB and sold extensively to US servicemen.

The pommel on this one appears to show a very early form of the tri-lobed form that is seen on so many of these knives. Unlike later versions, however, the tang emerges not from the center lobe but from the lobe at the back of the hilt. I have never seen this before. If you look at all the other pics in this post of the tri-lobed feature, the hilts have a curved tang that is peined over the end of the middle lobe. The knife shown here also has a particularly deep "pinky notch" that could only be achieved if the tang was straighter than later examples. Perhaps this knife represents a transition from an earlier style which just featured the "pinky notch" and a simpler style of pommel--such examples exist and are also reasonably common.

These Negrito/Ilocano knives are found frequently online, and are still being made. I think one can appreciate how the "Negrito" styles evolved from previous Ilocano knives at the end of WWII, why the "Negrito" inscriptions and other decorations were added, and how features/materials on these distinctive knives have shifted over time.

Ian

Addendum: I have added pics of another similar knife with an older style of hilt, also dated on the blade "1946," to show how the first knife may have evolved from the earlier simple form into the tri-lobed pommel form.

---------------------Attachments---------------------
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Old 18th March 2017, 04:24 PM   #13
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Fun story: I was buying some of these in Cebu years ago and part of the seller's pitch was to do an edge on full power hack at the street pole. Blade was great, I was already in at $8 lol. Doubling back, there were a lot of marks on that pole.....
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Old 18th March 2017, 06:39 PM   #14
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Hi nirghosa:

Yes, these are still found in major tourist centers around the country. When I was there in the 1990s and early 2000s they could be found in many "antique" stores, etc. Well made general purpose knives, and inexpensive as you say.

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Old 27th April 2018, 10:01 PM   #15
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I'm bringing this one back up to highlight another common blade form seen on Ilocano knives. This type has a "double-clip" profile on the spine of the blade: the spine starts out straight from the guard for a few inches, then has a distinct concave curve, followed by another concave curve that extends to the tip. In addition, the knife shown below has many other characteristic Ilocano traits: a full tang hilt with the tang peined over a plate (*), the carved out "pinky notch," the multifaceted grip (usually made of horn), a small metal ferrule and cross guard (usually brass), and a small bulge adjacent to the guard on the cutting edge.

This "double-dip" or "double-clip" feature on the back of the blade is not unique to Ilocano knives. It is seen quite commonly, for example, on knives from old European carving sets. A similar blade is present on a 19th C. Sheffield carving set shown below for comparison.

This blade form is seen not just on small Ilocano knives but also on sword length blades, an example of which is also shown.

Ian.

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Old 27th April 2018, 11:36 PM   #16
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Thanks for posting these, Ian!

I have 3 of these, one marked "Negrito Bolo" (21" blade of the s-curve type), one unmarked long and wide "Bowie", and the "Montana mine shaft" bolo (marked "PM" and "Philippines") I recently posted in another thread, which seems quite similar to the last example in your latest post. All are differentially hardened, with brass fittings, and faceted horn plate-peened hilts. Excellent bush knives, to say the least.
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Old 28th April 2018, 06:43 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Treeslicer
Thanks for posting these, Ian!

I have 3 of these, one marked "Negrito Bolo" (21" blade of the s-curve type), one unmarked long and wide "Bowie", and the "Montana mine shaft" bolo (marked "PM" and "Philippines") I recently posted in another thread, which seems quite similar to the last example in your latest post. All are differentially hardened, with brass fittings, and faceted horn plate-peened hilts. Excellent bush knives, to say the least.
You are welcome TS. I agree that these are rugged and handy general purpose knives. It's not surprising that many U.S. servicemen brought them back with them. These knives are still inexpensive in online auctions, probably because there are so many around. They make handy camp knives, etc. and being so cheap and durable it does not matter too much if they get a few dings. They were made for use and not just for show.

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