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A typical bolo or iták

Traditional bolos from the Visayas.

Various bolos

Early 20th century Cebuano Police officers armed with a pinuti sword (left) and a bolo (right)

A bolo is a large cutting tool of Filipino origin similar to the machete, used particularly in the jungles of Indonesia, the Philippines, and in the sugar fields of Cuba. The primary use for the bolo is clearing vegetation, whether for agriculture or during trail blazing.

The bolo is called an iták in Tagalog or sundáng in Cebuano, while in Hiligaynon, the blade is referred to as either a binangon or a talibong.

Historical significance

The bolo knife is common in the countryside due to its use as a farming implement. As such, it was used extensively during the colonial period as a manual alternative to ploughing with a carabao. It was also a common harvesting tool for narrow row crops found on terraces such as rice, mungbeans, soybeans, and peanuts.[1] Because of its availability, the bolo became a common choice of improvised weaponry to the everyday peasant.[2]

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.[3]


Bolos are characterized by having a native hardwood or animal horn handle, a full tang, and by a 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 vegetation. So-called "jungle bolos", intended for combat rather than agricultural work, tend to be longer and less wide at the tip.


Various types of bolos are employed. An assortment of bolos and related implements include:

  1. The all-purpose bolo: Used for all sorts of odd jobs, including breaking open coconuts.
  2. The haras: Similar to a small scythe, it is used for cutting tall grass.
  3. The kutsilyo: The term comes from the Spanish word cuchillo, meaning knife. Generally used to kill and bleed pigs during slaughter.
  4. A smaller bolo.
  5. The bolo-guna (or simply guna): A bolo specifically shaped for digging out roots and weeding.
  6. The garab: Used to harvest rice.
  7. A large pinuti: Traditionally it is tipped in snake, spider or scorpion venom and used for self-defense.
  8. The sundang: Supposedly used mainly to open coconuts. The sundang, also called "tip bolo" or itak, was a popular weapon of choice in the revolution against the Spanish colonial government and during the Philippine–American War.

Other uses of the term

In the U.S. military, the slang term "to bolo" – to fail a test, exam or evaluation, originated from the Philippine-American guerrilla forces during World War II; those guerrillas who failed to demonstrate proficiency in marksmanship were issued bolos instead of firearms so as not to waste scarce ammunition.[4]

Bolo is also used in Filipino martial arts or Eskrima as part of training.

See also


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