So ubiquitous, I am surprised they don’t sell them in the airport yet. How can you come to Costa Rica and not dream of swinging a machete? One of our first workshops during intern orientation is how to sharpen and use a machete, at least gringo style, as nothing we can do compares to the brilliance of a Tico who has been holding a blade since he was three years old. Have you seen an old timer use a machete? It is quite literally an extension of his arm. It is quite frankly a craft. As I was once told by a wise young Tico, your Machete is your resume. Keep it sharp and you will be respected. As a craft, people take it serious.
All this only demonstrates how little we know about this tool, in fact, what you call a Machete, may actually not be that at all. Or it might. Just as we call a paintbrush a paintbrush, an artist may have a dozen names for each of his tools.
With that confusing tidbit of information in mind, let’s find out what a machete is to a seasoned Tico. Juan Luis Salazar of La Iguana Chocolate took the time a few weeks ago to try and sort out this confusion as we were walking through his Cacao orchard. As it turns out there are many different kinds of Machetes, each with its own name, and each with its own purpose. According to Juan Luis what us gringos call a machete may actually be a Cuchillo, Rula, Guava, Puntancha, or yes, actually a machete.
Machete: A Machete refers to a short, wide bladed tool, most often used to chop grass at ground level. This tool will have a handle that is angled up from the blade so your knuckles are not dragging in the dirt. If you are going to buy this in a hardware store, you would ask for a machete de tierra. This does not look like your stereotypical Machete.
Cuchillo: A Cuchillo is a broad category, divided into the three subcategories of Rula, Guava, and Puntancha. When you picture a machete in your head, you are thinking of some form of a Cuchillo. Of course Cuchillo translates most commonly into knife, so that can confuse you as well.
Rula: Now a Rula is a long, thin bladed tool. There is no outward curve on the blade. It is commonly used for splitting bamboo, is very lightweight, and usually, after some use, will significantly taper from the handle to the tip.
Guava: A Guava is the quintessential tool. Long, a slight curving out of the blade, and evenly weighted. This is used for a bit of everything. Good for cutting grass, felling trees, and digging holes (if you are a skilled campesino ). When you buy a ¨machete¨ in the hardware store you are probably buying a Guava.
Puntancha: The Puntancha is recognizable because it makes its user look like a pirate. A medium length, deep curving, wide blade characterizes the Puntancha. Due to the Captain Hook curve of the blade the weight sits closer to the top 1/3 of the tool, which gives it advantages in certain tasks where more force and weight are needed.
Each of these tools has its own job. Looking outside-in towards any craftsman’s tools, they will always look the same to us, yet it is the job of the craftsman to wield each in its respective manner and to apprentice others below them so that the craft may continue. The Machete provides a beautiful example of this.
Hopefully this article clears up any confusion the next time you go to purchase a blade. Of course remember that that Machete doesn’t come sharpened, so you need to know which is the best tool for that job, Muelejon, Lima, Sharpened Tico Lima, Water Stone, Oil Stone, or Bench Grinder? Sharpening… just another essential craft to learn in Mastatal. But that is a whole other article.
From Rancho Mastatal's 2013 Second Quarter update