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Weapons of the Philippines

Filipino Steel Knives and Daggers

Steel Knives and Daggers
The Filipino ironsmith anciently learned how to forge iron and temper steel. The Moro fabricates the finest blades in artistic designs (Nos. 4 – 12); weapons of other peoples, No. 1, Visayan, Samar Island; No. 2, Mandayan, southeastern Mondanao; No. 3, Bagobo, southeastern Mindanao; No. 13, Tagalog, central Luzon
Peoples of the Philippines
by Herbert W. Krieger
Smithsonian Institution War Background Studies Number Four
November 13, 1942

As varied as the clothing worn are the kinds of weapons used. Of the primitive weapons are to be mentioned first of all the bow and arrow. Poison-tipped arrows for the chase and for use in war are to be contrasted with the many-pointed fish arrow, in which often the detachable point is fastened by means of a string to the hollow bamboo shaft. In Indonesia the blowgun is limited in its distribution more to the west, particularly in Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, and Borneo it likewise survives in the western Philippine Island of Palawan. Here it is composed of bamboo, sometimes provided with a lance point, and so becomes a weapon for use at both short and long distances. When the bow is used, the long arrows are provided at their lower end with a nock and feathering. With them a hunter can shoot accurately at a distance of 20 to 25 meters.

The shields vary greatly in size and form, and their raw material often corresponds to their particular use. Shields that are to serve for the stopping of arrows are made preferably of soft wood which holds the arrow, while those that are to withstand sword blows or lance thrusts are constructed of the most durable hardwood. Thus a rattan shield withstands every spear thrust. The Asiatic round shield was the customary form in Jolo and to a limited extent in Mindanao, where Mohammedan influence was strong. Pagan peoples of Luzon preferred small elongated forms, while in Mindanao and Celebes appear broad shields, some of which are so large that they completely cover the bearer.

Widespread is the use of the lance, and especially preferred is the throwing lance. Among the cutting weapons two kinds are distinguished: one, a heavy, slender, curved blade that, like our swords, has the main weight in the grip the other type, the kampilan of the Moro and the common bolo which harks back to more primitive forms, is straight and broadens toward the point.

These weapons possess a considerable weight forward ; their advantage in contrast with the saber is the considerably heavier blow that may be struck. It is easy with such a weapon to cut through a human arm or neck with one blow. Its disadvantage lies in the loss of control of the weapon, even though momentary, that occurs after every blow. Nevertheless, this form of weapon with center of gravity far forward is favored throughout the Islands, and every locality and every Filipino people has its own local variation of it.
Curved war clubs.

Wooden clubs are classified according to their shapes, or according to the nature of the striking end and the method of its employment. They may be straight with plain or ornamented sides ; knobbed or bulbous at the striking end ; root-ended or curved near the striking end ; or they may be expanded into a disklike section at the terminal end. The form into which the club is shaped is probably most often arrived at extemporaneously or independently, so that there is not the same sequence of development from a comparatively simple clubbed weapon to the highly efficient and ornamental types as is the case with metallic cutting weapons or missile weapons. Thus, the war club, waddy, of the Australian aborigines is more like a straight unformed stick than are the clubs of any other people. On the other hand, the fiat, curved hunting club, the boomerang, is a highly specialized form of missile club.

In the islands of the Pacific the wooden club has ranked highest as a war weapon and has retained its position longest. In Melanesia and Polynesia the variety of types, as well as the degree of skill exercised in ornamental carvings and wrappings, have reached their greatest development.

The wooden war clubs of the Philippines were of two kinds, the one probably more ancient than the other. The older type and at the same time the more widely disseminated is the curved or root-ended club. It is usually somewhat bulbous at the striking end and tapers gradually to a grip handle at the base end. The clubs of this type are highly polished and are formed from a hardwood of the molave type. The greatest diameter in section is at the bulbous striking end, from which point a tapered curve of the club is effected so that the terminal end lies nearly at right angles to the body of the club. The club is nearly always octagonal in section, either throughout its entire length or merely at the bulbous striking end.
The spear.

It has been assumed that occupational activities of the different Filipino tribes have to a great extent caused adoption or retention of the bow, the spear, or the blowgun. The bow has been termed the natural weapon of the hunter, while the spear has been adopted by those

tribes that gave up hunting and life in the forest and became agriculturalists instead. There is probably some truth and some error in each of these assertions. The bow is a primitive weapon and was retained by those tribes that remained primitive forest dwellers and hunters, while the blowgun is a much more advanced weapon. Both the bow and the blowgun are designed to increase prehensility of the arm and both employ the aid of a natural force. The general culture level, however, of the Filipino and his subjection to higher Asiatic cultures lend probability to the statement that the blowgun is a primitive Indonesian weapon. Furthermore, the blowgun was found in general use in the Philippines along with the spear at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards. The blowgun is employed by some Negrito tribes, but not by all. For instance, the Luzon Negritos did not use the weapon. In the same manner that iron weapons are used by Negrito tribes today whenever possible, they may formerly have acquired the blowgun. The primitive Negrito-Malay Batak and Tagbanua of Palawan, the pagan Bagobo, and the Yakan Moro of today use the blowgun as did the Tagalog and Visayan tribes and other more civilized Filipino tribes of early Spanish times. The spear is probably older than the blowgun, as the simplicity of its construction in its most elementary form would seem to indicate. Originally tipped with bamboo, its shaft was usually constructed of the palma brava or of a bamboo with sharpened end. The notion of fashioning a hollow-tube blowgun may have originateti (sic) through the prior use of some hollow-tube spear. With the advent of iron culture and its more general availability for such purposes, iron was substituted for the wood or bamboo spear head. Dr. A. E. Jenks writes that
the head-hunter’s battle-ax replaced the spear and the sword in parts of the headhunting area of northern Luzon. In this manner, tribal bent was definite. A group that used the ax employed it consistently and had no swords. The ax cannot be said to be the earlier form; but it is that which prevailed among the more primitive tribes possessing least iron and least ability in its manufacture.

The distribution of weapons of offense other than the bow throughout Indonesia and more particularly within the Philippines follows no one general principle. Factors contributing to a great variety in design, type of weapon, materials, and ornamentation seem to vary with each locality and tribal group. The larger factors of cultural influence, scarcity, or presence of a plentiful metal supply, and occupational need or tribal bent combined with a preference for or aversion to hand-to-hand fighting, are in each group the deciding factors.
The spear was formerly in general use throughout the Philippines The wooden spear or one with a bamboo blade gradually lost vogue as

the supply of iron became cheap and plentiful enough to serve as a substitute material. The method of hafting seems to vary with the degree of knowledge of metalcraft possessed by the individual tribal groups. In the northern sections of Luzon, in the Igorot country, the usual method is to insert a metal tang into the wooden shaft. The place of junction is usually strengthened by an iron or braided rattan ferrule. An iron ferrule, spud, or cap is placed over the base end or butt of the shaft for its protection.

Characteristic features of the Negrito bow and arrow.–The bow is the principal weapon of the Negrito in the Philippine Islands and elsewhere in Indonesia, in the Andaman Islands, and in Africa. The bow, as fit is usually made by the Negrito, consists of a simple, plain, unwrapped bow stave, rounded in section and often possessing a longitudinally grooved inner surface. It is provided with a bow string of twisted root or bark fiber. The more crudely constructed bows of some of the Malayan Filipino tribes are merely staves of palmwood or of bamboo flattened toward the ends.

The bow, in contrast with primitive clubbing or throwing weapons, is really a primitive gun. It lends increased prehensility to the hand and, when flexed, brings into application a natural force to aid muscular strength. The arrow as a missile weapon lends itself well to the roving and rather furtive )fife habits of the forest-dwelling Negrito. The Negrito arrow varies with the purpose for which fit îs to be employed, as for hunting deer and wild pig, for small game, for fishing, and in war. It is either provided with palmwood, bamboo, or iron-tipped points, and is either of simple, compound, or composite harpoon construction.

Antiquity of the bow in Malaysiar-The bow was formerly in general use among the more highly cultured Malayan Filipino peoples as well as among the more primitive Indonesiana. Old accounts by various Spanish writers relate how practically all of the Filipino tribes employed the bow. Archers were enlisted or, rather, drafted into service on many of the Spanish expeditions undertaken for purposes of war, conquest, and exploration. Padre Caspar de San Augustin relates that Governor de Sande took with him 1,500 Filipino bowmen from the Provinces of Pangasinan, Cagayan, and the Visayan Islands can his expedition against Borneo. A few years later, in 1593, Governor Dasmariñas had with him Filipino bowmen on his expedition against the Moluccas. Artieda describes large bows employed by the Filipino, more powerful than those of English archers. Some of the Filipino tribes mentioned by early writers as using the bow are the Tagalog of the central Luzon plains, all the pagan tribes of the mountainous region of northern Luzon, as also the

civilized Ilocano the pagan tribes of Mindanao, the Mangyan of Mindoro, the Batak of Palawan, the civilized Bikol of southern Luzon the Visayan, and Moro in fact, all tribes, peoples, and nationalities with which contact was established and whose culture consequently became known to the civilized world. The Moro, like many of the other Filipino peoples, continue to use the bow and arrow even at the present time. Formerly, arrows and lances were presented as ceremonial offerings to their deity and were hurled into the waters surrounding Jolo and Zamboanga when the Moro were embarking on an expedition. Some Filipino peoples who have adopted other weapons or who have allowed the use of the bow and arrow to lapse into a subordinate position still use the bow as a toy or in shooting birds or other small game. Dr. A. E. Jenks refers to such secondary use of the bow among the Bontoc-Igorot.

Small boys in Bontok pueblo make for themselves tiny bows 1 1/2 feet or 2 feet long with which they snap light arrows a few feet. But the instrument is of the crudest, merely a toy, and is a thing of the day, being acquired from the culture of the Ilocano who live in the pueblo. The Igorot claim they never employed the bow and arrow, and to-day, at least consider the question as to their ever using it as very foolish, since, they say, pointing to the child’s toy, it is nothing. . . The Ibalao of the southeastern Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, and adjacent Isabella employ the bow constantly.

In an account by Dr. John Frances Careri dating back to 1693-1697, the Zambales nationality is reported as using the bow and arrow, a short spear, and a short hand weapon or knife which was worn at the girdle. The use of poisoned arrows was noted. These arrows were pointed with iron or sharp stones. A peculiarity of the iron arrowheads was in the boring of the head so that it would break off when entering the victim’s body. A wooden shield that was twice as long as broad was attached to the arm by horizontal wooden supports at the back of the shield. This shield was employed both for parrying and as a target.

Some of the older types of war arrows of the Moro are very similar to ancient Zambales arrows in that the head, consisting either of stone, metal, bone, or ivory, comes off in the wound made by the arrow. The arrow- head is sunk into or socketed over the foreshaft so that the shaft may become detached while the arrowhead remains in the wound.
The Malaysian self-bow: parts, function, materials. The type of bow used in the Philippine Islands is the self -bow it is not reinforced. The fiat bows of the southern islands are often wrapped with ornamental transverse windings of rattan splints and the overlay is then waxed with a black gummy cement. As the bow stave is of palmwood in both the wrapped bow and in the unwrapped, and as the stave is usually formed

in the same manner — convexly rounded in section toward the outer or front side and fiat or concave on the inner side — it appears that the wrapping is purely ornamental and is not a survival of an older type of Asiatic composite bow with its layers of reinforcement. The bow is always held vertically by the Negritos and by the Malayan bowmen. The bow stave is usually longer than the height of the archer. This applies also to the Moro and to those nationalities that have adopted the use of the horse. In their case the introduction of horses did not lead to the shortening of the bow, whereby fit could be used to advantage in hunting from horseback as was the case with the North American Indian. This does not imply that the Filipino bow did not gradually assume specialized functions, but specialization in Filipino weapon production reached its greatest extent in the manufacture of metallic hand weapons for cutting and slashing. In this one may see environmental factors, the forest and the tropical climate, operative. The bow, however, remained relatively rather crude and obsolescent except among the primitive Negrito tribes, whose livelihood depends upon the skillful use of this weapon upon which their best efforts and greatest skill are lavished.

Philippine arrow poisons.-The well-known practice of poisoning the tips of the tiny missile darts shot from the sumpitan or blowgun is repeated by several Filipino tribes and peoples. In Java and other Indonesian islands the juice of the upas tree is employed for this purpose. The sap of the upas tree is procured by boring a hole in the trunk. Small containers made from a joint of a bamboo stem are filled with the creamy liquid ; they are then tightly closed so as to exclude the air. When exposed to the air fit rapidly turns black. The arrow or dart point is simply smeared with the juice if fit is fresh, the wound is sure to be fatal if exposed to air the virulency of the poison seems to be greatly diminished.

Raymond F. Bacon (Philippine Journ. Sci., vol. 3, No. 1, February 1905) reports some results of experiments conducted on Philippine arrow poisons. He finds that the sap of Antiaris toxicaria Leschenault is identical with the sap of the upas tree. This poisonous sap is used on blowgun arrows by the Tagbanua of San Antonio Bay, near the southern end of the island of Palawan. On the island of Mindoro the native use of this material for the poisoning of arrows has been noted near Bulalacao. The Negritos of Bataan Province on the island of Luzon are reported as employing the bark and sap of two trees, the Diospyros canomoi and the bicag, in the production of arrow poison. Various other poisons are produced from fermented pineapple leaves and animal poisons, none of them, however, rivaling in strength the antiaris poison extracted

from the upas, the use of which on the blowgun darts is quite sufficient to bring down and to kill some of the larger animals.
The crossbow.

Built-up bows are made by the Moro who use them as crossbows. The bow stock is composed of two or three pieces of springy, close-fibered wooden strips, wrapped or bound together with wood splints, corded fibers, or hide strips. Such a bow stave is generally connected with a gunstock, which is composed of finely finished hardwood and is provided with the proper triggers made of wood, wire, or bone for gripping and releasing the bow cord.

In Asia the crossbow occurs both in China and in Japan also in the hill country of Burma, in north Siam, and in Assam. The Aino of northern Japan make a crossbow set as a spring trap in hunting bears. In the Nicobar Islands the crossbow is used as a gun for shooting birds. It is their only type of bow. A toy crossbow, brought by Dr. W. L. Abbott from the island of Simalur off the south coast of Sumatra, has an ingenious arrangement of the bolt which is placed in a groove within a hollow joint of bamboo. The crossbow of the Philippine Islands seems to have been widely distributed in the past and to have been much modified in its form and usage through contact with the Chinese and the Spanish. These modifications consist chiefly in the use of the Chinese repeating crossbow with its movable block magazine; also in the shaping of the crossbow stock and the trigger release made after the fashion of the Spanish rifle.
Blowgun or sumpitan.

The blowgun is primarily a forest weapon. Its use against man or the larger beasts of prey is practically unknown. The reason for this is to be sought in the structure of the weapon and in the nature of its missiles. It is preeminently an effective weapon against small birds or small animals such as monkeys, where stealth and absolute silence are required to make a shot effective. A native walking along a forest path can detect from the traces left on the ground, such as fragments of nuts, etc., the presence of game birds or monkeys high up in the tree tops. A shot from the blowgun may become effective, the game bagged, and the hunter ready for the next opportunity all in perfect silence. This is possible because the poisoned dart causes no outcry such as would be heard if some other missile were employed.
The darts are always light and their range short. pith or cotton plug causes the dart to fit closely in the tube-a necessity because the missile depends for its expulsion from the tube on the sudden release of compressed air from the mouth of the operator

The blowgun has enjoyed a wide distribution in the past, though it survives chiefly in Borneo, Malay Peninsula, and in northern South America. The principles involved in its construction and operation seem

to imply that it is a weapon of very ancient lineage and represents a wide range of diffusion. Although primarily a forest weapon of Malaysia and tropical America, it formerly appeared on both the east coasts of Asia, including Japan, and in eastern North America as far north as the area occupied by the Iroquois. The American form consists essentially of two grooved halves fitted together with a nicety and wrapped with spiral lashings of flexile basketry material, then coated with wax on the outside. The more common form of blowgun occurring in Indonesia consists of two tubes, one inside the other. The inner tube is formed from an unjointed reed placed within an outer palm or bamboo tube and joined with wax. A basketry wrapping cover and the American type of grooved tube are not unknown.

Use of the blowgun by the Negrito.-As employed by the Negritos,, such as the Batak of Palawan, the blowgun is subsidiary to the bow. When hunting for fresh meat, Negritos will send a pack of dogs skirmishing finto the forest until a deer is startled from cover. As it dashes wildly by, the little forest pygmies shoot at it with missiles from their bows. The deer continues running pursued by dogs until it falls. Before consuming the meat, however, the priest, babalian, or headman offers the entrails to the spirits that have rewarded their efforts.

The blowgun is an effective weapon in the hands of the Negrito in obtaining such game as birds and monkeys. Like the primitive users of the blowgun in South America and Malaysia, the Batak relies on stealth and the effect of his poisoned darts to paralyze temporarily the game that he has silently approached. The poisoned darts are alkaloid and the poison is supposed not to contaminate the flesh of the animal shot. A pygmy Batak will aim his blowgun at a monkey in a tall tree, and with a sudden puff of air from his lips send the dart on its way. The monkey may seemingly remain uninjured until the poison takes effect, when it drops to the ground. Larger game with thicker skins must be killed with an arrow that can penetrate more deeply. The nomad Negrito possesses bows of excellent workmanship, which, together with his quiver of arrows and his other weapons consisting of blowgun and darts, a knife, and a bolo or two, constitute his most valuable and practically his only possessions.
The blowgun, sumpitan (Malay) is a remarkable weapon in many respects, and especially because it is one of the few inventions of uncivilized utilizing the force of compressed air ; others being the popgun, the fire piston, and the piston bellows. It appears that these inventions are coterminous in range and are products of Malay inventiveness.

Guaranteed to make an impression

Tools and construction scrap can be encountered as weapons, often used very much like a police nightstick.

(On a related note, in Jersey City commercial establishments there was a saying, “Don’t give them a weapon.” What that meant was that if a bat was kept handy for attitude adjustment of the overly irate, the instrument needed to be out of sight, so as not to fall into the wrong hands. Similarly, the billy club below decided to leave a motorcycle cop insensitive to its feelings, who left it alone in the street for hours every day.)


The usual reaction and standard technique for defense is to block a strike to the head with the outer edge of an arm — the ulna bone. This was explained to me as “the arm goes, but you save the head,” which is just what happens. Because damaging the ulna bone in this way is so easy, a break here — no matter what the cause — is called a nightstick fracture. What’s hoped for is that a knockout or fatal blow to the head is prevented and then the attacker receives a disabling punch. If that doesn’t happen, trying to fly with one wing into the headwind of an armed attacker will certainly pose a challenge. For a trained fighter, though, if only by blocking kicks (even without other conditioning), the ulna bone is considerably toughened. Even so, it’s never going to match a heavy steel rod.



The Isshinryu karate double bone block is much better able to deal with blunt object trauma.

Back when I was managing the Tunnel Bar in Jersey City, a drifter tried to club me on the skull with a quart bottle of wine. Instead of intercepting the swing, I quickly stepped behind the aggressor and gave him a strong shove. That threw him off balance and — combined with his downward arcing arm — sent him flying forward. The bottle hit the concrete and my would-be assailant followed face first into it. This was a sad and sorry situation, but as Kuklinski “The Iceman” remarked in an interview, “It’s better to give than to receive.”

When someone escalates or launches an attack by reaching for a concealed knife or a gun, intent becomes obvious and their hands are down. For a very small window of opportunity, you face a defenseless opponent who can be pummeled in the same way Griffith destroyed Paret. The story will be quite different if you hesitate until the holding hand comes back into the picture.

Common items meant as weapons can be hidden in plain sight and so detection is complicated. A steel rod might be laying anywhere about a job site. A tire iron easily can be under a car seat. The ill-willed won’t necessarily need to dig into a pocket to grab something. And it generally isn’t illegal to possess or carry utilitarian hardware. Everybody should have a tire iron in the trunk of their car. A biker could tote a wrench in a back pocket, ready to make certain that the vibration from a Harley engine hasn’t loosened the wheel nuts to a dangerous degree.



At 1:05, an adjustable wrench is used as a weapon in this biker brawl.


This is a hook that was used by longshoremen to move crates. In these days of container ships, I don’t know how often anything like this is seen. I include it because my mother told, working as a nurse in the ’50s, of assisting in an emergency room when a victim of domestic violence was brought in who had been grievously injured by this type of implement.



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