«Cuban» machete 5966 Friday January 8th, 2021 – Posted in: Arqueologia – Tags: Diego Conde Eguileta, Espadas Museu Ourense, Jéssica Gomes, Santiago Vilar Labarta
This article belongs in a series titled «Modern swords of the Ourense Archaeological Museum» which consists on technical files of the said Museum´s weapon collection. These files were documented by Juan Diego Conde Eguileta and Santiago Vilar Labarta who studied, besides their historical context and archaeological value, the fencing characteristics [or properties] of the swords. Due to their variety and singularity of some of the documented pieces, we think these files could be of interest for the HEMA community. You can read other articles in this series here.
The Archaeological Museum of Ourense keeps a large amount of pieces acquired by the Comisión Provincial de Monumentos Históricos y Artísticos de Ourense. This commision was founded August 8, 1844, and its function was to collect and guard the artistic heritage of the province. There is no data on the work of this commission until march 1898, when the bi-monthly publication of a newsletter begins, documenting its activities. The publication of these newsletters continued until 1960.
Among the many pieces purchased by the Comisión de Monumentos throughout the province of Ourense there are ten swords from the modern age. Of these pieces, the oldest can be dated in the end of the 17th century, and the most modern one in the beginnings of the 20th century. We had the privilege of being granted access to these swords in order to study them from both a historical and practical point of view. To perform this study we created a data collection template which allowed us to make a measurement of the pieces as exhaustive as possible. The curators of the museum even allowed us to wield them to adquire a better understanding of their use and functionality.
In this article we will talk about one of the late period pieces in the collection. It is a machete of the overseas spanish army which catalogue number is the 5966. But before begin with the analysis of the piece, it is necessary to explain what kind of weapon we are talking about.
The machete is an everyday work tool in wild regions as those of Cuba and the Antillas. Its introduction as part of the garrison troops gear is before 1868, start year of the insurrection movement in Cuba.
The “cuban” machetes, until its standardization in the last quarter of the XIX century, vary a lot in terms of hilt morphology, so this is not very useful to its classification. Below we present an enumeration of different kinds of handles and hilts found in this kind of machetes to show the wide variety of them:
- Wood grip panels, usually with carved squares.
- Resin grip panels.
- Paste grip panels.
Even so, the shape of the handle varies widely, being ergonomic (with “hollows” for the fingers) in some examples.
Pommel can be inexistent, it can be a whole with the grip, or with the shape of an animal head (usually of an eagle but of a lion or a wolf too).
- Without knuckle bow: the blade gets out directly from the handle.
- Quillons in “S” shape.
- Hilt formed by a shell, quillons and knuckle bow.
- Cuphilt with knuckle bow made of one plain piece of metal (similar to that of a fencing saber).
- Saber hilt.
Due to this variability, the best way to classify this kind of weapon is through the blade. According to its morphology, we can catalogue the machetes in two types:
- First kind or “de Guanabacoa”: narrow blade, straight, of regular thickness and length, and with grooves in its second third. The name refers to its main place of production, the town of Guanabacoa, close to the capital.
- Second kind: wider blade than the other kind, right, less thick and without groove. In this kind of machete, that would generalize during the Ten Years war (1868 – 1878), the blades with German or US manufacturing brands, inscribed in Spanish, were very abundant.
Once determined the kind of sword we are talking about, let´s do the review of the piece existing in the Archaeological Museum of Ourense funds. For that purpose we used a data collection sheet, where we detailed both the characteristics of the sword and the different parts of which is made. We hope this information to be useful for the researcher and for the HEMA practitioner, as they contribute with a lot of information on the behavior and features of the sword in relation to its handling.
- Type: Machete “cubano”
- Code: 5966
- Total length: 78.6cm
- Weight: 769gr
- Balance point: 7.7cm
- Armourer marks: SOLINGEN 524/ Engraving that seems to represent the head of a tiger. / PRIM UALITAT
- Kind of hilt: crossguard.
- Description: machete of an officer of the Spanish overseas army.
- Number of planes: single edge.
- Grooves: no.
- Length: 62.7cm
- Width in the basis: 3.2cm
- Width in the middle: 3.3 cm
- Width in the point: 3.2cm
- Thickness in the basis: 0.3cm
- Thickness in the middle: 0.25cm
- Thickness in the point: 0.2cm
- Tang: covered by the hilt and the handle.
- Union with the pommel: the tang is fit inside the piece that forms the handle and the pommel.
- Description: straight single edge blade with a diagonal cut (crescent from edge toback), which forms the point.
- Type: flat quillons with “S” shape.
- Material: iron
- Armorer marks: no
- Radius: —
- Length of quillons: 12.5 cm
- Diameter of quillons: —
- Details of the quillons: swell towards the point.
- Description: quillons in “S”. The long quillon (corresponding the edge) curves towards the handle, while the short one (that of the side of the back of the blade) curves towards the blade.
- Length: 11cm
- Width at the crossguard: 2.6cm
- Width at the middle: 3.1cm
- Width at the pommel: 3.3cm
- Material: golden brass with bone grip panels.
- Description: body of golden brass to which bone grip panels have been screwed. The handle widens towards the pommel and its shape is slightly anatomical. It is very heavy.
- Shape: lion´s head.
- Length: 4.1cm
- Circumference: 4.6cm
- Description: roaring lion´s head with red glass eyes (missing one).
We will now comment the collected data to facilitate its interpretation and allow our readers to get an idea as close as possible (with the limitations imposed by the written word) to the actual features of the piece.
As can be seen in the data sheet, this is a middle size and light sword, with the point of balance near the hilt. However, when wielding, it feels quite heavy in the hand. This is because the grip concentrates many of the mass of the sword. The combination of these two characteristics is a nimble and manageable weapon, but not very suitable for a fencing with too many blade contact. For this reason makes its job as a combination of war weapon and tool for the jungle.
The morphology of the blade, plain and with a narrow section, makes it mainly cutting weapon. On the other side, its point of balance not very far from the hand, while doing it more manageable, does not help its cutting capacity.
It is, in my opinion, a weapon with an acceptable cutting capacity although it could have problems to cut through moderately thick fabric as warm clothing or a campaign cloak (something that, in any case, is not going to happen in those latitudes), or a jacket. It is, therefore, a tool well adapted to the environment where it was used.
Hilt, with their flat and “S” shaped quillons, offers acceptable hand protection without being cumbersome. The shape of the grip is not too comfortable and its excess weight is noticeable. This fact, together with the materials with which it is made and its ornamentation, seem to indicate that it is an officer’s weapon, designed more to show off rank than to be used in the thick of the fight.
The characteristics of the blade, as well as its manufacturing marks (which include a numbering), suggest that it is the type used in the machete modelo 1891 para la infantería del ejército de cuba, declared of regulatory use in 1892 (R.O. of 9 of January), assembled in a personalized hilt for an official.
We can´t offer an exact dating of the piece as there is no documentary record of its entry in the museum. So, to get a rough idea from the time it was used, we must rely on a series of data not directly related to the piece:
- Between 1868 and 1878 the use of the machetes with blades of American and German manufacture, with brands in Spanish, spread among the officers, that acquired them in a private capacity.
- The entry of this piece in the museum collection is prior to 1898 (start date of the publication of the bulletin of the Monuments Commission, in which this piece does not appear).
With these data, which allow us to date the piece in the second half of the 19th century, we can venture that this weapon coud have participated in any of the phases of the Cuban War previous to the conflict of 1898 with the United States.
To identify the origins of the machete and for the different images of different kinds of hilt and grip we used the following sources:
- B. Barceló Rubí. Armamento Portátil Español 1764-1939. ISBN: 84-7140-138-X.