The main purpose of the bolo is for agricultural use in clearing shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation. Today it is used by farmers in developing countries all over the world for a range of purposes. Some of the basic uses of the bolo are for toiling soil, chopping wood, opening coconut husks and shells, harvesting crops, and clearing paths in the forest. In earlier days and more drastic times, the bolo was employed as a weapon in emergencies.
The bolo is said to have originated in the Philippines, long ago, when the Filipinos were yet dwelling in small tribal villages. It was considered an all-purpose tool and every man carried one for his day-to-day work and regular life. When the Philippines was invaded by Portuguese explorers led by Ferdinand Magellan, Lapu-Lapu, a Filipino hero, and his brothers took the bolo up in arms against them. A new version of the bolo was developed at this time and its use became more similar to that of a tactical combat knife.
As a weapon, the bolo was used by the Filipinos up through World War II and it was also adopted by the U.S. Army in 1897, with new models being issued in 1904/10905, 1909, 1910, and 1917. At first, the bolo was a limited issue tool with a 12” blade and wood grips riveted in brass. It had an “S” crossguard with a heavy, leather sheath. The 1917 U.S. issue bolo was slightly different with a 10 ¼” blade that was rounded but with a double-edged spear point. The pommel was redone to a straight, bayonet-style, and the scabbard was now made of pine with an olive-drab cotton cover. There is a U.S. military term, to bolo, which means to fail a test. This term developed in WWII when Philippine-American guerrilla troops who couldn’t pass a marksmanship test were issued bolos instead of rifles.
Eventually, there came to be several specialized varieties of bolo, still mostly used in the Philippines. Some of the different types of bolo are the:
- Pinuti bolo – used for heavy jobs requiring the cutting of wood and lumber but in history, it was sometimes tipped in snake venom and used as a weapon.
- Haras bolo – has a long, curved blade and is used primarily for cutting tall grasses and small branches.
- Garab bolo – used to harvest rice.
- Sundang bolo – the first bolo used for defense in many of the Philippine battles for colonization of the islands. Bolo-guna – used for cutting weeds, grass, and sometimes for the cultivation of soil.
- Kutsilyo bolo- used for butchering and the slicing of meat.