11 Nov 2009
A Cutlass: The Cutting Edge Technology of Dominica – No Doubt!
No one with an eye for metal detail, surely, can ever forget the scene within the movie Crocodile Dundee 1 where the ‘Croc’ is confronted by a would be mugger in NY city, who has drawn a blade against our Aussie superhero . Animatedly, Croc weighs up the size of the fickle weapon before him and says “You call that a knife?” – And in a nanosecond from behind his back, pulls out the longest piece of steel akin to a sword you’ve ever seen and says, “Now this is a knife!” – the would be mugger then, not unwisely, exits centre stage. Enter the Cutlass.
In Dominica to see men or women carrying a cutlass, especially in the countryside is an everyday occurrence with nothing particular in mind other than clearing the hedgerows, tending their plentiful gardens or severing hands of plantain or banana. To understand more about this inventive tool – also referred to as a machete – it’s prudent to explore the history a little.
Cutlass came into the English language – some say – about 1594, presumably derived from the French word Coutelace. It was often used as an agricultural tool in rain forest and sugar cane areas, but in pirate mythology it’s claimed that it was invented as a weapon by Caribbean corsairs and evolved from a ubiquitous long meat cutting knife. There are sources that dispute this proffering and say the glory days of pirate activity were well over before the emergence of our steely blade, who can say?
Today, most modern factory made cutlasses are of a very simple construction, consisting of a blade and full-length tang punched from a single piece of flat steel plate of uniform thickness – thus lacking a primary grind – and a simple grip of two plates of wood or plastic bolted or riveted together around the tang. Finally, both sides are ground down to a rough edge so that the purchaser can sharpen the blade to their specific geometry, using a file – so much for the tech aspects.
On a day to day basis in Dominica, many a slip of the swipe from a cutlass can result in cuts and lesions that need treatment at the various clinics – in fact only last week I had to deliver a young man to the St Joseph Health Centre with a self inflicted gash just below his right knee. He’d been pruning the roadside razor grass and presumably had a target area to cut before the day was over when the accident happened.
Because of the regularity of this kind of mishap the nursing staff at St Jo’ was extremely au fait with what had to be done and our wounded soldier was soon stitched and bandaged ready again to take on the verdant front line.
Sometimes when you hear of the ever increasing knife culture in the UK and other mainland countries for criminal gain, it’s commendable to know you can meet someone on the Dominican highways and byways innocently armed only avec machete, a friendly ‘cakafete’ and have a great day.