Top: A typical bolo from Luzon;
Bottom: Lumad bolos with sheaths from Mindanao in the National Museum of Anthropology
TypeKnife or sword
Place of originPhilippines
Service history
Blade typeSingle-edged, convex blade
Hilt typehardwood, carabao horn
Scabbard/sheathhardwood, carabao horn

A bolo (Tagalog: iták/gúlok, Ilocano: bunéng, Ibanag: badáng/aliwa, Pangasinan: baráng, Kapampangan: paláng, Bikol: tabák/minasbad, Cebuano: súndang/kampilan, Waray: sansibar, Hiligaynon: sandúko/binangon, Aklan: talibong) is a general term for traditional pre-colonial small- to medium-sized single-edged swords or large knives of the Philippines that function both as tools and weapons.[1][2] Bolos are characterized by a wide curved blade that narrows down to the hilt, and that comes with a pointed or a blunt tip. Bolos are used as tools in the Philippines and are sometimes compared to machetes.[3][better source needed]


Bolos are differentiated from other Filipino swords and bladed implements by their dual use as both tools and weapons. They are characterized by a curved (usually convex) wide blade that narrows towards the hilt, with pointed or blunt tips. There are various types of bolos differing by ethnic group and purpose, ranging from large knives to short swords to specialized agricultural equipment. They had a wide range of use, from hunting to scything grass, opening coconuts, harvesting crops, or clearing dense brush.[2][4][5]

Most bolos are cheap and unornamented, with the handle usually made from plain carabao horn or wood. Bolos with finely carved handles with precious materials were used as status symbols of high social rank.[6]

Common uses

The bolo is common in the countryside due to its use as a farming implement. As such, it was used extensively during Spanish colonial rule as a manual alternative to ploughing with a carabao. Normally used for cutting coconuts,[4] it was also a common tool for harvesting narrow row crops found on terraces such as rice, mungbean, soybean, and peanut.[7]

Use in warfare

During the American period in the Philippines, Filipino fighters armed with bolos were known as "bolomen". They were used as auxiliary troops by the Americans during the various battles with Moros, and others. They were often placed in front of riflemen, as beliefs in anting-anting.[8] The bolo men were effective in close combat with riflemen using bayonets but were easily defeated if riflemen opened fire on them.[9]

The bolo was adopted by the US Military as the bolo knife. Produced from 1897 to 1918, they remained in service both as a tool for clearing brush and for combat until World War II.[10]

The bolo is also used in Filipino martial arts or Arnis as part of training.[11][12][13]


Bolos and related tools: (1) An all-purpose bolo; (2) A haras or lampas scythe; (3) A punyál knife; (4) A small bolo; (5) A guna; (6) A garab sickle; (7) A pinutî sword; (8) A súndang or iták sword (also "tip bolo")
Various types of weapons usually considered "bolos" (c. 1926): (1) A Tagalog iták; (2) A Tagalog bolo; (3) A Bagobo sword; (4) A Visayan (Cebu) bolo; (5) A Tausug barong; (6) A Visayan (Cebu) pirah sword; (7) A Bagobo sword; (8) A Bagobo kampilan sword; (9) A Visayan (Panay) súndang sword; (10) A Yakan pirah sword

A bolo is characterized by having a native hardwood or animal horn handle (such as from the carabao),[14] a full tang, and a steel blade that both curves and widens, often considerably so, towards its tip.[4][13] This moves the centre of gravity as far forward as possible, giving the bolo extra momentum for chopping.[14]

So-called "jungle bolos", intended for combat rather than agricultural work, tend to be longer and less wide at the tip.[4][13] Bolos for gardening usually have rounded tips.[14]


The term "bolo" has also expanded to include other traditional blades that primarily or secondarily function as agricultural implements. They include:

Historical significance

The bolo was the primary weapon used by the Katipunan during the Philippine Revolution.[13][15] It was also used by some Filipino guerrillas and bolomen during the Philippine–American War.[4][5][13][16]

During World War I, United States Army soldier Henry Johnson gained international fame repelling a German raid in hand-to-hand combat using a bolo.[17]

During World War II, members of the 1st Filipino Regiment and the 81st Division used bolos for close quarters combat, earning them the distinctive title "Moro Bolo Battalion".[13][18]

On 7 December 1972, would-be assassin Carlito Dimahilig used a bolo to attack former First Lady Imelda Marcos as she appeared onstage at a live televised awards ceremony. Dimahilig stabbed Marcos in the abdomen several times, and she parried the blows with her arms. He was shot dead by security forces while she was taken to a hospital.[19][20]


The bolo serves as a symbol for the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution, particularly the Cry of Pugad Lawin. Several monuments of Andres Bonifacio, as with other notable Katipuneros, depict him holding a bolo in one hand and the Katipunan flag in the other.[15][21]

Other uses of the term

In the United States Military, the slang term "to bolo" – to fail a test, exam or evaluation, originated from the combined Philippine-American military forces including recognized guerrillas during the Spanish–American War and the Philippine Insurrection; those local soldiers and guerrillas who failed to demonstrate proficiency in marksmanship were issued bolos instead of firearms so as not to waste scarce ammunition. The lowest level of qualification for the Army Marksmanship Qualification Badge (Marksmanship badges (United States)), ‘marksman’, is unofficially known as a ‘bolo’ badge.[22]

In hand-to-hand combat sports, especially boxing, the term "bolo punch" is used to describe an uppercut thrown in a manner mimicking the arcing motion of a bolo while in use.[23]


See also


  1. ^ Le Roy, James A. (1905). Philippine Life in Town and Country. G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 86.
  2. ^ a b Krieger, Herbert W. (1926). "The Collection of Primitive Weapons and Armor of the Philippine Islands in the United States National Museum". Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum. Bulletin 137: 62–86.
  3. ^ George, Marian Minnie (1901). "A little journey to the Philippines". Little Journeys to Hawaii and the Philippine Islands. Illustrated library of travel. Chicago: A. Flanagan Company. p. 54. Retrieved 7 June 2024. The bolo is also used in the northern islands as an implement of agriculture, somewhat as the Cuban uses the machete.
  4. ^ a b c d e Valderrama, Michael R. (22 June 2013). "The bolo". Sun.Star Bacolod. Archived from the original on 12 November 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  5. ^ a b Mallari, Perry Gil S. (14 June 2014). "The Bolomen of the Revolution". The Manila Times. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  6. ^ George, Marian Minnie (1901). Little Journeys to Hawaii and the Philippine Islands. A. Flanagan. pp. 53–54.
  7. ^ Small Farm Equipment for Developing Countries: Proceedings of the International Conference on Small Farm Equipment for Developing Countries: Past Experiences and Future Priorities, 2-6 September 1985. Manila, Philippines: International Rice Research Institute. 1986. p. 314. ISBN 9789711041571.
  8. ^ American Medicine. American-Medicine Publishing Company. 1902. p. 478. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  9. ^ Hotema, Hilton (September 1996). How I Lived to Be Ninety. Health Research Books. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-7873-0431-7. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  10. ^ King, Martin; Collins, Michael (2018). Lost Voices: The Untold Stories of America's World War I Veterans and Their Families. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 104. ISBN 9781493031658.
  11. ^ Green, Thomas A., ed. (2001). Martial Arts of the World. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. 429. ISBN 1-57607-150-2. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  12. ^ "Eskrima Martial Arts". Doce Pares International. 28 May 2014. Archived from the original on 20 July 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Wolfgang, Bethge (2007). "The Bolo – An indispensable Utensil in the Philippine Household". Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  14. ^ a b c "Bolo Knife". Reflections of Asia. Retrieved 12 November 2014.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ a b "Imprinting Andres Bonifacio: The Iconization from Portrait to Peso". Republic of the Philippines: Presidential Museum Library. 29 November 2012. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  16. ^ Dumindin, Arnaldo (2006). "Philippine–American War, 1899–1902". PhilippineAmericanWar. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  17. ^ Lamothe, Dan (2 June 2015). "Army discovers sad surprise in family history of new Medal of Honor recipient Henry Johnson". The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  18. ^ Ruiz, AJ (13 July 2012). "Pinoy Patriots". Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  19. ^ Fetherling, George (2001). A Biographical Dictionary of the World's Assassins (Unabridged. ed.). Toronto: Random House Canada. ISBN 0-307-36909-9. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  20. ^ "Profiling Imelda Marcos: 10 Reasons She's Still Here". Oh No They Didn't!. 22 September 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  21. ^ "The Bonifacio Monument: Hail to the Chief!". Filipinas Heritage Library. The FHL Research Team. 12 November 2003. Archived from the original on 3 December 2003. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  22. ^ "Spanish–American War slang". Retrieved 30 March 2008.
  23. ^ Historical Dictionary of Boxing. Scarecrow Press, Inc. 14 November 2013. ISBN 9780810878679. Retrieved 19 June 2020.