Machete Lessons for Beginners

3 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It would be fair to say that watching one’s nine-year-old son improve his machete skills while 8-12 hours from *any* form of medical care, however basic, is not a relaxing activity.

And indeed, a perhaps unnecessarily large number of utterances such as, “Christ, Z, AWAY from your fingers, not towards them,” and, “F***sake, darling, do you really need to take such a big swing? Remember when the blade flew off in Laos?” have echoed through the jungles of Halmahera of late.

They were a nice gang of lads, our guides on our six day adventure. All of them equipped, as is only natural in a gentleman entering the jungle, with the lethal multipurpose tool known in these parts as a parang and in most of the rest of the world as a machete.

And Z, who is pushing ten, is almost of the age when rural Indonesian boys get their own parang and learn to use it under adult male supervision.

A bloody process, what with the slips, the razor-sharp blade and all. But rarely, I am assured, does it result in any particularly serious injury.

Ham, who’s my age, and a father of two boys, aged nine and fifteen, took Z under his wing (perhaps an unfortunate metaphor given the fate of Colonel Saunders, the expedition chicken).

Never, in fact, was a man better named. I’ve written before about the trials and tribulations of being an average-sized Western woman faced with gentlemanly assistance of the weight-bearing kind in Asia.

So when, like a typical Western pussy, I don hiking boots not plastic sandals for a trek into the jungle, and do so before getting on the boat to the jumpoff point, and Ham offers me a single shoulder to get on the boat, all sorts of anxieties come to the fore.

I mean, I am fairly sure that the largest female Ham has portered will be in the 40- or low-50-something kilo range, not the 60-plus. And a tumble will be, well, humiliating for both of us.

He is significantly shorter than me. But also significantly broader.

There being no easy get out, I sit rather nervously on one of his shoulders.

He stands up. Emits a mildly unflattering grunt of surprise but, mercifully, does not buckle completely.

“Excuse me,” I say, in slightly hysterical and very bad Indonesian. “I am sixty-five kilometers.”

He carries me safely to shore and sets me down with notably more elegance than a bag of rice. “Gosh,” the soon-to-be-ten-year-old remarks, unflatteringly. “No wonder we’ve got him as a porter.”

Anywise. Both he and Alun, a similarly substantial chap, are more than happy for my spawn to use and abuse their machetes, though they draw the line at his attempts at sharpening them on the wrong kind of stone.

We think, I guess, in the West of machetes, curved or straight, as instruments of slaughter or blunt tools for clearing jungle.

These guys can do a world of things with them, as easily as breathing, from opening tins and peeling vegetables to chopping firewood, butchering deer, carving spoons from coconut shells, crafting bowls from fanpalm and whittling spears from rattan.


Well. He’s a little slow. Slightly to my surprise, in a part of the world where the left hand is for bumwashing and therefore taboo, the guys accepted his left-handedness.

But he can now identify, cut and strip a chunk of sugar cane. Pick up an empty green coconut shell with the right amount of pressure so that he can subsequently hurl it into the bush. Slash weeds out of his way. Chop down a small tree. Carve his name into anything you can think of. Cut up a watermelon.

And, erm, kill a chicken relatively humanely.

(He was better, I think, at looking after Colonel Saunders than he was at killing her, a formative event he describes as “harrowing”, and which must have been especially nervewracking for Ham, who was holding her down. But he can both care for and humanely kill his own dinner, which makes him, IMHO, more entitled to eat meat than most.)

And he did all this without so much as a scratch.


Well, that’s a slightly different story.

For reasons too complicated to explain, an unidentified person of the male variety had left a chunk of the watermelon the nine-year-old butchered before poor Colonel Saunders reached her ultimate destiny of curry on top of his jeans, which are, like all our belongings, saturated in mud. He has also left a parang beside it.

Like any right-thinking mother, I approach the jeans to hang them out — to well, not exactly dry, but maybe cake a bit in places — before he puts them on again in the morning.

During this not wildly complicated manoeuvre, my finger comes into contact with the blade of the parang.

An inch-long cut opens up, with a chunk of flesh hanging off the side.

“Fuck,” I exclaim maternally, bleeding all over the floor.

Z, quite literally, ROFL. At least until he recovers himself sufficiently to begin chanting, “Mum kept yelling at ME to be careful with the parang and now she’s cut herself! N0ob! N0obie N0obie N0ob!”

The chaps, to their credit, restrain their amusement sufficiently to ask me politely if I need any help.

“No, thank you,” I say, in as dignified a fashion as is possible while holding a chunk of my finger on with my thumb, rummaging with the other hand in a medical kit to which an unseemly amount of wildly jungle-inappropriate underwear has mysteriously attached itself and grappling with a language whose alien syntax I am beginning to acknowledge, if not grasp or utilise. “There are Hansaplast. Right here.”

Anywise. Thanks to the marvels of surgical alcohol, a brutally painful yet stunningly effective antibiot.. antisept… anti-bloody-everything liquid which is the main weapon in our medical armoury, and partly to the beauty of a clean cut from a very sharp blade, the chunk of finger I thought I might lose is firmly back in place and scarring looks set to be minimal.

And, to be tragically honest with you, it’s not just the boy who thinks machetes are pretty damn cool.

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3 Responses to “Machete Lessons for Beginners”

  1. scotttraveler October 3, 2010 at 11:09 pm #

    my brothers and I all bought machettes when we were little and used them to forage through the hills around our home, I can’t remember any of us ever getting hurt using them – LOL

    • MummyT October 4, 2010 at 12:52 am #

      I think that’s right. Imagine your mother was well out of eyeshot, though…

      Might take me a little while to live the finger thing down here…

  2. Jenny October 5, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    I know this doesn’t make you feel any better, but I would have laughed too!

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