Saturday, December 25, 2004


At P200, the odd farm implement called kama that I chanced upon in a roadside cutlery shop in La Trinidad, Benguet proved worthier than its price tag .

The kama has a curving spine that looks like an arc snipped off a wide circle. Its business spread of a blade is a straight edge fitted at a 45-degree angle to the lightweight handle -- knotty grained wood of a color similar to pine -- that bore lathe marks. With the tool's weight evenly distributed between handle and blade, the heft was perfect. Once wielded, the tool feels like an organic part of one's arm.

This farm tool that resembles a carpenter's scale had its roots in Okinawa, an island off the Japanese mainland that was once a haven of sea brigands, fishermen and farmers. A kama is used for reaping grain, mowing grass or for such precision splitting of bamboo culms, cane or wicker for basketry. Honed to razor sharpness, the tool can also neatly lop off a man's neck or limb in a flick.

Fitted to a long handle, the Pinoy lingkaw is put to work in outward sweeping hacks that cut out swatches with the blade moving safely away from the wielder. Thus, the tool can be wielded with abandon sans risks to the wielder. Such any which way wielding won't do with a kama.

Putting a kama to use entails measured tugs of the forearm, the whole move a celebration of restraint. The arching spine and cutting edge is pulled smoothly towards the center of one's body, every act of cutting inwardly directed at one's self, toward one's center. Grasp that. We may construe that these literal self-centered moves the tool requires for effective use are lessons in handling risks.

This inward moving scythe can engender insight: the kama proffers lessons in kinesthetic restraint while celebrating economy of movement. "In-scythe" can become insight.

Despite warnings about the built-in risks in wielding a kama, two of my kids use it to cut cogon. We spend our weekends at a cogon-choked site by the Sierra Madre foothills where we have been doing reforestation work for a few years. Oh, I tell my kids cutting cogon with the implement provides a workout for polishing backfist blows, reverse punching and jujutsu hand breaking. That's a neat routine that bolsters muscle memory with lethally effective martial art techniques.

I guess it would take sometime before the kids can chew on the cud of insights a kama provides -- the cutting reminders on restraint, precision and being thrifty with moves have nicked and scarred Puwit and Kukudyu that they have taken to calling the tool as "Kalawit ni Kamatayan." I haven't told the kids it's a traditional close-quarters combat weapon.

A postage stamp-sized decal is pasted on the kama's hilt: "AMERICAN BICENTENNIAL." Pitiable US surplus item that must have been made in Okinawa. That somehow accounts for the P200 I paid for it: 200 is bicentennial.

But it has offered so much food for thought, facilitated lessons for my children in martial art techniques while allowing me to open a tin of Ligo sardines or slice through a bamboo culm with snappy ease. Very functional and cerebrally fulfilling. Call that celebration with "cerebration."

Compared with a surfeit of borloloy items foisted about as tokens to celebrate the 1898 Pinoy centennial, the P200 kama that I bought from a roadside cutlery shop in La Trinidad, Benguet packs more intrinsic meaning and utilitarian value.

Call that true-blue celebration.

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