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Michael J. Ryan
Binghamton University

Writing of the persistence of traditional combative arts in the Caribbean

and coastal Brazil; R. F. Thompsons seminal article Black Martial Arts of
the Caribbean brought peoples attention to a number of combative arts
possessing many strong links to African combative traditions.1 Additionally, this article opened up many readers minds to the idea that martial
arts were not limited to East Asia, but indeed are a global phenomenon.
More importantly for those interested in martial arts, this article acted
as a harbinger for a re-legitimation of the study of combative traditions
that had been largely marginalized for almost 70 years. Almost forgotten
now, but during the early formative years of the social sciences, men such
as R.F. Burton, B. Malinowski, M. Mauss, and A.L. Pitt-Rivers evinced a
deep interest in the cultural norms that guided the way men punched,
kicked, grappled, cudgeled and stabbed one another.2 Coalescing into the
discipline of Hoplology, this line of social inquiry grew alongside and
in conjunction with the emerging discipline of Anthropology. Scholarly
interest into the field of hoplology fell into abeyance as a result of the horrors of two world wars and the swell of post-war- anti-colonial movements.
As a result of these events many scholars began to look upon violence as
somehow unworthy of study, or a deviant activity that should remedied
rather then looked at in its own right.3
Recently this marginalized field has undergone a renewed interest. A
great deal of the current scholarship in the West being done on martial
arts has focused on African diasporic martial arts or the rising popularity of Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA).4 One unintended consequence of this
trajectory has led to an uneven view of the evolution, development and
persistence of combative traditions in the Americas. Within Latin America,
leaving to the side West/Central African, and East Asian traditions, there
are a number of wrestling and stick fighting styles practiced by Indigenous
groups from the Upper Xingu valley of Brazil to the state of Chihuahua
in Mexico that have yet to be investigated. Waves of emigrants from Java,
India, the Middle-East, Europe as well as the Canary and Azores Islands
also brought with them their own highly sophisticated combative traditions whose practioners still languish in undeserved obscurity.


2011 Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


The Latin Americanist, September 2011

Only recently has the popular culture of the working class and rural
people of Latin America been the object of scholarly interest.5 Since this
turn to the popular classes began, many aspects of these cultures are still
obscured or hid by ethnographers who feel their presentation on the world
stage would only confirm derogatory or harmful preexisting stereotypes
of them.6 In order to understand the role that the popular classes have
played in the development of Latin America, it is important to appreciate
the reasons why so many these people have continued to perfect their skills
in unarmed and armed combat. The intensive investment of time required
to master these practices becomes especially curious as over the last one
hundred years as the technological advances of firearms have made these
bodies of knowledge obsolete. Instead of disappearing as Modernity took
hold in Latin America as many scholars once predicted; many of these
combative traditions continue to be practiced encamera, while other such
as Capoeira and Brazilian Vale Tudo have undergone a re-vitalization and
global popularity. The persistence of these combative traditions demonstrates the relevance of these arts for those communities who continue to
cherish and protect their cultural knowledge.

Combat, Sociality and Body-Techniques

Writing of early US backwoodsmen propensity to gouge out an opponents eye during ritual male hierarchical contests the historian Elliot
Gorn reflected that to feel for a fellers eyestrings and make him tell the
news was just not an act of unrestrained mayhem but were culturally
meaningful acts.7 In other words, the culturally variable ways individuals
come to perceive a threat, move-in to engage and eliminate the threat calls
for an instinctive application of the proper body-mechanics to initiate a
counter attack and generate sufficient power to neutralize the threat while
the individual is in a stressed-induced, adrenal state. These acts must not
only be done effectively and efficiently, but must also be performed in a
culturally competent manner.8 The ways in which the body knows how to
perform an activity without recourse to conscious thought in a way that
would meet the approbation of ones peers were first identified as BodyTechniques by Marcel Mauss. Through the analytical category of body
techniques which Mauss defined as the ways in which from society to
society men know how to use their bodies, Mauss showed that everyday
natural behaviors such as sleeping, digging and fighting are actually technically specific responses to objective conditions. 9 As practically oriented
ways of doings things body techniques are transmitted through the generations developing an aura of tradition shifts across cultures and through
time making them amenable to crosscultural and historical examination.
Treating garrote larense as a set of body techniques foregrounds the historical trajectory of the Venezuelan body in the way that local communities
developed a set of unique responses in terms of how personal combat


was to be initiated, participated in, and judged. Moreover it suggests, that

traditional embodied knowledge are not moribund artifacts, but consists
of practically oriented principals oriented to current contingent situations
and vary through time and space10
Among those interested in Latin America history the image of wildeyed, grim-faced machete wielding peasants in Latin America and the
Caribbean have proved to be an enduring image. Writing about these men
and their times, many scholars have assumed these mens machete skills
arose out of their use of everyday tools that they took with them into the
battlefield.11 While there might be some truth to this assumption, a number
of scholars and amateur hoplologists have uncovered highly sophisticated
and organized practices of stick, machete and knife fighting by the popular
classes throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Handed down in a
variety of circumstances, these embodied knowledges are still considered
highly relevant and practically useful traditions for self-defense and character development today. As part of a larger project of documenting and
understanding the role that combative traditions play in contemporary
Latin American popular culture, this investigation looks into the persistence of a traditional practice of stick, machete and knife fighting that has
been documented in Venezuela from the beginning of the 19th century. A
central claim of this article is through a long period of endemic violence
associated with a weak central state and a culture of honor; many men
developed and continued to refine their combative skills to serve in an
array of circumstances. Drawing on past traditions of military and civilian
combat arts, Venezuelan men often relied on walking sticks, machetes and
knives in order to protect their land and resources, to engage in ritual hierarchical male contests, to transmit attitudes of valued masculine behavior
or to gain access the spiritual world. Within this context my interest lies
in identifying and delineating the ways in which garrote larense arose out
of a series of objective challenges faced by individuals whose successful
responses to questions of how best to neutralize or eliminate others in
specific social contexts become sedimented and transmitted through generations. Not just as stultified routines of movement passed down through
generations; but more as a series of openended structures of practical reasoning allowing individuals to respond to the contingency of the different
modes of combat that they could face in competent, efficient and morally
appropriate ways. In a previous article I focused on the perceptual and
physical attributes garroteros cultivated to give them an edge in combat.12
At this time I pay particular attention to the contexts or fields where garrote
played a major role in mens lives such as militias, the pulpera, the fiesta or
velorio.13 Within these institutions or sites what would be considered effective, efficient and morally correct behavior could be very different leading
individuals to respond differently based on the configuration of the political, economic and social powers that shaped a communitys practices,
values and norms at the time.14


The Latin Americanist, September 2011

What makes Venezuela unique and a study of its combative traditions

interesting is in part its demographic history. Unlike other areas of the New
World Venezuelas indigenous population emerged relatively unscathed
from the time of the conquistadores and first settlements and suffered a
relatively restricted waves of immigration from Spain, the Canary Islands,
and to a lesser extent from the African slave trade up until the post WWII
era. Out of this social milieu such factors as a weak centralized state and a
culture of honor contributed to years of endemic violence in both the political and civil sphere. These factors in turn contributed to the development
in the civil sphere of a sophisticated form of armed combat. Looking back
into the role that local militias played in the development of garrote, suggests these informal organizations acted as a major site where garrote was
taught and practiced to instill a sense of aggressiveness, feelings of belonging and the ability to eliminate an enemy with cut and thrust weapons.15
During mens off hours, sites such as the pulpera or the fiesta proved to be
important arenas where ritual male hierarchical contests often occurred.
At these sites walking sticks were often the weapon of choice to establish
and/or restore a social hierarchy based on ideas of an individuals public
reputation.16 Finally, during the religious rituals, velorios or promessas
dedicated to Saint Anthony where men dueled with garrotes, machetes,
knives or lances has proven to be a key site where garrote is continuing to
change in response to political and trans-national forces. This has resulted
in these traditional civilian combative arts being transformed by some individuals into a performance oriented art serving as a national icon of the
Venezuelan nation.

Garrote in Venezuela
By the time the first accounts of garrote appear in the early 19th century,
fighting with a walking-stick had already attained a sophisticated level of
development among the civilian population. Succeeding sparse accounts
suggest that fighting with a walking stick was part of larger constellation
of civilian combative traditions drawing on a variety of occupational tools
from cuchillos, punales, peinillas, and machetes to mandadores, garrochas or
dejarretaderas.17 In addition to these tools, a number of civilian and military
weaponry such as differing lengths of staves, small-swords, sabers, the
lance and the bayonet also seem to have played an important role in
conflicts up through the early 20th century. Speaking of garrote as it is
primarily thought of and practiced today, a garrote or palo refers to a
fire-hardened, oiled, hard-wood walking stick that was once part of the
every day dress of Venezuelan men. At present terms such as Garrote de
Lara, Garrote Larense or Garrote Tocuyano are recently coined terms for
what were once innumerable local styles of fighting practiced throughout
the country.18 These names merely reflect the area where the majority of
research on this art has been conducted so far, and ties into the view of local


garroteros that garrote arose out of conditions in the Tocuyo valley and
spread throughout Venezuela. This view is hard to sustain as myself and
other local investigators have identified and studied local stick fighting
styles that have no link with the Tocuyo valley. The existence of a number
of traditions of garrote showing no links to the Tocuyo valley, suggests
that garrote developed independently over the years through different
patterns of diffusion and independent development at different sites.
Some practioners of garrote have developed colorful names to identify
their particular style of garrote such as The Bloody Stick, The Cock-Crow
style, or The Seven Methods style. Others however have no name for their
style of stick fighting. For example, early in the 20th century a chain of
events began with a man by the name of Sablon
Vasquez fleeing an assault
charge in the neighboring state Falcon.
Moving south to the sugar-cane village of La Riconada in the state of Lara, he taught a method of stick fighting
to his friends and new family.19 During this time a student of his remembered only as El Pecho Peludo in turn, escaping from an impending assault
charge built a new life for himself near the sugar cane fields of Cabudare
approximately 50 miles away.20 Here, during the 1930s, he taught his
style of stick fighting to a Gualberto Castillo who proceeded to teach a few
relatives and friends of his village this art. Coming down to the present
as La Rina con Palo or fighting with sticks; the matter-offact descriptive
name for this stick-fencing suggests there was a general lack of interest in
identifying these traditions outside their obvious function.21 In a way this
attitude is very similar to how many people today would not pay to much
attention to distinguishing between different kinds of cooking pots.

Social and Politicaleconomic Trends in the Segovia Highlands

Without a sombrero, chimu and a garrote a man is worth nothing. This
old aphorism refers to the everyday public dress of the rural Venezuelan
male that up until the 1950s consisted of a pair of sandals known as
Alpargatas, a broad brimmed hat, a dollop of tobacco paste or chimu
wedged behind a mans lower lip, and a fire-hardened, braided handled
walking stick in his hand. I once asked the 69 year old garrotero Ricardo
Colmenares why men carried palos in the past:
Because in the past there were many problems between families
and this is why you didnt allow them to beat you, you know the art,
you understand?. . .because you know how to fight with the sticks
and if I do not have this knowledge and I am going to fight with
you, then you are going to have an advantage over me.22
During the 1940s and 1950s when Maestro Ricardo was a young man,
ongoing efforts by the military dictatorship to create a modern nation-state
had largely succeeded. Previous to this time, for over a century Venezuela


The Latin Americanist, September 2011

was racked by endemic political violence led by local politicians, businessmen and landowners. 23 As one newspaper editor remembered:
Venezuelans are accustomed to the revolutionary uprisings
called in criollo slang a leap from the woods or assault in which an
unquiet Senor,
a rancher or owner of a coffee, cacao, or other agri
cultural; hacienda, gave the cry on his property and took to the
bush accompanied by 400 peons, armed with chopping machetes or
even ancient blunderbusses 24
Supported by their extended family, laborers or clients; local strongmen or
caudillos attempted to augment their holdings by intimidating or forcing
indigenous communities and small farmers off their lands. Other times
caudillo leaders fought against each other or the reigning governments in
Caracas to increase their influence, or make a claim for supreme power.
These men, as one author described them:
Were chiefs, heads of clans, great landowners, like Diego Colina
who could at a word call out the cane cutters of the southern sierras
of Coro. Or like General Ramon
Castillo who could draft a thousand
men from his family properties, or like the Telleras who through
family connections occupied of most of the higher and many of the
middle and lower posts of state government could use the resources
of the state of Falcon.

From the time of independence in 1825 until 1929, the southern half of the
Segovia highlands has been the site of over 68 armed conflicts in addition
to years of enduring low-level guerrilla activity.26 The Segovia highlands
have traditionally served as a boundary between conservative and liberal
spheres of influences, turning the area into a prime battle ground over the
years. During the 19th and early 20th centuries privately raised militia units
regularly advanced and retreated across the area in support of regional
caudillos, living off what they could take from the farms and ranches they
came across.27 The end result of this was an almost total destruction of the
regions infrastructure resulting in this area being reduced to an economic
backwater. By the 1940s when many Venezuelans were enjoying a renewed prosperity due to the global demand for coffee and petroleum; half
of the sugar-cane grown in this area was still processed by water-powered
mills and used wood burning furnaces to produce papelon
geared towards
local consumption. At the same time, the urban population of Lara was
increasingly turning to the importation of a refined Cuban sugar for daily
use further marginalizing the areas economic base. The return to civilian
rule in 1958, after 60 years of military dictatorships led to a number of limited land reforms and some increases in public spending for infrastructural
improvements and public education. The majority of state funding though



has gone to helping large plantations shift from a labor intensive farming
system based on a type of debtslavery, to a capital-intensive production
relying on a seasonal wage-earning force. The results of this uneven development fuelled an already strong rural to urban migration that has
fundamentally transformed the face of Venezuela from a primarily rural
nation to a predominantly urban population today.28
After almost a century of endemic political conflict, the groundwork to
build a modern Venezuelan state began to take shape by the 1890s when
elite factions began struggling over who was going to be the next president. Unable to tolerate being on the losing political side one more time,
General Cypriano Castro and his Chief of Staff Juan V. Gomez
began their

bid for supreme power from exile in neighboring Colombia in 1899. Accompanied by 60 men armed with Mauser rifles and machetes, they raised
the standard of revolt under the name of Restoration Revolution.29 Moving from victory to victory, this small band of men continued to attract
followers as they progressed down the mountains into the Segovia Highlands, avoiding the caudillo armies sent after them. Successfully entering
an abandoned Caracas, Castro began to negotiate with, co-opt or defeat any
remaining political opponents, and initiated a number of policies to modernize the country. At first Castro and then his successor Juan V. Gomez

drew on the profits from coffee and then petroleum to recruit, arm and
train a modern army. With their new found wealth they also began to build
a nation wide infrastructure to facilitate the transport of coffee to the coast
and to move their newly armed and trained army to move throughout the
country army to repress any signs of dissent. As it occurred in the Segovia
Highlands, those elites that proved loyal to the government or those that
could be co-opted into supporting them were awarded with indigenous or
state lands in the surrounding hill country. For centuries these lands had
been occupied by small farmers and indigenous communities who had
been able to avoid the innumerable attempts to dispossess them of their
holdings and turn them into rural proletarians.30 With this fencingoff of
the commons, families were reduced to a state of debt-peonage on their
former lands, or were forced to relocate to the growing cities of Carora
and Barquisimeto to become day-laborers where many of them took part
in the labor struggles of the 1930s. Additionally, as part of a policy ensure
his rule President Gomez,
ended the caudillo system of governing in part

by abolishing all private militia units and initiating a number of ultimately

unsuccessful attempts to collect all arms remaining in private hands.31
After almost 20 years of rule by a series of military officers, the introduction of civilian rule in 1958 and the rapid growth of a middle class
resulting from the global demand of oil led to an expanding and increasingly wealthy middle class attracted to the culture and technology of
North America. Among young Venezuelan men, recreational activities
such as Baseball, Boxing and latter Kara-te and Ju-do began to replace
older pastimes such as bull-fights, cock fighting, or garrote.32 By this time
communities had began to look down on, or try to forget the once common

The Latin Americanist, September 2011

sight of drunken men armed with walking sticks and knives fighting in
the streets to see who was the better man. Does anybody here want to
fight yelled one man into the darkness of a street late one night. No
not really, but if you care to take a swing at me. . .33 These attitudes of
masculine bravado and violence once led to the necessity as one garrotero
put it that every man have some knowledge of garrote just to survive.34
Once ubiquitous throughout the area, these behaviors and attitudes were
all too often forgotten or remembered with an embarrassed shrug of the
shoulders and an explanation that this was all in the past.
North Atlantic Military and Civil Combative Traditions
Available data suggests the combative traditions found in the Segovia
Highlands today are best treated as part of a larger constellation of civilian
combative traditions found throughout Latin American and the Caribbean,
whose roots lie in the military and civilian combative traditions once current throughout Europe and Africa.35 As garrote is practiced today by
those who began to learn in the 1930s and 1940s, the art evinces strong
European influences seen in the way these men hold and move their bodies in comparison to other African and Afro-Caribbean stick fighting styles
that I have seen or learned. These impressions are supported by archival
research showing the majority of immigrants before World War II originated from Spain.36 Investigating possible Spanish roots for these combative traditions, a number of scholars who have only seen garrote as part of
the religious ritual dedicated to Saint Anthony where two men mock-duel
with palos claim its origins lie in the many sword dances found throughout
Europe.37 One problem with these theories is that they ignore the accounts
of the garroteros themselves who have said that garrote was always a distinct art from the religious rites; and that the two were only joined some
time during the early 20th century.38
Investigating the existence of armed combative traditions of Western
Europe in the modern era shows that sword, knife and stick fighting traditions were once common until the beginning of the 20th century. Within
Spain itself, the sophistication and efficacy of Spanish combative systems
can be seen through a review of existing historical accounts and the few
remaining practioners of what must have been a very diverse set of combative practices developed by different populations inhabiting the Iberian
Peninsula.39 Outside of military influences, there are a number of fragmentary sources that suggest a wealth of civilian combative arts revolving
around the use of agricultural; herding and craftsmen tools that were once
widespread in Western Europe. Nevertheless, it was the knife, the machete
and the stick that became the principal weapons associated with much of
Latin American combative traditions. Up through the present stories of
highly skilled knife fighters are still talked about from Argentina and
Uruguay all the way north into Mexico and Puerto Rico.40 What makes
Venezuela unique in this Luso-Hispanic valorization of the blade is the
preference for the walking stick as both a symbol of being a gentleman, as


well as serving as a fearsome weapon.41 One likely source for the popularity of stick fighting in Venezuela dates back to the mid 18th century when
the carrying of a walking stick was a part of the everyday dress among
European males.42 At this time as many cities became safer and there was
a decreasing tolerance for men dueling or brawling in the streets in honor
contests, both the elite and urban merchants had begun to replace the carrying of rapiers and other thrusting types of swords in public with walking
sticks, sword canes, and weighted sticks. A process Norbert Elias identified
as part of a Civilizing Process.43 However, these developments among
the elite and the expanding merchant class should not occlude the continued existence of armed and unarmed combative arts continued among
the popular classes in Europe.44 The persistence of combative traditions
practiced as methods of self-defense or as a recreational pastime among
the European popular classes hints at the diversity, sophistication and
ubiquity of combative traditions among them, and a number of possible
avenues of transmission into Latin America.45
Garrote Larense and African Combative Traditions
Islenos or immigrants and their descendants from the Canary Islands
have contributed to most every major event in Venezuela history. In the
oral histories of garrote collected around the Tocuyo valley, the role of
immigrants from Canary Islands have influenced at least two contemporary stick fighting styles that developed during the late 19th and early 20th
centuries. One problem with trying to understand the demographic impact
of Canary Islanders in Venezuela is that after lodging passenger manifests
with the authorities at their port of departure in Spain, many ships then
stopped at the Canary Islands, picking up additional passengers destined
for Venezuela, leaving no paper trail.46 Over the last 20 years researchers
from the Canary Islands have explored and documented the wealth of
stick-fighting and wrestling styles that on the island chain.47 Many times
only a few families on each island continued to practice these traditions. Investigators from the Canary Islands have also gone to Cuba and Venezuela
searching for the existence of a Canarian form of stick fighting done with
a walking size stick known as El palo chico or small stick.48 At present
there are two schools of garrote that claim a strong Canarian influence in
the Tocuyo valley. Moving to a little house near the banks of the Tocuyo
River near the barrio of Los Hornos in the early 20th century, a Canarian
immigrant known as Temere Pacheco is remembered as being the teacher
of one of the most renowned garroteros in the city of El Tocuyo; Juan Cartorce Yepez.49 Maestro Temere is remembered for his Juego Pachuquero,
where an operator holds a walking stick by one hand in the middle and
thrusts either end at an opponent.50 A few miles away up in the foothills
above the Tocuyo valley, the Siete Lineas style owes its development to
the son of a Canarian immigrant. From 18841891 Leon
Valera was taught
a version of Canary Island stick fighting and Spanish saber techniques
while accompanying his father as a traveling merchant on his trips to Lake

The Latin Americanist, September 2011

Maracaibo. One day on the beach, Leon

Valera claimed to have saved the
life of a drowning Englishman. As a way of thanking the young man, the
Englishmen taught him a thrusting type of stick fighting that looks very
similar to Spanish small-sword fencing.51 In conjunction with techniques
of Tocuyano stick fighting that he had been exposed to, Leon
Valera developed a style of garrote he called the Siete Lineas or the seven methods style
which he demonstrated to the public during a promessa to San Antonio in
the village of La Guarajita in 1925.52
A number of scholars claim that garrote tocuyano is related to the numerous African stick fighting styles around the Caribbean. 53 This stance
is difficult to maintain however as in the case of Venezuela, the majority of African slaves in were put to work on the cacao plantations of the
coastal ranges and inland in the state of Yaracuy. Here it is most likely
that Afro-Venezuelan stick fighting styles would have most likely developed.54 Written and oral evidence suggests that Afro-Venezuelan or
Afro-Caribbean stick fighting styles did exist in the port towns of Maracaibo, and Puerto Cabello and the nearby island of Curac ao. However, the
only evidence of links between the Tocuyano and these coastal styles are
from the garrotero Baudilio Ortiz who claimed to have learned a few stick
and machete fighting techniques in the 1930s while working as a laborer
in Puerto Cabello.55 What becomes clear in attempting to trace the routes
of combative traditions that came to Venezuela is that as a result of the
incorporation of Venezuela into the North-Atlantic political-economy men
continued to bring with them sets of values norms and understandings
how to use a variety of hand operated weapons in an array of agonistic and
antagonistic scenarios that were disseminated evaluated and incorporated
into existing systems of armed combat.
The Role of Militias in the Development of Garrote
Listening to stories of older garroteros, one gets the impression that
militia units or guerrilla bands were a key site for the transmission and
practice of garrote. Outside of a few scattered references and oral accounts, very little material is available to scholars regarding the role of
garrote during the time of the militias.56 Up until the time of the Wars
of Independence being a member of a militia was subject to property or
wealth requirements effectively excluding agricultural or urban laborers.
By the mid 19th century however, President Monagas had disbanded these
restricted militia units allowing independent local caudillos sympathetic
to his rule to recruit men from the working and rural class; in effect creating an independent power base for himself and future presidents. With
only a few thousand soldiers stationed at border crossings or port towns,
succeeding presidents continued to rely on local caudillo leaders to mobilize and arm their relatives, clients and laborers to pursue their political
agendas. Accounts from former militia leaders during the late 19th and
early 20th centuries suggests it was often the small merchants and middlesized hacienda and plantation owners who recruited, armed, fed and led


relatives and clients during the innumerable revolts in the country. At

times these men would place themselves under the leadership of regional
caudillios to affect limited gains, but in case of defeat or stalemate, all too
often these larger entities would revert back to their component groups
going back to their farms or hiding out in the bush conducting guerrilla
One element that stands out in the early history of garrote was the
complimentary or overlapping relationship existing military and civilian
combat traditions at the time. In a biographical fragment of a former governor of Barquisimeto province, the author writes he was: . . . always
the master of himself, never knowing any fear, then adding he was of
regular proportion and agile, in his youth he learned to handle the garrote of Arenguanai, Palo Amarillo and Vera and practiced with the sabre he
brought from his service in the militia and the army.58 In this brief passage, the author makes a clear distinction between the military saber and
civilian stick fighting traditions. This suggests that each weapon was recognized as part of an independent combative tradition whose tactics and
principals of body-mechanics could complement each other. Of additional
interest, the author identifies a number of local species of wood used to
create palos, hinting at more then a passing acquaintance with the art of
In the Tocuyo valley and the neighboring hill country many stories are
still told by elder garroteros about local caudillos such as Coronel Sandalio Linarez, General Jose Pacheco, General Jose Raphael Gabaldons,

grandson Argmiro Gabaldon

or General Raphael Montilla, The Lion of
Guaito who for years continued to fight against the despotic policies of
President Castro. Many of stories told today revolve around their garrotero teacher or their relatives leaving home to join up with Montillas or
armies when these men would come down from the moun
tains and drive off the large landowners and politicians oppressing the
pueblos. During their offduty hours it was said that the men would practice with the garrote or machete or teach others how to jugar garrote. 59
General Montilla himself was assassinated by machete as a song relates:
on the 21 of November of 1907, death came to general Montilla, killed by
the blows of a machete.60
The tendency to use ones skills or reputation as a garrotero to affect
political change seems to be common during this era. In addition to taking
part in local conflicts, garroteros skills could be used in other fashions.
For example, after being appointed the president of the State of Zulia in
the 1920s the Tocuyano politician, General Vicencio Perez Soto brought
with him a select group of Tocuyano garroteros, including Leon
as part of a special police force to repress any political or labor unrest in
Maracaibo. As chief of this security detachment, Leon
Valera was have
said to have trained the men under his command his tocuyano style of
garrote while in exchange picking up a set of takedowns, trips and sweeps
from local fighters that he latter added to his Siete Lineas system.61

The Latin Americanist, September 2011

As late as 1929 the use of peasant militias armed with machetes attacking opposing forces was still employed successfully, although, the spread
of repeating rifles from the late 19th century reduced the frequency of this
tactic. Taking a closer view of the laborers and farmers who took part in
armed actions during this time, it is important to stress that accounts of
machete charges cannot be dismissed as a chaotic rush of ignorant farmers. Within these stressed induced activities, previous training in learning
how to fight becomes apparent in the ability to advance or to stand your
ground while deliberately and correctly targeting vital body-targets of an
opponent. Many scholars today do not have the background in fighting to
understand the skills this type of behavior calls upon. For instance, in combat heavier weapons are necessary calling on a different set of muscles and
body-mechanics then when fencing in more formal duels or participating
in sport fencing. The differences between battlefield and civilian combat
traditions and dueling or agonistic combative traditions are clearly seen in
accounts of sword versus machete fighting in the Mexican Caste War of the
mid 19th century. At this time Mexican officers soon learned that hours of
cut, thrust and parrying with light rebated weapons in an indoor salle did
little to prepare a man to respond effectively to an opponent jumping out
at you from behind a tree swinging a 23 pound machete at your head.62
Wielding a machete of this type requires the use of molinetes or fully swung
cuts originating from the shoulder and hip to generate the necessary power
to cleave open a skull or cut through the flesh and bone of a limb; these
being the only effective ways of eliminating an opponent.63 In addition to
developing the physical knowledge to eliminate an opponent, cultivating
the commitment to charge a group of men armed with rifles or machetes
or withstand such a charge calls for an emotional investment that must be
similarly cultivated. Many times militia units were composed of friends,
neighbors and relatives who already possessed some degree of trust that
could contribute to a units cohesiveness in the face of a machete melee.
Alongside these pre-existing bonds, accounts from Venezuelan garroteros
and Filipino machete units during World War Two, suggest further bonds
of unity developed during times of training with live blades. In these cases
it can be seen how garrote or disciplined physical training could prove to
be a key factor in building relationships. Here is a rare account of training
in El Tocuyo during the 19th century illustrating the presence of mind, as
well as feelings of trust and community cultivated and entailed in this type
of environment:
Daily, in order to drill his officers; they were under standing orders
to attack him with their swords, all the while taking precautions
about their attacks. Those who hit him with the point or the edge of
their blade he warned would have the same done to them. Therefore
all concerned would have to be alert and agile. He would then step in
front of the door of the barracks he was going to defend. Then three
or four officers would unsheathe their swords for the assault. This


began a storm of flashing swords, parrying, feinting, going back and

forth, advancing and retreating, jumping and turning, sparks flying,
from the gasping and daring the officials. The officers succeeded in
driving him back in to a corner of the hallway. Looking like a brawl
of mastiffs fighting over a piece of meat, or a fearsome jaguar, all
fangs and claws. When El Pelon
came to the point where he yelled at
them surrender! he raised his sabre and gave a loud yell. He then
praised the most agile and aroused the others to imitate him.64
During a machete charge it seem likely that, experienced garroteros or
militia leaders such as the officer above would lead charges with a few
of their friends, relatives and students trailing behind them where they
would engage the enemy for a few minutes of hard fighting, or conversely
instilling a fear of being cut up causing their opponents to flee, leading
to another type of combat.65 Within these social organizations such as the
militia that garrote as a battlefield art with machetes versus garrote as a
civilian fighting tradition with walking sticks becomes clearer. The goal
of a battlefield art is to eliminate an opponent in a traditional quick and
effective manner.66 By contrast when civilians fought at fiestas, pulperas
or in the alleys the ubiquity of the walking stick as the weapon of choice
suggests the intention of fights was to neutralize an antagonist, in a way
that would humble him but leave him alive as a living symbol of the
victors skill.67
Fiestas, Pulperas, and the Time of the Guapos
In every village or neighbourhood in Venezuela, as in many areas of
the world there were at least a couple of men or families that everybody
knows that you did not needlessly antagonize. When speaking of the past,
members of the older generations often refer to this time as the time of
the Guapos. Above the Tocuyo valley in the hamlet of Los Olivos, Manuel
Teran was remembered among his family both for being a guapo and his
love of fiestas. Arriving on his mule, Manuel would greet his host, grab
a drink and wander around socializing and having a good time. As the
party got going and people began to relax, Manuel would gently turn
conversations around to peoples ability with the stick. After listening
about a man boast of his skills and reputation, he would invite the speaker
to a friendly match. Often times it was said that when a man responded
that he would enjoy a friendly stick match but unfortunately he did not
bring his palo with them to the fiesta, he would go over to his mule and
pull out two palos from his saddle bags. If the man claimed he was more
comfortable with machetes, he would retrieve a couple of machetes from
the saddlebags. And if the man then boasted that while his skill with a
machete was formidable but that he was even better with knives, the uncle
would obligingly provide a couple of knives for the upcoming contest.
Passed down among his family this anecdote highlights the preliminary
maneuvers leading to the way ritual male hierarchal contests were enacted

The Latin Americanist, September 2011

in this area. Ritual male hierarchical contests are acts where two men
seek to learn where they rank against each other in an activity they both
decide is the best way to determine who is the better man. A majority
of these contests were fought for public recognition, the love of fighting
and a chance to test ones skills.68 One element that stands out in the story
above and many like it still told today are the number of hyperaggressive
individuals swaggering down the street carrying a big heavy walking
stick looking for any excuse to issue a challenge. Writing of late Imperial
Germany, the historian Norbert Elias noted that in certain types of social
worlds where honor and violence are linked, and state control is weak,
specific types of physically strong or skilled men come to the fore that
enjoy challenging and physically defeating men in physical contests to gain
respect and honor.69 Referring back to the story about Manuel Teran and
men like him, it can be seen there were an unspoken but generally agreed
upon set of rules governing these types of matches. Moreover, the public
nature of these kinds of honor contests supports the idea that ones public
reputation was often treated as a scarce and ephemeral commodity that
had to be defended almost on a daily basis.70 The way the potential lethality
of the match escalated through the choosing of weapons suggests that
simple challenge matches could easily escalate beyond anybody control.
For reasons unknown Manuel was once ambushed by 5 men armed with
sticks and knives. Defending himself Manuel ended up killing a man with
a blow of his palo that ruptured one of his assailants liver for which he
spent 6 months in jail. Similar accounts also tell of the unpredictable nature
of the public in these types of honor contests. Bystanders could stand by
and let the conflict play out, or intervene and try to deescalate the situation.
Alternatively, they could join one side, or each take different sides leading
to all-out melees. The ideal scenario for male hierarchical contests as I was
told many times was for two men to go of somewhere private and duel.
I think this was in part due to the volatile nature of bystanders and the
reticence of many men to risk their well-being or their reputation on the
outcome of a friendly fight. Alone, both men could have it out to the bitter
end, or they could talk it out, and then unharmed latter tell a convincing
story that put the narrator in a good light. A review of the literature
on combat has shown that many times men are more concerned with
staying alive and unharmed then inflicting an injury on others and those
combatants do not always appreciate bystanders escalating potentially
incendiary situations. 71
One element of these types of contests that many old garroteros stressed
to me was the fact that the aim of garrote was not to kill a man but
to accrue or maintain respect.72 This becomes evident in the use of the
walking stick as the communally agreed upon weapon of choice in these
types of matches. The non-lethal character of garrote is also reflected in the
principal techniques men relied upon. Asking a garrotero today to show a
few basic moves he would be most likely to deliver a low rising uppercut
type of strike. Known alternately as a barrecampo, barrajuste, baseado or


huevero depending on the area where he lives. The targets for this type
of blow are the ankle, the inside of the knee, or the groin and sometimes
underneath the jaw. A blow of this sort is meant to drop an opponent
to the ground literally lowering the man so as to look up at the victor,
physically embodying his lower status. The non-lethal intent of garrote
contests and brawls is reflected in the 1270 court cases examined by the
historian Mathias Assunc a o. Among the cases looked at, the palo used
alone was involved in 15% of all deaths from assaults. Bladed weapons
on the other hand were responsible for 50% of fatalities and the use of
revolvers accounted for the remaining 35% of remaining deaths.73
I wrote how earlier how Venezuela underwent a civilizing processes in
the early 20th century where older forms of sociality and ideas of violence
became stigmatized and marginalized. However, as Elias noted changing
ones habitus is not as easy as changing ones clothes.74 The persistence
of a restricted number of the younger generation who actively seek out
and treasure these older forms of traditional knowledge can be seen in the
number of younger garroteros who participate in challenge matches both
for the adventure and the desire to test their skills. Back in the 1980s, one
of my teachers, Saul Teran and a friend would roam the streets looking for
other young men to test their combat skills in both armed and unarmed
matches. Sauls friend quit these types of matches after being repeatedly
stabbed in the stomach with a sharpened screwdriver, while Saul claimed
he aged out of such behavior. Outside of Barquisimeto, on occasion, a
couple of men from neighboring styles will meet informally in friendly
matches that often turn out to be full-contact bouts, that end with one
of them lying on the ground unable to continue. Up in the hill above El
Tocuyo there is a well-known agronomist who wanders around the coffee
fincas with a coupe of palos strapped across his back ready to engage any
willing farmer in a quick friendly stickfight. Oftentimes listening to people speak of garrote in the past during the time of the dictatorships, the
ambivalent and sometime contradictory opinions and feelings about garrote and garroteros become apparent. At the same time as the aggressive
and ruthless character of people remembered as guapos or caudillos are
disparaged or criticized, the determination, cunningness and strength of
character of these men are also admired and seen to lacking or in danger
of disappearing in the younger generation. For many older rural men and
women the learning of garrote is still seen by many as able to instill in
young men these important character traits that allow men to withstand
the vagaries of the world. For example, the mother of one of my garrote
teachers Danys Burgos had a neighbor teach her son garrote to counteract
his tendencies to hang out with his friends and loaf around after school.
Every afternoon after school, Danys hiked up a heavily forested hill near
his house and trained garrote with a man who learned the neighborhood
style of garrote that Danys grandfather brought the area 60 years earlier.
Training in secret, Danys was repeatedly advised never show this art to
anybody until the moment you are attacked.

The Latin Americanist, September 2011

Garrote and the Tamunangue

Over the last few years the devotional acts dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua once known as Los Sones de Negros and now known as the
Tamunangue has proved to be a key site for the development of garrote.
Garrote as it relates to the Tamunangue has been the subject of numerous
works since the 1920s focusing on the origins, gender relations or transnational influences on the ritual.75 Briefly, the Tamunangue is restricted to
the southern sector of the Segovia Highlands and nearby Andean towns.
At any time a number of families can pool their resources to prepare the
food and hire the musicians to hold what is known as a promessa or velorio. However, June 13th is the main day that Saint Anthony is honored. A
typical velorio today will have a float or a statue of Saint Anthony present.
To the side of the saint a group of musicians will play a set of 5- 7 songs
or sones accompanied by specific dance steps. Keeping things orderly and
moving are a Capitan Mayor and Capitan-Mayora. With a nod from the
CapitanMayor, a velorio begins with a salve, an old liturgical piece of
music with no dancing. Next, two men, or now to be more accurate two
people will kneel in front of the saint armed with walking sticks, machetes,
knives or lances to engage in a mock-duel known as La batalla. Succeeding couples will replace previous ones after a couple of minutes, until the
Capitan-Mayor calls for the sones to commence. After the cycle of songs
and dances are complete they will be repeated until everyone sponsoring
the velorio has had a chance to dance and ask the saint for a favor or dance
as a way to thank the saint for favors received. As I wrote earlier garrote
was introduced as part of this festival sometime in the early 20th century.
For many years since then these velorios could be the site of bloody or even
fatal fights as too much alcohol, exuberant spirits or old grudges, could lead
to events getting out of control. In one local velorio in the village of Guarajita, Leon
Valera once drew his knife and attacked the Capitan Mayor for
administering a beating to a friend of his for disrupting La batalla and challenging bystanders to a duel. Other times disgruntled or over exuberant
men would go nearby to a pulpera or outside on the street and begin
a mass brawl. Over the last few years as the festival has been co-opted
by the Venezuelan state as a national dance, local governments and transnational businesses have promoted the ritual as tourist spectacle. As a
result velorios as a whole have changed dramatically and La batalla has
undergone a process of domestication. Where once men fought with thick
heavy walking sticks, or cut and thrust weapons, now thin smaller lightweight sticks are used. Where once men had to use their shoulders and
hips to swing heavy blows to incapacitate others, now batalleros or those
dueling in honor of Saint Anthony use their wrists to twirl their palos at
each other in quick synchronized patterns that please spectators. During
one recent Tamunangue in the Andes a group of men had been drinking
all morning and missed La batalla. Feeling good and a bit exuberant they
began a duel off to the side of the ritual occurring in the village plaza. Circling each other guardedly with thick heavy beveled-edged sticks, their


preliminary stalking of each other drew the attention of a few men who
appreciated the sight of an oldfashioned match between two skilled men.
Most of the crowd were oblivious or could care less about what was occurring only a few feet away. After a few minutes of circling each other
and trading heavy blows that left deep bruises on both mens forearms,
stomach and ribs, the mayor and a few friends managed to trade their
palos for a couple of beers and they went off arms around each others
shoulders to continue drinking and laughing. The pain from the blows
would come latter.
This disjuncture between garrote as a combative art and a performance
art occurring in the Tamunangue today is also reflected by some garroteros
today who divide garrote into three modes of the mock dance or La batalla,
El Juego or the techniques and tactics of stick fighting and La Rina or the
dirty tricks or finishing moves. Speaking of this division the late garrotero
and musician Natividad Alvarado who for decades led the Tamunangue
folkloric group Araguaney around Barquisimeto had this to say about
these developments76 :
La batalla is the same as the rina,
what happens is that in La batalla
one strikes a blow to the head and the other avoids it. But in the
one attacks with a blow to really strike and one avoids it. This
is called floreo, for example one strikes a blow to the head and the
other avoids it, he also moves his leg out of the way. One must move
the body so the strike hits the ground. It is done in an exchange. We
make a juego, but the strikes are hard. The strikes in the juego are
the same as the rina

Natividad Alvarado 25, April 2005 Barquisimeto.

Where the Fiesta de San Antonio is celebrated there are a number of
garroteros who make this tri-partie distinction. Throughout the northern
sector of the Segovia highlands and the rest of the country where the art
is kept semi-secret state, garrote is still felt to be and is practiced as a
valued pueblo art of self-defense par excellence. Part and parcel of local
embodied knowledges that serves to build the character of young men as
well as providing them with a practical tool to withstand the vagaries and
assaults of life.
The persistence of a number of civilian combative traditions throughout Latin America hints at the importance the popular classes place on
the role of these innumerable fighting arts as a way to protect their lives
and livelihood, as a way to transmit valued ways of being, or as an icon
of ones roots and origins. Within Venezuela the continuation of a strong
indigenous presence in the Segovia highlands suggests that garrote was
developed, refined and transmitted by an increasingly proletarianized
and hispanicized population who saw this art as a way to contest their

The Latin Americanist, September 2011

status as men without honor as well as adding another tool to their arsenal
for self-defense.77 The wealth of military and civilian combative traditions
in Europe and Africa that existed at a time when soldiers and immigrants
came to Venezuela suggests that men brought with them and shared
with their families and descendents the techniques, tactics and weapons
that they had picked up over the years and served them well.78 For this
reason, garrote is best treated as a set of sedimented body-techniques
that have been successfully tested in specific combative contexts; passed
down and refined by each succeeding generation over the years to meet
specific needs.79 Identifying garrote as a collection of body-techniques
does not mean they are set responses to objective conditions; rather
they are a form of practical understanding occurring at the level of the
body, allowing the trained body to make adjustments in their habitual
responses, or come up with new responses to contingent conditions,
without recourse to conscious thought.80 If successful these moves are
added to a communitys traditional repertoire of techniques, if not the
moves are forgotten or discarded. This would account for the variation
found among garroteros. A review of the different contexts where garrote
took place suggests all forms of combat are not geared towards the
same ends and therefore ways of cultivating habitual and perceptual
attributes also vary across sites. The way a man would train who is
being prepared to fight as part of a hastily thrown together militia unit
would be different then a man trained as professional soldier. Likewise
in the civilian sphere, where combative encounters could entail diverse
scenarios such as feuds, vendettas and assaults or an alcohol fueled, good
natured male hierarchical ritual fight. Within these different modes of
combat there was always a chance that increasingly lethal weapons could
be introduced, or restraints against causing major damage to others could
be loosed, or groups of bystanders might decide to involve themselves.
These contingencies meant that any man calling himself a garrotero had
better be prepared to train to fight under a variety of incelmnetal or
disadvantageous environmental conditions. Finally garrote was trained
purely for recreational or for spiritual psycho-spiritual goal such as is
often done today during the fiesta de San Antonio. In each case the body
is trained to perceive situation in unique way and react accordingly. If a
man was not trained to deal with extreme acts of violent aggression but
only had been exposed to recreational training, the results could be bad.
Because body-techniques are only transmitted in social networks both
symbolic meanings such as ideas of honor or ways of belonging as well
as practical responses to environmental events are transmitted through
the incorporation of proper movements.81 This sedimented nature of
subject-formation would account for the persistence of garrote in as a
combative art as conditions changed. At a time when men habitually went
about armed, many young men would have an interest in re-producing
the forms and practices of masculinity they were exposed to. This meant
that a younger generation would legitimate and re -produce traditional


ways of looking at, moving through and judging the world. Latter on
as a result of the institutionalization of a modern centralized state, a
wave of post WWII immigration from Europe and a shift from Venezuela
as a rural to predominantly urban country, ideas of proper masculine
comportment and ways of sociality underwent a great deal of change.
However, in spite of these fundamental changes in the country, many
older forms of sociality and ways of looking at, evaluating and being in the
world are still valued and transmitted reflecting the conservative nature
of the body techniques that make up individuals habitus and can be
seen if one knows what to look for. Traveling through Venezuela, visitors
can see signs of an adherence to older forms of sociality such as a bus
driver or taxi-driver keeping a short thick club known as a guapo-manso or
bully-tamer near their seats to deal with any potential trouble or rural men
riding bicycles through the countryside with a braided handled walking
stick tied underneath the frame of their bicycles. Looking at garrote as a
series of body-techniques that develop and change in conjunction in the
context of prevalent political-economic structures allows an investigator
to develop a deeper more inclusive definition of culture accounting for
the different ways individuals come to learn how to use their bodys
and use them to evaluate, feel and move through and belong to a world.

Robert Farris Thompson, Black Martial Arts of the Caribbean. Review
of Latin Literature and Arts, Vol. 37 (1987), pp. 4447.
Richard Francis Burton, The History of the Sword. (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1995); Bronislaw Malinowski, 1920 War and Weapons
among the Trobriand Islanders. Man, Vol. 20 (1920), pp. 1012; Marcel Mauss, Sociology and Psychology: Essays. B. Brewster, transl. (London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979); A. Lane-Fox Pit-Rivers, The Evolution of
Culture and Other Essays. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1906).
Chacon, Richard and Reuben Mendoza (eds) Latin American Indigenous
Warfare and Ritual Violence. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007),
pp. 116141; Loc J. Wacquant, Pugs at Work: Bodily Capital and Bodily
Labor among Professional Boxers. Body and Society Vol.1 No.1 (1995),
Recent works on African arts include Matthias Rohring
Assunc a o,

Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Art. (New York: Routledge,

2005); T. J. Desch-Obi, Peinillas and Popular Participation: Machete
fighting in Haiti, Cuba, and Colombia. Memorias. Revista Digital de
Historia y Arqueologa desde el Caribe Vol.11 (2009). Downloaded at
Article/517. (Accessed 02 February 2011); Fighting for Honor: The History
of African Martial Arts in the Atlantic World (Carolina Low Country and
the Atlantic World. (Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press,
2008); Gregory Downey, Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an


The Latin Americanist, September 2011

Afro-Brazilian Art. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). In the field of

MMA see Gregory Downey, Producing Pain: Techniques and Technologies in No-Holds- Barred-Fighting. Social Studies of Science, Vol. 37 No. 2
(2007), pp. 201226; Dale C. Spencer, Habit (us), Body Techniques and
Body Callusing: An Ethnography of Mixed Martial Arts. Body & Society,
Vol. 15 No.4 (2009), pp.119143; Maarten von Bottenburg, DeSportization of Fighting Contests: The Origins and Dynamics of No
Holds Barred Events and the Theory of Sportization. International Review
for the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 41 No. 34 (2006), pp. 259282.
William Schilling and Vivian Rowe, Memory and Modernity in Latin America. (New York: Verso 1991).
Michael Herzfeld, The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global
Hierarchy of Value. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2004); Andrew
Shyrock, Off Stage /On Display: Intimacy and Ethnography in the Age of Public
Culture. (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2004).
Elliot Gorn, Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry. The American Historical
Review, Vol. 90 (1985), pp.1843; Pablo Picatto, City of Suspects: Crime
and Violence in Mexico City, 19011930. (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Peter Spierenberg (ed), Men and Violence: Gender, Honor
and Ritual in Modern Europe. (Athens: Ohio State University Press, 1998);
Heikki Yilkangas, Five Centuries of Violence: in Finland and the Baltic area.
(Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2001).
Erving Goffman, Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization
of Gatherings (London: Verso, 1963), p.11.
Mauss, p.23.
Nick Crossley The Social Body: Habit, Identity and Desire. (London: SAGE
Publications, 2001); Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception. (London: RKP, 1962); James Ostrow, Social Sensitivity: A Study of Habit
and Experience. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).
Nicola Foote, Monteneros and Macheteros: Afro-Ecuadorian and Indigenous Experiences of Military Struggle in Liberal Ecuador, 18951930
in Nicola Foote and Renee D. Harder Horst (eds.), Military Struggle and
Identity Formation in Latin America: Race, Nation and Community during
the Liberal Period (Gainsville, Fla: University of Florida Press, 2010)
pp. 85, 96, 98; Robert Gilmore, Caudillism and Militarism in Venezuela,
18101910.(Athens Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1964), pp.52, 78;
John Lawrence Tone, War and Genocide in Cuba, 18951898 (Pembroke,
NC:University of North Carolina Press, 2006),pp. 126127.
Michael J. Ryan I Did Not Return a Master, But Well Cudgelled Was
I: The Role of Body Techniques in the Transmission of Venezuelan Stick
and Machete Fighting. The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean
Anthropology. Vol. 15 No.1 (2011), pp.124.
A pulpera is a general store where liquor is sold. A velorio as it is used
here is a religious act dedicated to asking help or thanking a saint for
favors received


Pierre Bourdieu and Loc Wacquant, p.76.

See Gertrud Pfister, Cultural Confrontation: German Turnen, Swedish
Gymnastics and English Sport- European Diversity in Physical Activities
from a Historical Perspective. Culture, Sport and Society, Vol. 6 No. 1 (2003),
pp. 6191; Susan Brownell, Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral
Order of the Peoples Republic. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995),
for examples how nationalist movements use of group drills to encourage
feelings of belonging.
A bochiniche is a local term for a dance party.
Cuchillos, punales
and peinillas are types of knives. A mandador is a

whip. A garrocha or dejarretadera are types of pikes used to herd cattle.

The use of the term Lara or Larense refers to the state of Lara that
was created in 1881 out of the larger province of Barquisimeto. The term
tocuyano refers to the town of El Tocuyo built on the banks of the Tocuyo
river and has a reputation fro producing fierce garroteros
Argimiro Gonzalez, Enciclopedia Autodidactia Sobre el Juego de Garrote
Venezolano. Tomo Primero I.(Caracas: Concultura, 2007).
Pecho Peludo means hairy chested.
This style is also known as El Estilo Curaigueno
by students of Eduardo

Sanoja who himself learned his style of garrote from Mercedes Perez, a
student of Don Gualberto.
Interview with Ricardo Colmenares 29 May 2005 Los Humacaros.
See Judith Ewell, Venezuela: a century of change. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984); Gilmore. 1964; John V. Lombardy, Venezuela the Search
for Order/the Dream for Progress. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982);
Guillermo Moron
A History of Venezuela. (London: George Allen & Unwin
LTD, 1965).
Gilmore, p.7879
Gilmore, p. 5253.
Rafael Domingo Silva Uzcategui, Enciclopedia Larense. Tomo II (Espana:

Escuela Prof. Sagrado Corazon

de Jesus,
Gilmore, p.79.
Ewell, 1984; Reinaldo Rojas, La Economa de Lara en Cinco Siglos. (Barquisimeto: Italgrafica, 1996); De Variquecmeto a Barquisimeto (Barquisimeto:
Pro-Venezuela. Seccional Lara. Asemblea Del Estado Lara,
For a brief account of a successful machete charge during this campaign
see Thomas Bourke, Gomez, Tyrant of the Andes. (New York: Greeenwood
Press, 1969). pp.67.
Doug Yarrington, Coffee Frontier: Land, Society, and Politics in Duaca,
Venezuela, 18301936. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997).
On the role of debt labor in neighboring rural Zulia province see Peter
Linder, An Immoral Speculation: Indian Forced Labor on the Haciendas of Venezuelas Sur del Lago Zuliano, 18801936. The America, Vol. 56
No. 2 (1999), pp. 191210.


The Latin Americanist, September 2011


Efforts to collect weapons from the civilian population were attempted

in 1832, 1872, 1889,1893,1896,1898, and 1919. Generally men did not stop
carrying garrotes in public until the 1950s.
Oscar Acosta, Barquisimeto Tiene Su Historia Deportiva (Barquisimeto: Universidad Centro-Occidental: 2001), pp.163165.
Matthias Rohring
Assunc a o, Juegos de Palo en Lara: Elementos para

la Historia Social de un Arte Marcial Venezolano. Revistas de Indias,

Vol. 59 (1999), pp.5589. For similar accounts of ludic aspects of violence
see Carolyn Conley, The Agreeable Recreation of Fighting. Journal of
Social History, Vol. 33 (1999), pp. 5773.
Interview with Pasqual Zanfino 19 February 2005. El Molino.
See Assunc a o, 2005, pp. 3269. The question of Indigenous contributions to these arts is still unknown. There are accounts of Indigenous soldiers fighting with bows and arrows and lances in the area
through the 19th century. However there is not much evidence that indigenous warriors used clubs or macanas that could contribute to this
type of close-quarter type of fighting except around present-day Caracas.
Anonymous, Stickfighting: National Archaeological Anthropological
Museum of the Netherland Antilles Downloaded from: http:// (Accessed 20 September
2005); John Cowley, Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso: Traditions in the Making. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). pp. 66.
Jose Eliseo Lopez,
La Emigracion Desde La Espana Peninsular a

Venezuela: En Los siglos xvi, xvii, xviii Tomo I, II (Caracas: 1999), pp.
Isabel Aretz, El Tamuanangue. (Barquisimeto: Universidad Centro Occidental, 1970); David M. Guss, The Festive State: Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism as Cultural Performance. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000);
Rafael Domingo Silva Uzcategui, Barquisimeto. Historia Privada, Alma y
Fisonoma del Barquisimeto de Ayer (Caracas: 1959).
For a similar process incorporating the Cebuano stick fighting arts
of Arnis into the Sinulog festival see Sally Ann Ness, Body Movement and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press. 1992),
In urban Andalusia see Mary Elizabeth Perry, Crime and Society in Early
Modern Seville. (Dartmouth NH:University of New Hampshire Press, 1980)
James Loriega, Sevillian Steel: The Traditional Knife-Fighting Arts of Spain
(Boulder, Co: Paladin Press, 1999); In rural Andalusia see Charles Julian
Bishko, The Peninsular Background of Latin American Cattle Rounding. Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 32 No. 4 (1953), pp.419
515. There still exists a strong wrestling tradition in Northeastern Spain
and Northern Portugal. I am familiar with the Federacion
de Lucha
Leonesa and a number of small Galhofa wrestling academies in Braganc a,


See Mario A. Lopez-Osornio, Esgrima Criolla: cuchillo, rebenque, poncho

y chuza (Nuevo Sigla: Buenos Aires, 1995); Oral interviews with Manual
Romo Vejar., August 1975 Huntington Beach CA, and Ramon
June 2009, New York City, NY.
This predilection has also been among Capoeiristas in 19th century
Brazilian port towns in Assunc a os work (2005).
At this time single stick fencing became a popular pastime. One
author traces this tradition back to the use of medieval wasters or
wooden training weapons. See Tony Wolf, Singlestick Fencing: 1787
1923. The Journal of Manly Arts. (February 02, 2002); C. Phillips-Wolley
Single-Stick Journal of Manly Arts (November, 01, 2001), both at (Accessed on 06 February,
2011); Christopher J Amberger, The Secret History of the Sword: Adventures
in Ancient Martial Arts. (Burbank, California: Unique Publications, 1999),
p. 253.
Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations. E. Jephcott, transl. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000); Mauss.1979
On example that support this view comes from the memoirs of one
French craftsmen in mid 19th century France who wrote . . .in those days
compagnons often fought amongst themselves and leaving to do ones
Tour of France was almost like leaving for war. In each brotherhood members learned to handle a walking staff and quarterstaff and how to subdue
a man quickly. . . to kill your peer as long as he was a not a member
of your own little brotherhood was not a crime, but an act of courage
Mark Traugott, The French Worker: Autobiographies from the Early Industrial
Era. (Berkley: University of California Press, 1993). pp.131138). Also see
Robert Y. Davis, The War of the Fists: Popular Culture and Public Violence in
Late Renaissance Venice. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Gregory Hanlon, Glorifying War in a Peaceful City; festive representation of
combat in Baroque Siena (15901740). War in History, Vol. 11. No.3 (2004),
pp. 249277 for accounts of older civilian combative traditions in Europe.
For contemporary accounts of stick fighting traditions in among the Euskara, see Antxon Aguirre Sorondo, Palos, Bastones y Makilas. Cuadernos
de Etnologia y Etnografia de Navarra, Vol. 24, No. 60 (1992), pp. 203235. For
Portugal see Antonio Cac ador, Jogo de Pau Esgrima Nacional, (Lisboa: 1963).
Ribiero Aquilino, O Malhadinhas (Lisboa: 1959). In Ireland see John Hurley
Shillelagh: The Irish Fighting Stick, (Philadelphia, PA.Caravat Press, 2007),
or his website on Irish martial arts at www. Wrestling
in the Celtic fringes of Europe has been undergoing a re-vitalization over
the last ten years. See Mike Huggins, The Regular Re-Invention of Sporting Tradition and Identity of Cumberland and Westmoreland Wrestling
c. 18002001. The Sports Historian, Vol. 21 No. 1 (2001), pp. 3555. For
Northern Europe see Marjorie Edgar Ballads of the Knife Men. Western
Folklore, Vol. 8 No. 1 (1949), pp.5357 and Yilkangas 2001.
Examples of this are seen in Jose de Oviedo Y Banos,
The Conquest and

Settlement of Venezuela (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1987);


The Latin Americanist, September 2011

Alfred Hasbroucke, Foreign Legionaries of Spanish South America (New York:

Colombia University Press, 1969), p.248. Also at this time elite Venezuelans
would travel to Europe to absorb European culture such as reading law,
learning philosophy or engineering or learning how to duel, dueling with
wooden cudgels of different lengths and knives was both a popular pastime and a method of self defense among the popular classes throughout
Europe. The popularity of stick fighting as an agonistic and antagonistic
activity can be seen throughout many areas of the public sphere. Up until
the early 20th century the quarterstaff was practiced by the Boy Scouts and
single stick fencing was practiced the U.S Navy as a way to compliment
saber fencing (Amberger p. 252). It was in this type of environment where
some knowledge of armed combat was common I suggest that contributed
to the development of garrote over the centuries as people continued to
immigrate into the country.
James J. Parsons, The Migration of the Canary Islanders: An Unbroken Current Since Columbus. The America, Vol. 39 No.4 (1983),
pp. 44748; Wayne D. Rasmussen, Agricultural Colonization and Immigration in Venezuela 18101860. Agricultural History, Vol. 21No.3 (July
1947), pp. 155162.
FA Ossorio Cardenas Rodrguez (ed), Tradiciones Canarias Juego del Palo,
Peleas de Gallo. (Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, 1987), pp. 37.
See Argimiro Gonzalezs book Regresso del Palo Chico. (El Tocuyo 2003),
for an uneven history and questionable history of these influences.
A nickname he received for surviving an ambush as he was taking a
siesta in his hammock and stabbed 14 times.
One problem I noticed with this art is the need to get in close to deliver a
thrust to the opponent, a very difficult feat to accomplish is the opponent
is armed and attacking with power and speed.
Interview with Ramon
Martnez, 22 March 2007 Brooklyn N.Y.
This idea of Valera learning a thrusting style of stick play has been
doubted by Eduardo Sanoja who claims Valera was trying to increase the
prestige of his own lineage of garrote by claiming European influences.
Juan Liscano, Folklore del Estado Lara: El Tamunangue. (Caracas: 1951);
Desch-Obi, 2008, 2009.
At this time I am not aware of anybody investigating stick fighting
traditions in the State of Yaracuy.
Eduardo Sanoja, Juego de Garrote Larense: El Metodos Venezolano Defensa

Personal (Caracas: Miguel Angel

Garca e Hijo, 1984), pp.121.
Matas Gonzalez Bracho, Verdad historica de la revolucion acaudillada pr
el General J.R. Gabaldon en Santo Cristo, ano 1929 (Caracas: N.p, 1958);
A.Cipriano Heredia, El Ano 29: Recuento de la lucha armada (Caracas: Avilarte, 1974).
Yarrington, pp. 8797.
Sanoja, 1996:8. Arenguanai, Palo Amarillo and Vera are types of local
hardwoods commonly used to make palos in the tocuyo valley
To fight with sticks.


Pedro Pablo Linarez, Proceres de la Dignida Tocuyana (Barquisimeto:

See Silvio R. Duncan-Baretta and John Markoff, Civilization and Barbarism: Cattle Frontiers in Latin America. In F. Coronil and J. Skurski,
(eds) States of Violence, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006),
pp. 3374.See pp.54 of this article for a similar argument.
Nelson Reed, The Caste War in Yucatan (Stanford. Stanford University
Press, 2001), pp.612.
Amberger p.95.
Rafael Mara Rodrguez-Lopez,
La Leyenda del Pelon Gil (Caracas: Impre
sores Unidos, 1940), p. 138.
George Orwell relates a humorous story when during a trench raid he
tried trying to bury his bayonet in the back of a fleeing Spanish fascist. See
George Orwell Homage to Catalonia (Orlando Fla: Mariner Books 1980).
See Fredrick F. Todd, The Knife and Club in Trench Warfare, 19141918.
The Journal of American Military History Foundation, Vol. 2 No. 3 (1938),
pp.139153. In this article the author describes trench scrums in WWI
where men often resorted to weapons, and bodily targeting that seemed
natural and right to their family and friends back home.
Both archival data and the memories of elder garroteros agree that the
purpose of the palo was not to kill anybody but to earn and maintain ones
public reputation.
It can be difficult at times to distinguish motivations of instrumental
from symbolic violence due to the long and complex histories between individuals. See Martha S. Santos. On The Importance Of Being Honorable:
masculinity, survival, and conflict in the backlands of Northeast Brazil,
Ceara, and 1840s-1890. The Americas, Vol. 64 No.1 (2007), pp. 3557 for
an account that stresses the instrumental nature of honor.
Norbert Elias, The Germans: Power Struggles and the Development of Habitus
in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. E. Dunning and S. Mennell, transl.
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 1969), p.71.
Gorn, 1985 p.21; John Charles Chasteen, Violence for Show: Knife Dueling on a Nineteenth Century Cattle Frontier in Lyman L, Johnson (ed)
The Problem of Order in Changing Societies: Essays on Crime and Policing
in Argentina and Uruguay, 17501940. (Albuquerque: The University of
New Mexico 1990), pp.4764. See p. 54; Piccato 2001.p.81; Julius R. Ruff,
Violence in Early Modern Europe 15001800 (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.75.
See Oren Falk, Bystanders and Hearsayers: Reassessing the Role of the
Audience in Dueling. In Mark D. Meyerson (ed.) A Great Effusion of Blood:
Interpreting Medieval Violence, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 2004),
pp. 98130. Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, Men Against Fire: The Problem
of Battle Command. (Norman. OK: University of Oklahoma Press).
Today too many martial artists are concerned to stress the lethality of
their arts, whether armed or unarmed. Even today among some men promoting garrote, they stress the deadliness of the art and overemphasize
the role of machetes in civilian combat as a way to market themselves as

The Latin Americanist, September 2011

trained killers This reticence to kill others in these types of contests were
stressed to me over and over by men who took part regularly in these
The most complete set of court records available in the archives at the
Archivo de Registro Principal de Barquisimeto in Barquisimeto begins in
1890. From 1898 the number of deaths from palos fell from a high of 42 to
a low of 11 in 1929 suggesting a civilizing process. Assunc a o. 1999 p. 87.
Elias, 1991 p.222.
See Isabel Aretz, 1970; Eduardo Lira Espejo, El Tamunangue El Universal, February 19,1941; David Guss, 2000; Pedro Pablo Lnarez, Sones de
Negroes (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela 1990); Juan Liscano,
Folklore del Estado Lara: El Tamunangue. (Caracas 1951); Alcides Losada,
El Tamuangue: Son de Negro Diario El Tocuyo (1922).
Maestro Natividad Alvarado was a student of the famed garrotero Ishmael Colmenares who served as policemen and led a well-known Tamunangue folkloric group in the mid 20th century.
Lilliam Arvelo, Change and Persistence in Aboriginal Settlement
Patterns in the Qubor Valley, Northwestern Venezuela (Sixteenth to
Nineteenth Centuries) Ethnohistory, Vol. 7 No. 34 (2000), pp. 683. Drawing on archeological and ethno historical sources this article supports the
idea of the population of Segovia highlands consisting of a number of
de-tribalized and indigenous peoples.
See Cacoy Boy Hernandez, Balisong, Iron Butterfly (Van Nuys CA:
Unique Publications, 1984). In his autobiography Sr. Hernandez tell of
picking up combative moves from a number of different people while
working as a midshipman traveling the Pacific.
See Downey 2005; Ian Hunter and David Sanders, Walks of Life Mauss
on the Human Gymnasium. Body & Society Vol. 1 No. 2 (1995), pp.6581.
Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992; Crossley, 2001.
Nick Crossley, The Networked Body and the Question of Reflexivity.
In Dennis Waskul and Phillip Vannini. eds. Body/Embodiment: Symbolic
Interaction and the Sociology of the Body. (Burlington VT. Ashgate, 2007),
pp.:88; Downey 2005; 131.