Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A Good Knife is a Joy Forever

Some of my friends in Tanzania are hunters.

Now I am not talking about the so called "big game" or trophy hunter, the kind of fellow who does come over to Africa from time to time to time to kill a few things so that he can have his picture taken with the carcasses. These people are usually viewed as a necessary evil at best. When they do come to hunt, they are taken for all they are worth by the locals (though they usually don't realize that they are paying twenty times what the real cost of the hunt is)

The people I know hunt to put meat on the table. Protein is much more expensive than carbs, and in a place where the average monthly income works out to about $50.00 US, you don't buy a lot of steaks, and tofu is an exotic food that you would pay as much for as beef (if you could find it).

So people will raise chickens or goats when they can, and hunt whenever they have the opportunity. (Of course I am talking about people who don't live in the big city, the folks in Dar have it a lot harder than do people in Moshi or Arusha)

And you know what? Wild meat is GOOD! For my taste Eland is as good as it gets, it is equal to (but different than) the best Colorado Elk. It is harder to come by than some game though.



is also very good, as well as being plentiful.

So, one day I am talking with some of my friends about hunting, and I ask them what they do with the hides and horns. The look at me a little strangely (I get that a lot) and say "we leave them with the head and hoofs for the hyenas." "WHAT??!!" I said, shocking them just a little I think. "Don't you use the hide and horn?" I asked. "For what would we use them?" they replied, a bit puzzled I admit. I asked them to save me the hide and horns from whatever they took and I would show them.

I grew up hunting, and for the same reasons my friends here hunted, to put food on the table. It was a matter of honor that when anyone of my family took some game we used everything we could from the animal, letting nothing go to waste out of respect for the life we had cut short. It was something my grandfather insisted on (he was Mesclaro Apache and tried to give us kids a little of what he knew to be true about how to be in the world).

One of the things I discovered when I first got to Tanzania is that it was imposable to get a good knife of the kind I was used to. Everyone used either a Panga or a sime for cutting, smaller knives were not to be found or if you did find one the quality was VERY bad and the price was VERY high.

Most of my friends used Sime for dressing out game.


Now as you can see, a sime is a double edged short sword. It is a weapon that can serve double duty as a tool. A Maasai can do pretty much anything with it he wants because he has been using it daily from the time he could first pick one up. For the rest of us, it is a rather awkward tool.

I had made the acquaintance with a young Massai Fundi (fundi means "skilled craftsman" in Swahili) who made sime for a living. I had purchased a good quantity of his work to ship back to the States and we had a nice working relationship.

I spend a couple of days doing up some drawings and then looked him up. I asked him if he would make some new blades fro me in a different pattern. Now Maasai are quite conservative, which is something that has served them well in that they have been able to preserve their traditions and way of live in the face of first colonialism then communism and then capitalism, so my friend was at first a bit dubious about these new blade styles. after quite a bit of discussion and haggling over price we came to an arrangement and he agreed to make the blades for me.

While my Fundi was making blades I was getting a nice collection of hide and horn from Grants and Thompson's Gazelle, Impala and wildebeest.

The blade designs I had drawn up were traditional South Western patterns, Large and small Bowie blades, skinners, and what I guess you would call "utility" blades. We call the smaller utility blades "patch knives", a term that goes back to the days of muzzle loading firearms.

When I got the blades, I locked myself in the workshop and started fitting them out. Here are two examples


The one on your left is fitted with a Grant's Gazelle handle, and the one on the right with a Thompson's, which is nice because the shape of the horn makes the grip quite comfortable. That knife became my everyday carry blade and I was always quite happy with it.

I fitted the knives with sheaths I made leather I tanned from the hides and began to give the finished products to my friends. It created quite a stir, no one had ever used a knife that was actually designed for skinning and dressing out game, and for some reason no one had ever thought of using horn to make the handles. They have become quite the thing to have (go figure).

If there is a moral to this story it is "find ways to think outside the box". Learn to use everything around you as a resource. Try to waste as little as possable. Who knows? you might end up with a good knife (and that is never a bad thing).

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