The "Boucan" Knife, an Important Step in the Development of the "Bowie" Seems Ignored.
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The "Boucan" Knife, an Important Step in the Development of the "Bowie" Seems Ignored.

the Boucan, Buccaneer" knife and the Bowie

Amazingly, one important step in what we view today as an American tradition, the "Bowie" knife, is all but forgotten, despite the fact we derive the modern word "buccaneer" from it. The Arawak Indians, of the Caribbean used a grill, with a woven lattice of pimento sticks to smoke meat, and this "bookuh" grill, which is the ancestor of the barbecue, was once referred to by the French as a "boucon, or "boucan," as was the knives cannied by the hunters who used these grills, and so, the derivation or the name for those who hunted  wild pig, and carried these knives, the "Boucanier," came to be anglicized as the term, "Buccaneer."

These hardy hunters, and they were hardy, as the wild pigs were noted for their ferocity and down-right mean nature, were usually independent former sailors, maroons, meaning those abandoned by ships, put ashore or escaped slaves, and "castaways" referring to the fact they were itinerant sailors of no means, sometimes between ships, or just liked living on the islands, were eventually rooted out as independent merchants of food by the Spanish, who determined to control all businesses in their territories, whether it was gold-hunting, shipping, or food production. In reality, it could easily be argued these Boucaniers were the original "fast-food" merchants, hunting, cooking and selling their products to passing ships. Eventually, groups of these hunters banded together, and turned to more lucrative trades, namely, becoming pirates,  initially going after the treasure Galleons of the Spanish, but, eventually,  any ship or endeavor which offered payment, whether it be looting, pillaging, or serving under a "Letter of Marque," which was looting enemy ships for a sovereign nation.

Interestingly, the Boucan, which was normally a large-bladed, curved knife which was often made, in later times, from broken cutlasses, were carried openly, as a symbol of the rough-and-tumble lifestyle where "cut and rip" was how you got along, most certainly, the boucan, with it's long, curved edge, and equally sharp upper curved edge would be well suited to the task of cutting ropes or slitting throats, which easily explains how these knives came to be symbolic of the lifestyle. Also of note are the guards, which are often formed similarly to cutlass guards, large, ostentatious, and easily able to protect the used from either knife or at.sword in combat.

How the Boucan, which was the 18th century refinement of earlier Asian fighting knives,  came to influence the later Bowies is interesting, in that this maritime blade was widely used in the War of 1812, which was fought primarily upon the Great Lakes, which recruited many fighters from the Woodsman of the upper Great Lakes, After the war, many of the soldiers took jobs with Riverboats in the 1820 period, many of which from Indiana, which, because of their raucous behavir, and tendency to win fights became known as "Hushers," or the more modern refinement of that, "Hoosiers."

By the mid 1820's, or early 1830's, it was common for the boatment to travel the canals and rivers, winding up on the Mississippi and as far south as New Orleans, carrying their now Americanized adaptation of the Boucans with them, it's undoubtable that this type of knife influenced the early Bowie design. What we now see as the American Bowie is a combination of the sweeping edges of the Boucan, and the added length, heft and balance of a fighting tomahawk. So it is, that the Bowie is doubly influenced by American development, from use in the maritime trades of the Pirates, and in the dense underbrush of the Woods and Rivers of the Early American Republic.

In the blades I make, I leave the heaviness of the blade towards the middle, and forge the edge and back thinner, to help balance the weight of the blade. the picture you see is my own creation, with an antler handle and hand-forged heavy guard.

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