Ghurka and Kukri

The following is an excerpt from "The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of the World", by J.G. Wood, M.A., F.L.S.; Vol.2 of 2 volumes; J.B. Burr Publishing Co., Hartford, Connecticut, 1878. Mr. Wood appears to be an Englishman, and has written a prodigious number of books on all manner of very interesting subjects. There seem to be some omissions and errors in his description of the Kukri and its use: 1) The two small 'knives' which accompany the Kukri are, in most cases, not two knives, but a single knife and a similarly shaped companion which has a more massive blade with no cutting edge. This could have had use as a steel for dressing the edge of the Kukri or, less probably, as a fire-making steel for use with a flint. 2) The use of the folding leather pouch has never been explained, to my knowledge. 3) Wood's description of the making of wootz is very sketchy and is to be challenged. The use of wootz steel in the Kukri blade is doubtful, for this type of steel was usually delegated for the making of blades which exhibit a true Damascus surface pattern, which I have never observed in a Kukri blade. This is not to denigrate the excellent quality of most Kukri blades, which are made of laminated steels so arranged that the higher carbon content steel constitutes the hard cutting edge. Material is not at hand to verify the authenticity of some of Wood's statements, but the narrative is of interest, nevertheless.


Editors Note: Most of the illustrations are not currently available to us, but the descriptions are sufficiently interesting to leave the text intact, including references to figures not displayed.


Extraction from Wood's narrative (1878)

One of the hill tribes (India), called the Ghoorka tribe, is worthy of notice, if only for the remarkable weapon which they use in preference to any other. It is called the "kookery," and is of a very peculiar shape. One of the knives, drawn from a specimen in my collection, is given in illustration No. 2, on page 1403. As may be seen by reference to the drawing, both the blade and hilt are curved. The blade is very thick at the back, my own specimen, which is rather a small one, measuring a little more than a quarter of an inch in thickness. From the back it is thinned off gradually to the edge, which has a curve of its own, quite different to that of the back, so that the blade is widest as well as thickest in the middle, and tapers at one end toward the hilt, and at the other toward the point. The steel of which the blade is formed is of admirable temper, as is shown by the fact that my specimen, which, to my knowledge, has not been cleaned for thirty years, but has been hung upon the wall among other weapons, is scarcely touched with rust, and for the greater part of its surface is burnished like a mirror. Indeed, on turning it about, I can see reflected upon its polished surface the various objects of the room. The handle is made after a very remarkable fashion, and the portion, which forms the hilt is so small that it shows the size of the hand for which it was intended. This smallness of hilt is common to all Indian swords, which cannot be grasped by an ordinary English soldier. My own hand is a small one, but it is too large even for the heavy sabre or "tulwar," while the handle of the kookery looks as if the weapon were intended for a boy of six or seven years old. Indeed, the Ghoorkas are so small, that their hands, like those of all Indian races, are very delicate, about the same size as those of an English boy of seven. The point of this kookery is as sharp as a needle , so that the weapon answers equally well for cutting or stabbing. In consequence of the great thickness of the metal, the blade is exceedingly heavy, and it is a matter of much wonder how such tiny hands as those of the Ghoorkas can manage so weighty a weapon, which seems almost as much beyond their strength as does the Andamaner's gigantic bow to the dwarfish man who wields it. It may be imagined that a blow from such a weapon as this must be a very terrible one. The very weight of the blade would drive it half through a man's arm, if it were only allowed to fall from a little height. But the Ghoorkas have a mode of striking which resembles the "drawing" cut of the broadsword, and which urges the sharp edge through flesh and bone alike.

Before passing to the mode in which the kookery is used, I may mention that it is not employed for domestic purposes, being too highly valued by the owner. For such purposes two smaller knives are used, of very similar form, but apparently of inferior metal. These are kept in little cases attached to the side of the kookery-sheath, just as is the case with the knives attached to a Highlander's dirk, or the arrangement of the Dyak sword, which has already been described in the article upon Borneo. There is also a little flat leathern purse, with a double flap. This is pointed like a knife-sheath, and is kept in a pocket of its own fastened upon the larger sheath.

In the illustration the kookery is shown with all its parts. Fig. 1 shows the kookery in its scabbard, tile top of the purse and the handles of the supplementary knives being just visible as they project from the sheaths. At Fig. 2 the kookery itself is drawn, so as to show the peculiar curve of the blade and the very small handle. Fig. 3 represents the purse as it appears when closed, and Figs. 4 and 5 are the supplementary knives. My own specimen, which, as I have already mentioned, is a small one, measures fifteen inches from hilt to point in a straight line twenty-one inches if measured along the curve of the back. Its weight is exactly twelve ounces. The knife is a very plain one, no ornament of any kind being used, and the maker has evidently contented himself with expending all his care upon the blade, which is forged from the celebrated "wootz" steel.

This steel is made by the natives in a very simple but effectual manner. After smelting the iron out of magnetic ore, the Indian smith puts small pieces of it in a crucible, and mixes little bits of wood with them. He then covers the crucible with leaves and plenty of clay, and puts it in his simple furnace. The furnace being lighted, a constant blast of air is driven through it for about three hours, at the expiration of which time the iron, now converted into cast-steel, is found in the form of a small cake at the bottom of the crucible. Wootz steel was at one time much used in England, and great numbers of these cakes were imported.

In the hands of an experienced wielder this knife is about as formidable a weapon as can be conceived. Like all really good weapons, its efficiency depends much more upon the skill than the strength of the wielder, and thus it happens that the little Ghoorka, a mere boy in point of stature, will cut to pieces a gigantic adversary who does not understand his mode of onset. The Ghoorka generally strikes upward with the kookery, possibly in order to avoid wounding himself should his blow fail, and possibly because an upward cut is just the one that can be least guarded against.

Years ago, when we were engaged in the many Indian wars which h led at last to our Oriental empire, the Ghoorkas proved themselves most formidable enemies, as since they have proved themselves most invaluable allies. Brave as lions, active as monkeys, and fierce as tigers, the lithe, wiry little men came leaping over the ground to the attack, moving so quickly, and keeping so far apart from each other, that musketry was no use against them. When they came near the soldiers, they suddenly crouched to the ground, dived under the bayonets, struck upward at the men with their kookeries, ripping them open with a single blow, and then, after having done all the mischief in their power, darting off as rapidly as they had come. Until our men learned this mode of attack, they were greatly discomfited by their little opponents, who got under their weapons, cutting or slashing with knives -as sharp as razors, and often escaping unhurt from the midst of bayonets. They would also dash under the bellies of the officers' horses, rip them open with one blow of the kookery, and aim another at leg of the officer as he and his horse fell together.

Tiger HuntPerhaps no better proof can be given of the power of the weapon, and the dexterity of the user, than the fact that a Ghoorka will not hesitate to meet a tiger, himself being armed with nothing but his kookery. He stands in front of the animal (see the next page), an as it springs he leaps to the left, delivering as he does so a blow toward the tiger. As the reader is aware, all animals of the cat tribe attack by means of the paw; and so the tiger, in passing the Ghoorka, mechanically strikes at him.

The man is well out of reach of the tiger's paw, but it just comes within the sweep of the kookery, and, what with the force of the tiger's stroke, what with the blow delivered by the man, the paw is always disabled, and often fairly severed from the limb. Furious with pain and rage, the tiger leaps round, and makes another spring at his little enemy. But the Ghoorka is as active as the tiger, and has sprung round as soon as he delivered his blow, so as to be on the side of the disabled paw. Again the tiger attacks, but this time his blow is useless, and the Ghoorka steps in and delivers at the neck or throat of the tiger a stroke which generally proves fatal.

The favorite blow is one upon the back of the neck, because it severs the spine, and the tiger rolls on the ground a lifeless mass. For so fierce is the tiger's fury, that, unless the animal is rendered absolutely powerless, rage supplies for a few moments the place of the ebbing life, and enables it to make a last expiring effort. All experienced hunters know and dread the expiring charge of a wounded lion or tiger, and, if possible, hide themselves as soon as they inflict the death wound. If they can do so, the animal looks round for its adversary, cannot see him, and at once succumbs; whereas, if it can espy its enemy, it flings all its strength into one effort, the result of which is frequently that the man and the tiger are found lying dead together. Many of these little hunters are decorated with necklaces made from the teeth and claws of the animals which they kill. One of these necklaces is in my collection, and is figured in illustration No. 1, on page 1403. It is made of the spoils of various animals, arranged in the following way. The central and most prominent object is one of the upper canine teeth of a tiger. The man may well be proud of this, for it is a very fine specimen, measuring, five inches and a half in length, and more than three inches in circumference. This tooth is shown at Fig. 5.

At Fig. 1 is a claw from a fore-foot of a tiger, evidently the same animal; and at Fig. 9 is a claw of the hind-foot. Figs. 2, 3, 7, 8 are differently sized teeth of the crocodile; and Fgs. 4 and 6 represent claws from the foot of the sloth-bear. The reader may remember that in all uncivilized countries such spoils are of the highest value, and play the same part with regard to them, that titles and decorations do among more civilized nations. Consequently, it is almost impossible to procure such ornaments, the natives having as strong objection to part with them as a holder of the Victoria Cross would have to resign at the same time his badge and a right to wear it.

Return to
Home Page
Arco Iris Arsenal
See more high art arms at the
Arco Iris Arsenal

This site designed and maintained by Arco Iris Web Designs, LLC. © Copyright 2001. All rights reserved.