Machete of Paete and other Petrified Idols of Underdevelopment

Machete Poster and sculpture by Paloy Cagayat. Photo: Lakan Sining.

The town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines is an artisanal community famous for its living tradition of wood carving of religious santos. In 1580, the town came under the administration of Spanish friars Juan de Plasencia and Diego de Oropesa, who encountered a native population already settled but were originally migrants from the island of Kalimantan using wooden boats called Balangay. They found an existing wood carving tradition as evidenced by the name of the town: “Paete” (Tagalog for chisel). In the 1990s, the wood carving industry saw a decline because of changing religious attitudes, which meant lower sales. Another factor was massive deforestation, which negatively impacted the industry. Sculptors had to explore new markets for their wares. The essay traces the roots of this artisanal industry from boat-building and seafaring traditions to its revival in Filipino popular culture, presenting the case of woodcarver Paloy Cagayat, who gained commercial success and local fame when he was commissioned to make the mythical figure of “Machete,”  a comic-book character derived from a Native American warrior chief; Cagayat’s vision of Machete figured in racy Filipino B-movies in the 1990s. I will briefly compare Paete to other indigenous wood carving traditions such as the bulul of Northern Luzon, arguing for a deeper connection between these traditions to trouble the prevailing distinctions made by modern national and religious cultures.


Keywords: petrification, rizal, expocision, material culture, anitu, ifugao

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