Navaja, Bowie’s Spanish Ancestor

Anyone who has handled a Spanish Navaja knows it’s not an ordinary pocket knife. With an oddly curved tail and broad, needle-sharp, pointed blade, the navaja (pronounced na-VAh-ha) was created by the Andalusians for only one purpose—fighting. Author and celebrated knife-fighting martial artist, James Loriega, believes the folding clasp navaja began in the 16th or 17th century as a result of a long history of Spanish preoccupation with edged weapons. The Spanish were the first to systemize the art of fencing and all classes of citizens were encouraged to wear swords up through the time of Ferdinand and Isabela. Knife based combat was common in the streets.

As society eventually discouraged wearing swords, the navaja was developed. Early navajas were not much smaller than a sword when open but when folded closed they were easily concealed and handled. These magnificent knives have an ominous appearance when open and it’s easy to understand why many people believe the early navaja was the original inspiration for the Bowie knife. No doubt a navaja unfolded before an unsuspecting victim must have had the same effect as Jim Bowie unsheathing his monster fixed blade.

By the 17th century, sailors, soldiers and explorers were unknowingly contributing to a growing national body of knife-fighting techniques that eventually became known as acero sevillano (Sevillian Steel) and the navajas that were carried for fighting were called sevillanas. The Spanish affection for knife combat is supported by the wide variety of combat knives found in their country that includes all sizes of curved navajas, ratcheting and non-ratcheting navajas, and stilettos.

© 2005 - Randy (Ransom) Price - S.W. Florida Knife Collectors Club
Picture courtesy of Cutlery To Go -


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