The Sound of the Machete

El machetazo. Rachel hacks away at the jungle of Federico's finca in the mangroves to clear space for coffee seedlings.
El machetazo. Rachel hacks away at the jungle of Federico’s finca in the mangroves to clear space for coffee seedlings. Photo credit: Matt Tansey

There is a certain sound that metal-on-plant makes. As the force of a swinging machete hits tree branches, plant stalks, or grass blades, the metal rings out with a particular ring.

It was a sound I hadn’t really heard until I got to the Latin American coffee mountains, but it’s one that I heard pretty much every day while I was there. It’s part of the sonic texture of place that defines the rural agriculture of the region.

And it’s not something you typically hear in Brooklyn. But two days ago I was walking down my block, and I heard it. A man was slicing the branches off an overgrown tree planted in front of his house.

I stopped short at the sound. With every ping of metal-on-plant a face flashed in my memory: Marcos chopping cow grass, Maria clearing a path through the forest, Carlos lazily slicing vines for fun, Federico in the mangroves, and Guillermo carving out space for a vegetable garden.

I saw knots of workers walking into the cafetales, sheathed machetes in ornate leather dangling from their hips. I saw Gerardo felling a banana tree and Manuel freeing the coffee trees from creeping tendrils. I even saw Natalia peeling the gooey green skins off bananas.

Standing on the Brooklyn sidewalk I remembered all the men, women, and children I had watched work deftly, manipulate machetes as extensions of themselves.

The man pruning his tree in Brooklyn paused to glance at me, still stationary in the middle of the sidewalk. I smiled, and he turned around to resume his hacking, the sound of pinging blade-on-tree echoing off the pavement and brick.

I walked down the block, listening to the music of man versus flora. Sound triggers memory and connects us to place, but there’s also some synesthesia wound up in memory, because in the sharp taste of the bitter grit at the bottom of every cup of coffee is the sound of the ringing ping of machete-on-plant as coffeepeople hack away at something.

 

Read interviews with and accounts of Marcos, Maria, Carlos, Federico, Guillermo, and many more coffeepeople in  the print compilation of this coffee odyssey, “When Coffee Speaks: Stories from and of Latin American Coffeepeople.” Only 2 weeks left to advance order your copy via Kickstarter. Campaign ends September 1st!

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2 Comments

  1. You have described the dance of the machete beautifully! ” in the sharp taste of the bitter grit at the bottom of every cup of coffee is the sound of the ringing ping of machete-on-plant as coffeepeople hack away at something.” I am always filled with awe at the ability of campesinos in Colombia to peel and open coconuts without cutting their finger off or spilling even a drop of coconut water.

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