Southeast Asia’s Straw Hat
When visiting Southeast Asia, you may notice a distinctive type of headgear worn by farmers, shop keepers, and just about anybody else. The headgear is almost synonymous with the region and for Vietnam, it is part of the national costume.
The conical straw hat, sometimes called rice hat or coolie hat is a type of straw hat originating in East and Southeast Asia. Many in East Asia, Indochina and even Thailand wear the headgear for sun and rain protection. The shape of the hat is useful in blocking out these elements. Wearers of the hat usually have a piece of cloth (or silk) as a chin strap to keep the headgear on their head. The wearer of the hat can also dip it in water so to keep his/her head cool. Other uses for the hat include a basin for scooping water when thirsty, a fan or as a basket for vegetables.
The hats in Vietnam (called non la locally) are noted for their charming designs. In Hue, random verses from poems are decorated into the hats (in keeping with the romantic look of the hat and the artistry required to make them) as well as oriental symbols and words (for decoration purposes). Some of these can only be seen when sunlight hits the headgear.
There is a legend regarding the origins of the hat. A long time ago, there was a tall woman who wore such a hat made of four round leaves knitted with bamboo. The weather always became favorable wherever she appeared. She also enlightened many people on farming methods and plantation of trees and vegetables. This woman all of a sudden disappeared and ascended into heaven. She then became recognized as a goddess and ever since, hats were made imitating hers to protect from the sunshine and rain.
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