Traditional Hats in 11 Asian Countries

Asian Hat Collection Donated by Barbara Park

Before humans roamed the Earth, plants were already in place. Our ancestors relied on nature for their daily survival, and this relationship built civilisation. Leaves and twigs were made into temporary baskets to carry hunted and gathered foods. Plant materials were manipulated to make items such as mats, roofs, and walls for shelter. Eventually, plant fibres were extracted and processed into yarns, then woven into cloth to clothe us, giving birth to textile culture.

Barbara Park has travelled extensively in Asia, sometimes for work, other times for vacation and cultural study trips. She is always looking out for a different hat. From the hats selected to represent eleven countries in this exhibition, we can see both the diversity and similarity in materials, techniques, and usage, which were often results of exchange through trading over centuries.

Small conical plaited bamboo hat Bhutan (2000)China National Silk Museum

1. Bhutan

In Bhutan, there are at least 34 species of the bamboo present, belonging to 15 genera. Bamboo is used in daily life as building material, basketry, including the arrows and bows used in the national sport of archery.

Small Conical Bamboo HatChina National Silk Museum

In the remote Himalayan village of Laya, at over 3880-meter altitude in north-western Bhutan, the women are dressed in robes of yak hair cloth.

A pointed spike adorns the small conical bamboo hats and colourful beadwork in the back consisting of about 30 or more strands of white, red, orange, and blue beads.

Japanese souvenirsChina National Silk Museum

2. Japan

Japanese culture was influenced since ancient times, primarily by multiple Chinese dynasties.

Bamboo hat marked with Nakasendo, an old trading routeChina National Silk Museum

As a country made up of islands, Japan has absorbed many influences from different cultures through sea routes and consolidated into its unique form.

Three samurai warriors in armour (1880)China National Silk Museum

The Samurai class has existed in Japan since the 10th century. They were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan.

Oshie of SamuraiChina National Silk Museum

Their costumes, armour, and helmets were unique to specific periods and regions.

Black lacquered conical Jingasa hat with Mon emblem from Edo period (Mid Edo)China National Silk Museum

Lacquer is applied to waterproof the helmets of wood, bamboo, paper and textile foundation.

A Hydrographical and Chorographical Chart of the Philippine IslandsChina National Silk Museum

3. Philippines

Philippines has an extended history trading with China, and the oldest Chinatown is in Manila. Spaniards, Americans, and the Japanese had ruled the lands before the Philippines gaining independence in 1946.

Oval shaped plaited bamboo hat with decorative patternChina National Silk Museum

The tropical lands of the Philippines are abundant with palms, vines, and grasses, providing food, wearables, habitat, and transport.

Pina clothChina National Silk Museum

Well-known textiles from the area include the Pina cloth of pineapple fibres, Abaca from the Banana plant family ( also called Manila Hemp).

Woman in blue, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market (2011-02-01) by Julia MaudlinChina National Silk Museum

4. Thailand

Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations for those seeking a tropical holiday experience. Rich Khmer culture, abundant with flora and fauna, created a friendly culture and economy. 

The Floating Market in Bangkok is a must-see, with the iconic flat-top Ngob hat.

Flat top hat, Ngob, made of leaves from talipot palm (1991)China National Silk Museum

The high top allows air to circulate between the hat and the head, a design to keep the head cool.

Fisherman on Inle Lake (2016-08-05) by Jakub HałunChina National Silk Museum

5. Myanmar

Myanmar is a Buddhist country, connected in the north to Yunnan province of China.  At one of the famous scenery Inle Lake, fisherman steers their fishing boats with one foot on one peddle.

Stained bamboo sheath hat with Burmese script inside (2001)China National Silk Museum

Hats shields one from the harsh sunlight and downpours, it is inexpensive and often given as a token of love and care. Markings and writings are often on the inside of hats for personalisation. On this hat, the markings show is a gift from a friend, with blessing for the receiver.

Floating market at the Banjarmasin, Indonesia (2016)China National Silk Museum

6. Indonesia

The Spice Routes, also known as Maritime Silk Roads, is the name given to the network of sea routes that link the East with the West. Some essential spices are exclusively found on the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, earning the title of the Spice Islands.

Split bamboo conical hat with metal tip (2002)China National Silk Museum

Trading over the centuries has brought in multi-cultural influences to the Indonesian archipelago.

7. Cambodia

Cambodia is mostly a land of plains and great rivers and lies amid important overland and river trade routes linking China to India and Southeast Asia.

Angkor Wat, sam garza, 2006, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Angkor Wat, the legendary temple complex in Siam Reap, is the reason to visit Cambodia. The priced Chinese Dain Cui Kingfisher feather jewellery used a species of Kingfisher bird from Cambodia. The trade of these precious feathers may have been a major contributor to the wealth of the Khmer Empire and used to help fund the construction of the magnificent temple complex. One of the best accounts of Cambodia is The Customs of Cambodia, written by a Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan during the Yuan Dynasty in the late 13th century.

Dome-shaped farmer hat with overlapping palm leaves, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Rounded crown bamboo and palm leaves hatChina National Silk Museum

8. Laos

Laos is a landlocked country, sharing its border with five countries: China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Woman with traditioanl hat, LaosChina National Silk Museum

Laos has one of the lowest population densities in Asia and is home to 68 different ethnic groups. The history of Laos is unique, with a national character defined by its diversity in both culture and customs. 

Embroidered border fragment of a ‘Sinh’ skirtChina National Silk Museum

Females wear a ‘Sinh’ tube skirt, often featuring a decorative border of supplementary wefts or embroidery. 

9. Vietnam

Vietnam is bordered by China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand across the Gulf of Thailand and the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia across the South China Sea.

Over centuries, Chinese influences Vietnamese culture in terms of Confucian ideology, governance, and the arts. Following independence from China in the 10th century, successive Vietnamese imperial dynasties flourished as the country embarked on a southward expansion that absorbed territories of the Champa and Khmer civilisations, which resulted in regional variances of modern-day Vietnamese culture.

Iconic Non La hat of stitched palm leaves on split bamboo rings and decorated interior.China National Silk Museum

The nón lá  (leaf hat) of the Vietnamese people forms a perfect circular cone which tapers smoothly from the base to the apex.

Colourful decorations are often found inside the hats as a way of personalisation, identifying one’s hat.

Tonkin style palm leaf flat hatChina National Silk Museum

The Ba tam is a traditional Vietnamese flat palm leaf hat, it was worn by women in North Vietnam’s Tokin region, as an accessory to finer garments.

Tonkin woman (1904) by Pierre DieulefilsChina National Silk Museum

The hat, when worn by mediums, traditionally had silver ornaments hanging from silk strings around the brim.

Penampang Sabah Kaamatan Celebrations (2014) by CEphoto, Uwe AranasChina National Silk Museum

10. Malaysia

Malaysia has a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual society.

Hexagon shaped plaited hat with 3-colour patterning (1993)China National Silk Museum

Within the Malaysian community, there is a Malay culture, a Chinese culture, an Indian culture, a Eurasian culture, along with the cultures of the indigenous groups of the peninsula and north Borneo. Other cultural influences came from trading on the sea route which includes Persian, Arabic, and British cultures. 

11. China

Barbara Park in China, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Based in Hong Kong for over forty years, Barbara has made many trips to China, frequently collecting a new hat from a different part of China. The wide variety of forms, materials, and techniques tells of the vast natural and craft resources available.

2 colour split bamboo hat with fancy plaiting, 2000/2004, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
Lacquered bamboo hat, 1988, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Split bamboo plaited hat, lined with bamboo sheath, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
Sharp-pointed conical hat with fine bamboo plaiting, 2003, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Pointed split bamboo plaited hat, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
Wide brim plaited straw hat, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Hexagon shaped hat of plaited split bamboo, 1995, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
Split bamboo hat with fancy plaiting, 2005, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Split bamboo plaited hat, lined with plastic sheet, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
Conical hat with patterned plaiting, 1990, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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Dolls in traditional costumes, From the collection of: China National Silk Museum
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The hat collection gives us an excellent opportunity to review how plant resources around us affect our lives. Today, in a world over-supplied with colourful manufactured items, these hats, made of perishable materials, might look primitive and outdated. Through these humble hats, let us ponder again, how humans take reference from nature, and how our evolution depends on working with nature.

Credits: Story

Co-curators: ZHOU Yang, CHEUNG Sai May Edith 
Exhibition advisor: ZHAO Feng
Exhibition assistance: JIA Liling
Exhibition design: DONG Feiyan, WANG Jueying
Catalogue design: ZHANG Yuyan
Exhibits management: ZHANG Guowei,  MO Senyao
Exhibit photography: LI Yongjia

The Barbara Park Asian Hat Collection of 128 items was donated to the China National Silk Museum in 2016, to enable in-depth study of crafts and appreciation of the diversity of the natural world and cultures in the region. 
Barbara is an Australian entrepreneur who has lived and worked in Hong Kong for over fifty years. Her parents and grandparents have all been keen gardeners and craftspeople, so her appreciation of nature is firmly in her blood. Her favourite colour is green. For twenty-five years she had a landscaping business throughout Asia, during which the collection of hats was amassed. She also collects a variety of Asian crafts including porcelain, wood carvings, baskets and textiles.
She is a Life Member of many cultural associations, including the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Friends of the Museum, Chinese University, the Friends of the Hong Kong University Museum, The Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Gardening Society. So many handcrafts are disappearing in Barbara's lifetime that she felt dutybound to collect and is delighted that the hats can be shared with so many visitors from Hangzhou, China, and visitors from around the world.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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