One of the first things that you’ll notice upon arriving in Vietnam is the cone-shaped hat that most of the locals are wearing. This hat is known as “Non La” and is a cultural icon of Vietnam. The Non La is often worn along with the Ao Dai, a traditional Vietnamese dress. Both the Non La and Ao Dai are an iconic symbol of the country and are still being worn by many locals today.
All throughout history, Non La has played an important role in the culture of Vietnam. And just like other traditional costumes in Vietnam, Non La has an origin story that usually stems from a legend. If you’re curious about this hat and want to know how it plays a role in shaping Vietnam’s culture and history, then here’s everything you need to know about these conical hats.
History and Legend of Non La
According to history, the conical hat was seen engraved in the Dao Thic and Ngoc Lu bronze jars, which dated back to 2500 and 3000 BC. These jars are among the oldest archaeological treasures in the country, which is why they have a significant meaning to Vietnam’s history.
Since the early times, the conical hats have been a part of the daily lives of Vietnamese locals. These hats have also appeared in local folk tales and legends. One story goes that during torrential heavy rain, which lasted several weeks and caused massive destruction, a goddess suddenly appeared. To shield her self from the rain, she was seen wearing a giant hat made of large leaves that were stitched together with bamboo sticks. The hat was so big that it has not only shielded the goddess from the rain but the local people as well. And thanks to the hat, people were able to go back to their normal life.
A temple was then built to honor the goddess. People went to forests to look for leaves similar to the one she wore and stitched the leaves together into a bamboo frame forming a conical shape. This hat has since become an indispensable item in the daily life of the Vietnamese people especially for farmers working on paddy fields. Even fishermen in the coastal villages have followed suit and wore the cone-shaped hat as a protection from the scorching heat of the sun.
How the Conical Hats Are Made
The conical hats are woven using different kinds of leaves, such as bamboo, palm, and coconut leaves. Small and thin bamboo sticks were used to form a circle for the hat’s opening. The circle is attached to the conical frame using silk, filament, or other durable thread. Makers of these hats will make the leaves flat and would sew them together in a conical shape.
The sewed leaves are then attached to the circle frame. Since the leaves are thin, they tend to deteriorate easily when exposed in water. Thus, they cannot be worn under heavy rains. But some hat makers used bamboo swathes in order to create a layer of protection for these leaves. These layers are attached to the frames using strings.
Around the middle section of the hat, the hat maker would attach a strap with a thread. The strap is usually made from silk or velvet and available in different colors. The varnish is then applied on the outer portion of the hat in order to enhance the durability and make the hat look even more beautiful.
Importance of Non La in Vietnamese Culture
The conical hat’s main purpose is to keep the wearer protected from the harmful rays of the sun. In the rural areas of the country, you’ll see farmers working on rice fields wearing the conical hats. These farmers would never leave their house without their beloved hats. It has already been an important part of their everyday life.
In the big cities of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, local vendors on the streets and market can be seen wearing the hat. Locals from all walks of life, including students and working professionals, are also fond of wearing these hats.
In Vietnam, the Non La is considered a fashion statement. Girls wear it along with their Ao Dai to look even more stylish. Even in local Vietnamese fashion shows, fashion models can be seen regularly wearing the Non La as they walk into the runway. You can also find some young lovers shielding their kisses from the public behind the Non La!
Indeed, Non La is an important symbol of Vietnam and can make for a great souvenir to take home. This hat can serve as a perfect reminder of your wonderful adventures in Vietnam. You can buy this hat at the various local markets in Vietnam and their prices would vary depending on their style, materials, and design.