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What is a Rice Hat?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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A rice hat is conical hat traditionally made of plant fibers and bamboo with a cloth strap attached to hold the hat in place. This style of hat is particularly associated with Vietnam, though variations are also worn in other east Asian countries, as well as in India and Mexico. In Vietnam, these hats have both practical and decorative functions. The wide brim of the rice hat is particularly useful as protection for people working in the sun, and the natural fibers can be wetted to cool the wearer by evaporation. These features make rice hats especially practical for field workers and residents of tropical areas.

Making a rice hat requires skill and precision. Many of the materials traditionally used can be replaced with newer, stronger components, but traditional fibers are typically still used for the woven material of the hat. In Vietnam, palm leaves are flattened with irons and then bleached with sulfur and sunlight to achieve a light color. Japanese rice hats use dried sedge as its main woven material. Decorative threads are often used to embroider the hats with bright designs, though drawing or painting on the hats is also a common embellishment.

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Rice hats are the subject of many legends in Asian countries. In Vietnam, there is a fable about a giant woman who protected people from harsh weather with her conical hat made from palm leaves that was as big as the sky. This woman taught her people farming, and hats are made in the shape of hers to continue her mission of protecting workers from the sun and rain. Tales like this point to the importance of the rice hat in Vietnamese culture.

There are many names for rice hats, though most of these may be deemed offensive to varying degrees. The term "coolie hat," for example, is particularly offensive because of its use of an antiquated and racist term for Asian workers. On the other hand, terms such as paddy hat or rice picker hat could be seen as ignorant of the traditional and decorative uses of these hats, as well as of the great skill and craft involved in making them.

The offensive implication of these terms is that anyone who wears such a hat is a rice picker even though, for example, they are mainly worn by Buddhist monks in Korea. While "rice hat" is the most common general term for this style of hat, it is important to be sensitive to the implications of using this language instead of more appropriate descriptive terms, such as the words used for these hats in the places they are worn.

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