Monday, May 30, 2011


PASS THE HAT! Women working on buri hats, made for local use and for the international market. Pampanga hat makers flourished in the towns of Arayat, Apalit, San Simon and San Luis, where buri hats proved to be the most popular. Ca. 1915.

Whenever my late Ingkung Dandu would go someplace in town like hear Mass, he would wear his trademark white pair of pants, striped polo, two-toned shoes and then would saunter out with his walking cane in his hands and a straw boater hat with a ribbon on his head. Though small in stature, my Ingkung stood ten feet tall in that outfit, looking jaunty and smart, especially with that black-banded, flat-brimmed hat that came from a shop in Sta. Cruz, Manila. I remember that his younger brother, Ingkung Lolung, also sported a similar hat when he dropped by the house for his regular weekly visits, and many times, I was tempted to try his hat only to be prevented by my father’s stern stare.

It is almost mandatory to wear some form of head protection in this tropical weather—either under a scorching sun or rainy weather. Before commercial hat shops were established in Pampanga, everday functional hats—"kupya"-- were made all over the province. Apalit was once a hat center, and in Barrio Sucad, ‘kupyang ebus’ by the thousands were woven and commercially sold in town markets from as far as Tarlac, Baguio, Bataan, Zambales and Manila. But due to the scarcity of ‘ebus’ materials, production was not sustained and gradually slowed down in the 1920s.

In Bulacan, weavers put Baliwag on the national map with their export-quality “balibuntal’ hats and their characteristic fringed brim. Pangasinan has its 'Calasiao hats' while Laguna is famed for its ‘buri hat’. In Pampanga, Arayat gained recognition for its 'Arayat hats' that were made in commercial quantities for the international market). Other hat-making towns included San Luis and San Simon. Weavers not only made generic ‘kupyas’ but other hat forms, like the ‘turung’, cone-shaped men’s hats that were made in Minalin. The ‘turung’, made from ‘sasa’ leaves, came in different sizes—the biggest being the size of an ‘igu’ or a native circular sieve. Workers of the field often wore the ‘turung’ in tandem with a ‘takuku’, a cape woven from 'sasa' leaves that functioned as a raincoat during downpours.

The "sumbreru" (sambalilo, in Tagalog), is also a common worker’s hat that had a wide brim to protect the eyes from the glare of the sun . Very similar to the Mexican ‘sombrero’, the local sumbreru has a finer weave despite its being plain. Katipuneros, of course, pinned the brim to the front top of their hat for better visibility, and this has become part of their trademark ‘revolucionario’ look.

Hats made from natural sources include the ‘salakut’, fashioned from dried gourds and squashes. Other examples are made from tortoiseshell strips and finely-woven ebus or buri, which were more conical in shape. The top of the head rested on a trivet made from woven bamboo. ‘Salakuts’ were prized possessions of menfolks, whether plain or fancy. The rarer ones were embellished with silver appliqu├ęs made from melted Mexican coins, with matching silver neck clasps and topped by silver-tipped finials.

Americans introduced Kapampangans to whole new sense of style, and hats were staple fashion statements for many young men growing up in the 20s and 30s. There were tophats for formal functions, derby hats for casual strolls (Rizal wore one to his execution) and boat hats for outdoor recreation. Straw boater Italian hats were popularized by Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire who wore them in their movie musicals. Panama hats – actually, of Ecuadorian origin—were widely worn by Filipinos, emulating Hollywood stars who donned them in movies such as “Casablanca” and “Gone with the Wind”. American-invented sports like golf and baseball--so well-received in the Islands--gave rise to golfer's hats and baseball caps that are still cool and hip to wear to this day.

Pampanga shops that operated in the 1930s sold hats of all shapes, sizes and materials. In San Fernando, one could go to La Fernandina, Zapateria Moderna or to the Japanese bazaar of T. Tsuchibashi along Mercado St. and the Indian Bazaar of Battan Singh. "Sombreros del pais y del extranjero" (local and imported hats) could be bought in Macabebe at the Bazar L. Magat, while "El 96" in Angeles offered a few headwear selections.

Today, of course, the hat is staging a comeback; young people have taken to wearing hats again to complete their fashion statement. The most popular is the ‘fedora’, originally a woman's hat, made of fabric, felt or straw and embellished with colored bands, feathers or flowers, then worn smartly at an angle. The only difference is, kids never seem to take them off—be they inside classrooms, churches or malls. It’s all part of Kapampangan ‘porma’, of course, of which our youths are prime subscribers, and though one may agree that ‘clothes make the man’, hats certainly have a way of making him hold his head up high!

(Thanks to Joel P. Mallari of the Center for Kapampangan Studies for additional info on hat-making in Pampanga)

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