The Thing That Covers Your Head if You're Harvesting Rice
July 6, 2006 5:34 AM   Subscribe

OtherPeoples'HatsFilter. I have to describe an illustration from the 1940s in which the "Asian" (nationality unspecified) character is wearing the kind of conical peaked hat usually seen on traditionally dressed Vietnamese peasants. I know that in the past these hats were referred to as "Saipan hats" or, more offensively, "Saipan coolie hats." Is there a more anthropologically correct and culturally accurate term for them? Thanks for any and all insight on this one.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia refers to them as Conical Straw Hats as well as Coolie Hats.

According to this page they are called "Nón La" in Vietnam.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:29 AM on July 6, 2006

I've only ever seen them referred to as coolie hats, even on English signs in China. Wikipedia has them as conical straw hats or coolie hats.
posted by goo at 6:31 AM on July 6, 2006

Duh, preview is good. What EndsOfInvention said.
posted by goo at 6:32 AM on July 6, 2006

Is coolie now offensive in and of itself, as opposed to being used as a slur for Asians in general? I just can't keep up. Neither coolie nor coolie hat is marked "disparaging" or "offensive" in the latest (2004) edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate. So what do you call an unskilled laborer or porter in the Far East?
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on July 6, 2006

I saw a gardener (caucasian, for what's worth) wearing one of these last week and was wondering myself whether the name coolie hat was acceptable. Thanks for the question and answers!
posted by Songdog at 7:17 AM on July 6, 2006

I didn't think it was offensive (the hat features as a costume piece when creating characters in the very-popular City Of Heroes and City Of Villains MMORPGs and is called a "coolie"), but the Wikipedia article for "coolie" ("unskilled laborers from Asia particularly China and India in the 1800s to early 1900s") says that it is "often considered an offensive racial slur on par with 'nigger'."
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:29 AM on July 6, 2006

For some reason, dames don't like getting called "skirts" either, even though as a name for an article of clothing, it's inoffensive.
posted by RobotHero at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2006

I asked a Japanese man once, because this question also bugs me. After a moment of thought, he said they're called kasa or gasa (I forget which) and I think that's their same word for umbrella, which makes sense in this context.
posted by Rash at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2006

Thanks to you all- boy would I love to refer to 'em as "Non La" because I'd sound super smart. But it sounds like I might just have to go with "concical straw hats." Interesting that they are referred to as "coolie hats" even in China- a borrowing of a Western term for something that was theirs in the first place.

It seems that there are some parts of everyday life in a culture that are so embedded and obvious they don't necessarily have names.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:42 AM on July 6, 2006

Rash -- it's "kasa", and umbrella is also "kasa", but they're written with different kanji. "Hat" or "shade" is 笠, and "umbrella" is 傘.
posted by vorfeed at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2006

Is coolie now offensive in and of itself?

Yes it is. "Coolie" is derived from the Hindi term for the lowest class of labour to which porters, rickshaw pullers, shoe shiners and garbage collectors belong. Such forms of exploitation are still rife and the term is still in literal use throughout Asia, therefore it would be disengenous to try to dissassociate its meaning in a Western context.
posted by randomstriker at 12:32 PM on July 6, 2006

Apparently coolie is one of a few words that originated in Chinese, became Anglicized, and was then adopted back into Chinese (well, Cantonese at least)..
posted by Chuckles at 1:38 PM on July 6, 2006

So did is it derived from Chinese or Hindi?
posted by pantsrobot at 4:49 PM on July 6, 2006

Hmm.. Now that I have read that wikipedia link a little..

I'm referring to a few Hong Kong people I've met who believed that it was an english word. On further discussion they concluded that there was a Cantonese word similar, but not identical, to the Cantonese'ified (sinocised? whatever..) version of the english word.
posted by Chuckles at 5:16 PM on July 6, 2006

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