The conical hat (means “nón lá” in Vietnamese) are traditional head wear of Vietnamese. It is known as “Non La” and be part of spirit of the Vietnamese nation.
Like many other traditional costumes of Vietnam, Non la has its own origin, coming from a legend related to the history of rice growing in Vietnam. The story is about a giant woman from the sky who has protected humankind from a deluge of rain. She wore a hat made of four round shaped leaves to guard against all the rain. After the Goddess was gone, Vietnamese built a temple to commemorate her as the Rain-shielding Goddess.
Vietnamese tried to make a hat modelling after the Goddess’ by stitching together palm leaves, which is now known as Non la. The image of Non la has become strongly associated with peasant lives from the paddy field to boat men and women.
Making a Non La
Non la is made out of such simple and available materials as palm leaves, bark of Moc tree and bamboo. The leaves of palm trees are considered most ideal and a perfect conical frame is made from bamboo. Young green palm leaves, after selection, are allowed to dry under the sun. The warmer the sun gets, the easier the leaves wither. The craftsmen then uses a baked steel bar to iron the dried leaves, heated just enough to flatten the leaves but not burning them which causes its color to turn yellow. On the other hand, if the bar is not hot enough or had cooled down upon touching the leaves, it causes the dried leaves to wrinkle after the ironing process. After they are flattened, the leaves are sewn on a conical frame consisting of 16 round bamboo rims. Sixteen had been found to be the perfect number after years of studying and testing along with the practical experience of skillful artisans. That had become an unchangeable principle when constructing a perfect-fitting and delicate hat.
Looking at how a hat is constructed may seem very simple, but in reality, it is not. A well-made Nón Lá requires painstaking precision of the maker owed not only from talent itself, but also from numerous years of experience in the craft.
In modern life today, “nón lá” is no longer widely used in daily life as before.But the conical hat strongly remains a symbol of Vietnam and is still popular across the country. For the past thousands of years until today, Nón Lá is very much an integral part of Vietnamese life. If anyone happens to come across a white Nón Lá at any point, it will unmistakably symbolize the Vietnamese charm, elegance and romance.
So if you have a chance to travel to Vietnam, do not forget to buy a Non La to make memories. This is also a meaningful gift for give your loved ones after the trip.