Written By: Kawkab al-Thaibani
Article Date: Apr 10, 2007 - 11:50:00 AM
Kofias could cost as much as $100
As spring turns to summer, and the days heat up, farmers in Yemen are taking to their fields. But Yemen’s sun can be fierce, and so to protect themselves, Yemenis have invented broad straw hats to provide shade from the sun’s harsh rays. The traditional Yemeni shade hats include the dhola, a tall, flat-topped hat woven from palm; the kofia, a short, circular hat woven from bamboo; and the Hadrami pyramid hat, a tall pointy hat woven from palm fronds. These hats fly off the shelves this time of year.
These hats are now treasured not merely for their practical benefits, but also for their style. Many foreigners come to the souks in Sana’a’s Old City just to purchase these emblematic Yemeni hats. Hat vendor Ali Omar, 70, thin and wrinkled, sits on the ground near Baab al-Yemen to hawk his dholas and kofias. His business is brisk this time of year. “The dhola costs one US dollar,” he said. Omar said the dholas are the most popular with farmers, who spend most of their day outdoors. Dhola protects them from the sun while they are normally busy with their farming work, he said. Two Yemeni ladies visited his offering of hats to inquire about the price of the kofias.
“I want to buy one for my 11 year old son to take a photo of him in the whole Yemeni dress,” said a woman who declined to give her name. There are many Yemeni men who still wear the kofias, said her sister, who also declined to give her name. She said that she has daughters; otherwise, she would buy them too. They said that they lived for a long time in Saudi Arabia, but they have passion for traditional Yemeni goods. Omar said that these hats are made in and exported from Tihama in the Hodeidah governorate.
Dholas are more popular and cheaper than the other straw hats.
Tihama is particularly famous for making these hats, he said. Omar said that these dhola hats are cheap; the most expensive one cost $2, unlike some kinds of expensive kofias. “Some could reach $100. I don’t sell them like this on the road, but they can be made by special request,” he said. It’s not just farmers and tourists who make use of the shade these hats offer. Three meters away from him were two teenage Sana’ani girls selling lahoh (Yemeni pastries). They were both wearing dholas atop their setarrahs, the colorful traditional shroud that Sana’ani women wear as an alternative to the black abaya.
The setarrah is distinguished by its busy block-print patterns and many colors, especially red, blue and green. “We like these hats because we have to stand out in the sun for long periods of time, so they are very practical for us,” said Amani al-Maswari, 19, one lahoh seller. Her colleague, Iman al-Maswari, 16, agreed that the hats give good protection from the sun. Both said that the straw hats are often more expensive than cloth hats, but they are better because they don’t make their heads hot. Despite being more expensive, they are affordable, they said. Both teens suffer to make their living.
“Some people look down on us because we sell lahoh,” they said, “Even some distant members of our families, but we don’t care because we need money for our families.” As she spoke, a woman came up to them and lifted the veil over Iman’s face to make sure that she was the same vendor she usually patronizes. “It is ok; she did that to make sure that I am the same person because I used to not cover my eyes,” Iman said.
Hat vendor, Ali Omar
Two Greek men examined the hats and asked about the price, but they did not buy them. “We are on our first tour and we don’t want to rush to buy anything,” said Alex Seferiades, 38, a Greek economics program officer with the European Commission. However, Seferiades admitted that the hats were nice. Hat seller Ali Ahmed, 45, agreed with Omar that the dhola are the bestselling hats. “The dholas are sold more often because they are cheaper and more practical,” Ahmed said. The kofias and the dohlas have existed at least since the time of the Imam, he said.
Dholas sell particularly well this time of year, because it is the farming season, said Mohammed al-Matari, 30, another vendor. However, al-Matari said that the dholas also sell very well during the whole year, and he makes good money from them. The kofias are most famously worn during wedding ceremonies, as the grooms wear them. Sheikhs tend to buy the most expensive ones. “The best quality kofias could cost $150 apiece and are only found in Tihama, made by a special man who writes his name on them as a credit for his good work,” he said. They are good to the extent that you could fold them up tight like a cigarette, and even drive over them with a car and they won’t be affected.
They are expensive because they are made from the heart of the bamboo, he said. The bamboo hats are made in certain governorates like Hadhramout, Dmat in Ibb, Rada’a, al-Baidha, and are mostly found in Marib, he said. Add to that, making the hats is tiring, because the maker must take a big bundle of bamboo and take out the heart only, said al-Matari. Unlike the others, al-Matari has some Hadhrami pyramid hats, which are worn primarily in Hadhramout. “Those are only bought by the foreigners; there is a French lady who ordered them and I imported them from Seiyun to here,” he said. “Obviously, they like their appearance because it is uncommon,” he added half teasingly.
Dholas provides good sun protection.
These hats are disproportionately tall, which allows air to pass through and cool the head, said al-Matari. He believes that the dholas are good for the poor because they are cheap. They also have holes in them to let the air go in and out, and thus the hat does not make the head hot, unlike the cloth ones. “I only sell dhola—for the farmers and the other street peddlers. I don’t sell kofias, since they’re only for bridegrooms,” said vendor Abdullah al-Shagagi, 18.
Fatima Ahmed, 50, commented that the old people used to hide their hats. “Now the young people use them and even buy new ones.” Naif al-Kholani said that he sold four hundreds dholas during the summer. “They are popular mostly in summer.” Mohammed al-Azzani, 50, a plastic case seller, was putting his stuff on the ground and arguing with the customers. Al-Azzani put a dhola on his head to protect him from the sun. “It is the best; cheap and airy.”
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