Hats of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is an ethnic and cultural crossroads for one of the most historically volatile regions on Earth. This, I think, needs no further exposition; suffice to say, modern day Afghanistan is a confusing hodgepodge of people who have been startlingly and indeed intentionally resistant to the kind of cultural homogenization by which other melting pots of the modern world are characterized.

Perhaps the most visible, and to outsiders difficult to recognize, symbol of this is the profound variety of headgear worn by the people there. You can tell by a person's hat what ethnic group they identify with, and often where they're from, sometimes even down to a particular valley. In a place like Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, that can be a very handy piece of information, and difficult to acquire otherwise.

Hats are listed below separated by gender, and beyond that, in a purely subjective "least-to-most alien to Westerners" order. They are referred to throughout by their Afghan/Pashto transliterated name. Do note, almost a dozen hats are not included in the list but are technically found within the borders of Afghanistan; for example, the Uzbek doppa, asked about specifically by several noders, is indeed worn by a few (perhaps as few as a dozen!) ethnic Uzbeks near the Afghan/Uzbek border. Also excluded is the ubiquitous knit skullcap worn by Muslim men the world over.

Men's Hats

Beisbol
     This is a cognate - it's a common baseball cap. Worn mostly by day laborers in larger cities, like Kabul or Kandahar city, wearing one can be an indication that the wearer is not particularly religiously observant, but does not necessarily mean anything in particular. In some places where going hatless is not a strong local taboo, baseball hats are worn for simple practicality. A subset of this is paudz kholi, or "army hat", the common military field cap.

Loongie
     The loongie is what most people would call a "turban", and come in several varieties. Worn almost exclusively by Pashtun men, particularly those in the South, the loongie is a long, relatively narrow piece of cloth, cotton in the summer and woolen in the winter, that is wrapped and tied in a particular fashion around the head.

     There are several variations on how to tie a loongie, most often passed from father to son. This is roughly analogous to the myriad of ways a Westerner would tie, and learn to tie, a tie. One of the major differences of course is that gripping the tie in your teeth is not generally a step in tying a full Windsor - it takes an extra hand or a strong jaw to tie some of the traditional styles.

The loongie comes in mostly the same colors as other traditional clothes, anything from white to shades of brown to grey to black. Generally only hajji or tribal elders wear pure white loongie. A pure black loongie is often a symbol of a hardline or fundamentalist leader or follower; the Taliban - a fundamentalist Islamic and ethnically Pashtun group - adopted a black loongie as a de facto uniform item, though they are not the originators of the connotation.

     Khosti Loongie, or "Loongie from Khost" is a style of loongie with a particularly long loose end, mostly worn by men from the Khost area. Putkei is the opposite - a shorter than average turban that may only be loosely wound a few times around the top of the head.

     Regardless of the particular style, loongie are foremost a practical garment. They shield the wearer's head, neck, and ears from the sun, and the loose ends can be thrown or even tied across the face and eyes to shield them from sun, wind, precipitation, and sand and to conserve moisture.

     Interestingly, the loongie is the subject of several colorful idioms; dai loongie taralli di, literally "He's tied his turban" is a euphemism for someone having died, something that it is taboo to state directly. Additionally, these are not anything like what many people picture a "turban" to be - see pagri below.

Kola
     A kola is the skullcap most often worn underneath a loongie. It is also sometimes worn alone, generally by older men. Kola can come in many, many styles and colors, ranging from plain, pure white; lightly or heavily embroidered; and all the way up in ornamentation to Mazari kola, a type of kola made in Mazar-e-Sharif, completely covered in extremely elaborate and colorful beadwork.

Pakol
     Perhaps the most iconic Afghan headgear is the pakol, pakoul, or pakul; known colloquially in English as a "pancake hat", this hat is typically worn by Afghan Tajiks and other northerners, as well as most foreigners, and is originally from the Chitral region. It was brought into wider cultural circulation in Afghanistan starting in the late 1970's by the foreign fighters who came through the Chitral region on their way into Afghanistan to help resist the Soviet invasion.

     Though woolen and usually quite thick, when worn properly the pakol keeps the wearer cool in the summer and warm in the winter; the secret is in how it is rolled, as well as the pocket of air trapped between the flat top and the crown of the wearer's head. The pakol when unrolled resembles nothing more than a cylindrical, flat-bottomed wool bag.

     There are two ways to properly roll a pakol. The first and probably most common way is to bend one's knee and pull the pakol down until the inside of the top touches one's kneecap, and then to roll the bottom edge up towards the brim into a round band. The second, "fancier" way is to laboriously fold the bottom edge repeatedly upwards, giving a much wider, flatter band. It is far more time consuming and must usually be re-done several times until the desired fit is achieved, since the knee and thigh does not act as a proxy for the head to keep the interior stretched appropriately.

     If you are using this guide as a practical guide, I strongly recommend that if you are not a native, to wear a pakol. It is so widespread as to be basically neutral, and would not be glanced at twice by anybody, anywhere in the region, regardless of your height, skin tone, eye shape and tone, or hair color.

Bozkat
     Bozkat is a round leather hat with a fur brim running the full length of the exterior. They would look right at home on the head of one of Genghis Khan's calvary. It is worn as part of the traditional garb of buzkashi riders.

Karakul
     Perhaps the most alien, and to many, horrifying hat in the entire world is the karakul. Not because of its appearance - indeed, if you have seen a picture of Hamid Karzai you have seen a karakul - but because of how it is made.

     "Karakul" can refer to either a scarf or a hat made the same way, and also to the particular breed of sheep from which the materials are harvested. The pelts for karakul come from the forcefully aborted fetus of a Karakul sheep, and the finest karakul are made from the first kid of a particular ewe.

     When she is perhaps midway to term, karakul farmers will flip a ewe on her back, pin her by holding her legs apart, and kick her stomach until a miscarriage is caused; the pelt from the stillborn kid is then used to make karakul hats and scarves.

     The most prized hats are those made not by aborting the kid by miscarriage, but by killing the ewe and removing the fetus by crude C-section, thus avoiding the trauma of vaginal birth to the delicate wool. Additionally, there are certain folk superstitions regarding karakul, the most common of which being that a karakul hat in which the grain of the pelt spells the name of God - ﷲ - will grant one uncommonly good fortune.

     The majority of karakul hats and scarves sold to foreigners are not made of true karakul. You can usually tell the difference by the lining of the hat - imitations will be unlined, or lined with coarse cloth, and will have coarse stitching visible both in the lining, and sometimes outside in the seams of the pelt as well.

Pagri
      Pagri are the towering, large, "Indian-style" turbans, (think: the huge red turbans worn by certain Sikhs, or a cartoon rajah) and are not generally worn by any Afghans today, though were popular as a display of wealth among nobility and kings up until about a hundred years ago.

Shora/Egal
     This is the traditional Arabic headdress. The shora is the white or checkered cloth, and the egal is the usually black cord wrapped around the temples to keep the cloth in place. Included only to mention that Afghans do not wear them, and that most Afghans consider them to be funny-looking and impractical.

Women's Hats

Chador
     The chador or chadori is a simple scarf that generally only covers the hair, and drapes more or less onto the shoulders depending on fashion and personal sense. Materials used for chador range from cheap, simple black tulle to brightly colored and patterned bolts of very costly silk. This is considered the least-conservative head covering for women in public, and is often worn at home among family as well. The loose ends are sometimes wrapped lightly around the face in public for either practical or personal/religious reasons, and particular colors or patterns do not carry the same connotations that mens' headgear can.

Hijab
     The hijab is the next step up in conservatism from the chador and is not usually worn at home unless a stranger is present. It covers the head and shoulders, and may cover the entire torso, though the face is fully exposed. A two-piece hijab may have a chador-like second piece to offer additional coverage to the face or hair.

Burqa
     This is the full-body veil most associated with Islamic womens' garb. They cover the entire body and offer only a small opening, usually covered by mesh, for the eyes, and can drape so low as to drag on the ground when walking. The range of colors and materials is drastic, ranging from solid black to heavily embroidered and extremely colorful. The most common in Afghanistan among the minority who choose to wear them in the absence of Taliban religious enforcement are the light blue, lightly embroidered, waist- to knee-length burqa made in Herat.

Kochi Headdresses
     The Kochi nomads are a fading, but once numerous indigenous population of nomads and traders. They are referred to as "tribals" by most, and are ethnically and linguistically an offshoot of the Pashtun tribes. They favor bright clothing that bears some likeness to the ceremonial garb of Tibetan steppe dwellers, and the women wear elaborate, handmade headdresses made of pewter and silver.

     The headdresses are constructed in a manner somewhat resembling chainmail, but with oddly shaped links and ornate linkage patterns not found elsewhere, and their general shape varies literally from piece to piece in the tradition of the individual makers.

Turkoman
     Not at all commonly seen, but indeed present in the region is the turkoman. Translating literally to "Turkmenish", it is worn as part of a ceremonial costume by women of Turkmen descent and culture. It consists of a tall, pointed felt hat, somewhat resembling a dunce cap, and has a drape across the back covering the neck, and a bolt of cloth that covers the face, with eye holes or slits. The whole item can be a range of colors and is always heavily accented with coins, medallions, sequins, and other elaborate ornamentation.

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