Word derived from two Chinese words, "koo" meaning "rent" and "lee" meaning "muscle", and referred to unskilled laborers. These laborers ranked in Chinese society above merchants but below scholars and farmers.

When large numbers of Chinese from this class arrived in California in the first half of the nineteenth century, they used this word to describe themselves. Anti-foreign sympathizers soon use the word to describe a contract laborer who was bound to a master in China and worked in the U.S. at an atypically low wage, ruining the local economy. This low-wage contract laborer was fictitious, but then, bigots rarely need to be bothered to check their facts.

I haven't actually heard of "coolie" being used as a derogatory term towards the Asian peoples before, I suppose I should remember that in the future. In any case, I noticed that while there are several nodes about it being a racist word, no one mentioned the actual item the word stems from. A hat.

The Coolie, an extremely wide semi-conical hat made from bamboo and seagrass is both light and extremely functional. It provides effective protection from the sun, while allowing ventilation to the scalp. It doubles as a hands-free umbrella, strainer, and carrying basket. A durable hat, it can withstand weather and weight far exceeding what what would expect, and a strap holds it in place against high winds. Should emergency kindling be needed, non-essential parts of the hat can be used. If the bamboo portion is boiled sufficiently it will make an unpleasant but nourishing emergency meal.

How this came to be a derogatory word for the Asian people, I will never know, because quite frankly it's one of the most clever inventions out there with more uses than a bandana. Perhaps because when these areas were first being visited by Yanks and Euro-trash, it was the majority of the people they saw.

Considering that rice makes up a very large part of the lower-budget meals even in modern-day times, and most rice grows in paddies along shores, this would not seem too surprising. The ones gathering the rice were the European equivolent of serfs, and the American equivolent of indentured servants.

I find it very ironic then, that either Anglo species should find this to be at all unusual. I find it even more ironic that this rather ingenious hat should be the item picked to represent their scorn. Because in teasing the Coolie hat, they tease ingenuity, practicality, and intelligence.

But then again... look at high school. It's the same thing.

Coo"lie (?), n.

Same as Cooly.


© Webster 1913.

Coo"ly, Coo"lie (?), n.; pl. Coolies (#). [Hind. kli a laborer, porter: cf. Turk. kl, kyleh, slave.]

An East Indian porter or carrier; a laborer transported from the East Indies, China, or Japan, for service in some other country.


© Webster 1913.

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