Taking Home a Non La, that is, taking home a piece of Vietnam
Non la (palm-leaf conical hat) is a traditional symbol of Vietnamese people without age, sex or racial distinctions
Origin of the Non La:
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 tried to make a hat modeling 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.
Clearly, Nón Lá is essential for the people to protect themselves from heat which could last for months and sometimes even reaching 40 degrees Celsius in intensity, and also during long periods of enduring rain.
Making a Non La:
Is making a conical hat difficult? If you look at a hat, it seems easily to make. Yet, it is not! To make a proper hat, not only the maker is talent but also their experiences are plentiful.
The simplest materials such as dry leaves and a conical frame are required to construct a conical hat. 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 Non La requires painstaking precision of the maker owed not only from talent itself, but also from numerous years of experience in the craft. It may be hard to believe, but every single needlework is steadily sewn in equal spaces even without measuring. The connection of sewing nylon threads is skillfully hidden beneath the minute and even stitches. There is no doubt how the step-by-step process could be very time consuming and requires so much patience from the craftsman.
The culture of Non La:
Non La has made its way to cultural presentations in the recent years. The most notable dance was performed by Vietnamese young ladies donned in white Ao Dai and Non La. The performance is considered a remarkable recognition of the country’s performing arts culture.
Non La nowadays strongly remains a symbol of Vietnam and is still popular across the country. For the past thousands of years until today, Non La is very much an integral part of Vietnamese life. If anyone happens to come across a white Non La at any point, it will unmistakably symbolize the Vietnamese charm, elegance and romance.