As we previously have noted in our study of the Conical Asian Hat of the Hong Kong Police, this unique version of the sun helmet – known as the “rice hat,” “paddy hat,” or even pejoratively as the “coolie hat” – was one that had been primarily used by civilians. However, in many cases the line between “civilian” and “military” is blurred, especially in times of insurrections and uprisings. In these cases the conical hat, used as much by so-called peasants in the fields, became a headgear of war.
It was also, as the above photo suggests, a form of true military headgear – with the French and British relying on the conical straw hat for use by indigenous troops in South East Asia and China. The above photo shows French Marine Infantry volunteers in French Indo-China circa 1935.
Conical hats appeared in many styles and variations, and had other names. It was known as the “salacot” in the Philippines, and these farmer hats were used by the Moro. According to Frederic H. Sawyer’s book The Inhabitants of the Philippines, “The salacots, or native hats, are beautifully woven by hand from narrow strips of a cane called nito [lygodium], and the headmen have them ornamented with many pieces of repoussé silver.”
The illustration to the left shows an example of such as “salacot” with the warrior on the right (Photo: Sawyer).
Throughout Asia, from China in the north to Indonesia in the south, Burma in the west to the Philippines, the conical hat was widely used. It was often made of local materials, and seemed to be an ideal hat for protecting the wearer from the sun as well as the rain. While numerous examples were brought back as “war souvenirs” from Vietnam in particular, apart from movies and TV shows, there is little evidence that the conical hat was widely used by Viet Cong forces, at least in combat.
In fact, given that the hat largely sits on the wearer’s head – thus making it ideal for someone doing work in the fields – it is impractical for soldiers on a battlefield. However, the conical hat did inspire a particular type of military helmet, namely the late Edo/Bakumatsu “Jingasa Helmet” that was used by the warring Japanese samurai armies.
Unlike other samurai helmets or even the swords, the Jingasa helmets were not limited to use by true samurai. This helmet, which is made of lacquered metal in the shape of the conical hat, was widely used most notably by the Aizu rifle corps.