The Humble Headwear

When I was in Surabaya, I went to one of the crafts shop thinking of buying our Malay songkoks. For the non-Malay readers, songkoks actually come in a number of colours, shapes and sizes. Sizes obviouslylah. Some of us are small heads and some of you are big heads (figuratively as well as in reality). Colours too. Generally most songkoks are black, but Bruneians have come up with more colourful concepts such as brown, green, blue and occassionally red and yellow. Some are made of suede, some animal skins and fur (I used to have a very hairy white one made out of sheep skin and fur I think) again with its own distinctive colours. Songkoks can also be the hard type and the foldable type and the inside can be made out of newspaper or plastic or whatever else they put inside.

Some have different types. The Brunei ones generally are either flat, or bergunung or tinggi or berlis (has laces). Flat is the normal one about 4 inches in height, the bergunung or bertingkat one has a slight hump and can be higher at about 4 1/2 inches high. The berlis one has got lace like decorations on the side of the songkok. The tinggi one is just taller, normally about 5 inches in height. All these are dependent on the tastes of the wearer. So, when you actually go to a real master maker, be prepared for the questions of what type of songkok do you really want starting from the colour to the material to the actualy type that you want to wear. Rather reminds me of trying to buy Coffee from Starbucks - what type of coffee, where it's from, how do you want to make it, what type of milk that you want to put in it etc. And all I wanted was plain black coffee with a little bit of milk! I never learned how to order coffee in Starbucks even up to now.

So, back to songkok. The crafts shop I went to in Surabaya asked me whether I want the hard type (which they don't have and yet have the cheek to ask me) or the foldable type (of which they seemed to specialise in). Next question, expensive or cheap, I told them an expensive one of which the price is about 70,000 Rp. (about $13). Apparently there are about 3 different types at that price. One is called the President - this is the high one about 4 1/2 inch height to 5" height. The other one is the Kharisma which is what we called in Brunei berlis. And the third one is called AC. I was at a loss of what AC stands for. So I took the songkok out and discovered one thing. On the top of the songkok, the front and back end was not fully covered with the suede. Instead they placed cloth mesh and it allows air to flow through and keep the head of the wearer cool. So AC actually stands for Air-Cond! It is interesting to wear this particular Songkok. It really is nice and cool. I bought 2 straight away. I bought some other types which are so much cheaper in Surabaya which is around 22,000 Rp. (about $5) each.

If you want to know more about songkoks, I took the liberty of placing an article on my main website Songkoks are indeed interesting and not just for Bruneians to wear. And with the A/C type it is possible for songkok to be improved and be made more innovative. There is hope yet for our traditional headwear.


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