find one, directions were to walk up the street lined with simple
cottages and look for a man on his porch making them. The older
French gentleman barely looked up from his work as we approached.
He was too busy carving the tip of the hat frame, with a very
Salako hat we were looking for is mostly a tourist souvenir nowadays.
But it's still handcrafted, and lovingly made, by a few people
on the island of Terre de Bas of the Les Saintes Islands, off
hats have been worn by fishermen of Terre de Bas for over 150
years. They are still made according to their original design.
So rooted in the Guadeloupean history, the Salako has been represented
on paper currency.
origin of the Salako is still a mystery, although its roots may
be traced to the Tonkin people of Vietnam, where stylish women
wore extravagant ones with their 19th c. clothing. Officials &
local workers wore simpler versions. French Indochinese military
troops donned the Salako as far back as 1864. Others claim the
hat originated in Spanish colonies of the Phillipines. The term
'salacot' was used to signify a colonial helmut.
origin may never be clear. But what is clear is that the Salako
hat still worn by fishermen and other, mostly older citizens,
is slowly disappearing on Les Saintes.
Though odd at first site, when you think about the hat's style,
its design makes perfect sense. Made of bamboo sticks, bent and
sewn together, it's shaped like a parasol with a flat top.
There's a tip that's carved from a composite material. Below is a bamboo
crown, that sits down comfortably on the head. The top framework
is traditionally covered in a bright madras or simple white cotton.
A tie to secure the hat under the chin finishes it off.
extremely lightweight hat provides just what islanders need: comfortable
protection from the hot sun and heat and good ventilation, owing
to the open network of the bamboo. The Salako is exotic and
a little bit funny-looking to foreign eyes. But after seeing the
people of Les Saintes wearing them on the beach, in their boats
or in the local market, you get used to its look. And what a thrill
it is to see fashion
that's so indigenous to an island! Unfortunately, the Salako tradition is one that remains tenuous at best, since
only the older generation still embraces them.
front porch milliner finished up a hat for us as we watched him
thread a needle admirably, even with his old eyes. His wife, the
obvious money manager of the two, counted the French francs carefully.
We wondered how often the kindly gentleman handed over a Salako
to a tourist who walked by. He probably wondered where in the
world his Salako was going!