Heads Up!

What we wear on our heads is fundamental to how we present ourselves. Headwear has many functions and can be a symbol of rank, profession or religion, a protective covering, for modesty, for ceremony, as a fashion item, to keep hair under control or disguise the lack of it under wraps!  These hats, helmets and headdresses are a part of the Museum’s encyclopedic collection donated by people in the Whanganui community and reflect ancestry, work experiences, travel exploits, interests and the influence of the outside world on our lives over the past 150 years.

1922.7.1Mourning Hat, Korea; late 19th century
In Korea mourning clothes are an important indicator of society’s respect. Traditional mourning clothes included a wide sleeve coat with a cord tie. Men wore a conical hat, such as this one, made of tightly plaited sennit, while women wore hemp rope around their heads like a crown. Personal ornamentation was forbidden and hair was worn loose. The eldest son was expected to mourn the most for the loss of a parent: two years for a mother and three for a father. During this period he had to refrain from meeting people, arguing, drinking alcohol or fathering children.

1960.126.1Fez, Egypt; 1914-1918
Sultan Mahmud II introduced this style of headwear to the Ottoman Empire’s dress code in 1826. The red felt cone-shaped cap originated in Fez, Morocco. The shape was designed so that Muslim men could press their heads to the ground when praying. A red fez with blue tassel was the standard headdress of the Turkish Army from the 1840s until 1910. From the late 19th century it was widely adopted as the headdress of locally recruited “native” soldiers in the various colonial forces of the world. This hat was brought to New Zealand as a World War I souvenir.

1967.154.14Busby, Great Britain; 19th century
The busby hat is synonymous with the British Hussars, Yeomanry and Horse Artillery regiments but originated in Hungary. It should not be confused with the much taller bearskin cap worn as part of the ceremonial uniform of several regiments of the British army. On the original hat, a cloth bag was attached from the hat to the right shoulder as a protection against sabre cuts. It later became merely decorative and was shortened for convenience.

TE.729Headdress, Tahiti/Society Islands; 1897
This headdress is part of a processional costume. It is made from strips of pandanus with decorative hibiscus fibre rosettes attached. A tapa poncho decorated with similar rosettes completed the costume. Together they may have been worn for the Feast of Flowers given in honour of the visit of the New Zealand steam ship Waikare to Tahiti in 1897. This costume was collected by a passenger on board the Union Steam Ship Company’s Waikare on this voyage.

TH.514Cap, West Africa; late 19th century
This cowrie shell and glass trade bead cap probably originates from West Africa, in the area of modern Nigeria. Ancient forms of this style of cap were made of coral beads, were rather opulent and were associated with royalty. The bronze effigies or busts of royal women from the Kingdom of Benin are depicted wearing variants of this style of headwear. Cowrie shells were a form of monetary exchange in Africa and the Pacific but they were also viewed as symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth.

2003.4.1Shushut, Northwest Pakistan; 1980s
A shushut is part of the traditional dress of Kalash women from the isolated valleys of Northwest Pakistan. It is every-day wear for all women and girls. The headdress of hand woven and embroidered wool is decorated with buttons, metal medallions, plastic beads and cowrie shells. While the wool is from the fleece of local sheep, woven dyed and embroidered by the women themselves, the decorative ornaments are traded with Peshawar traders for locally grown walnuts.



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