Saturday, 31 January 2009

Straw hats, continued

In my post on the 11th of January this year, I mentioned my surprise and delight at finding fishermen on the beach at Tellicherry wearing hats identical to those drawn in early 19th century illustrations. (See )

Illustration taken from James Welsh's book showing Welsh travelling in Karanakera Menon's private boat to Ramnaad in 1817[1]

This drew some very interesting comments from Maddy, and an offer of help from Jissu Jacob a keen local historian and tourist guide, who was kind enough to travel to Tellicherry to take the following photographs of the fishermen on the beach at Tellicherry.

As can be seen from the following photograph, these hats are identical to those worn by the rowers in the illustration of Karanakera Menon's canoe.

A Thalassey fisherman wearing an Ola Kuda in January 2009. Photo courtesy of Jissu Jacob.

Maddy who is an excellent author from Kerala, who runs his own blog on Malabar history titled Historic Alleys [2] wrote to tell me that these hats are called Ola Kuda, and that they were originally much larger, often as much as four feet in diameter. Similar large Ola Kuda were attached to handles in much the same way as umbrellas, which were used at least as far back as the 16th century to shade dignitaries like Rajah's and their wives. Indeed one such Ola Kuda can be seen being held by the man in the bow of the canoe above.

It would appear that a large Ola Kuda was used as part of Thomas Baber's Tellicherry Chair.

A Tellicherry Chair, circa 1812, with a canopy made from an Ola Kuda.

Another type of straw hat with a more European flavour was also being worn on the beach. In my previous blog I had advanced a hypothesis that these hats had a European origin or inspiration, perhaps based on those used by Royal Marines and other British troops who had been in the West Indies in the 1790's.

This theory is based on the shape of these hats, which is very like those worn by marines and sailors at that time.

I also suggested that the wearers of these hats might also be the descendants of the large Portuguese community, or Indo Portuguese community that had been present in Tellicherry in the early 19th century.

The following gentleman would not have much difficultly passing for a local on the Algarve.

I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Thalassery beach and the fort. The Kerala authorities are restoring much of the historic area around the beach and fort, and the fish market is a very interesting spot.

Jissu Jacob runs his own blog and can be contacted at

He conducts tours to the Wayanad and as far as Cochin, and has shown several of my friends around the area.

[1] James Welsh, Military Reminiscences, published 1830, Volume II. page 85.



Maddy said...

Interesting post - I have still not got to the origins of the Ola or Toppi kuda . They somehow seem to have a connection to early Namboothiris. At the same time, I have not heard of them in the Komkan-Coastal Maharashtra areas through which Namboothriris may have come to Kerala. Still a mystery. But well, one other possibility is via the Chinese who were in Quilon during the 12th century or so..

Lucy Carter said...

This is an interesting post on straw hats. I would love to visit this place.

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