Head Where the Hats Are

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The Zulu isicholo (left) and Haredi shtreimel (right) both signify marital status. © Cassiopeia Neely

We put hats in boxes, but the inverse is often true, too. Hats evoke a sense of place and time—they conceal the head, but they also reveal something about the wearer. A Stetson suggests a rugged lifestyle, just as a cloche conjures the image of a Roaring Twenties flapper. An Australian book I recently edited described a character in a “flat cap,” and based on context I knew this was a contemptible sartorial choice, but I couldn’t picture the hat without Google’s help. (Apparently they’re called driving caps in the United States.) I started to wonder, What other headwear don’t I know about?

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Wooden Effigies with an Inner Spark

Matching Yoruba Ere Ibeji statues, signifying the death of both twins

Matching Yoruba Ere Ibeji statues, signifying the death of both twins. Artist unknown.

Various cultures throughout the world believe that the human body is an ephemeral vessel for the soul. Among the North American Hopi and African Yoruba there exists a conviction that spirits can also endure within the confines of small wooden effigies, respectively called Katsina dolls and Ere Ibeji. The Hopi Tribe, a sovereign nation located in northeastern Arizona, spans 1.5 million acres and comprises twelve villages across three mesas. The Yoruba primarily occupy the city of Lagos, situated in southwestern Nigeria, though they have also migrated to cities in neighboring countries.

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