the songkok – the headgear of the Nusantara man

For the Royal Banquet, I shunned the tuxedo and decided to put on my baju Melayu.  Ooh no, i left that songkok ..that headgear that makes the malay dress complete. I was already half hour into the journey when i realized that.

I guessed I was getting bored with the black tie. I was so determined to get the songkok rather than conveniently slipping into the tux. The search for a songkok in Kuala Pilah was on…

After a few queries and misleading coordinates I discovered a store which I think make the best songkok . It was located in the Malay Bazaar of Kuala Pilah. To my surprise  the master craftsman was a lady. Oooh I forgot this is the Minang heartland but a lady craftsman in this matriach-dominated tribal land was a surprise.

The migrating minang man would always boast that earning money in faraway land of bounty is easy. There is money in just shaking your legs, literally speaking, as he uses his leg muscles to operate the sewing machine making the songkok.

It is fair to credit the minang man for the malay songkok. It may look like the turkish fez or the egyptian torboush but it is different. It is always black. THe Malays have also the tanjak or dastar, the headgear worn by royals and newlyweds but the songkok did seem to be gaining popularity in the 40’s  popularized,  I guess, by Sukarno and Hatta  the Indonesian independence heroes.

The Javanese adapted quite naturally to the songkok after seeing the charismatic Sukarno donning it. He was handsome alright and the fact that it made the average Asian look taller, accelerated its acceptance. The Javanese have their own unique headgear, the belangkon, a cross between the sarban, the arabic/mullah style, and the sikhs turban. The only different is that it is in batik. The java man is very much at home putting the  songkok or the belangkon.

To find a good songkok craftsman is difficult. In the 80s the skull caps become popular. In a culture that still  emphasize forms over substance, religiousity and piousness is reflected in the kind of headgear you put on. The skull cap hijacked piety from the songkok. Utter rubbish…………….. A songkok is just a  headgear of the nusantara man.

The songkok used to be the standard wear of a Malay budiman or gentleman. A malay man would feel naked without the songkok, so much so that a songkok and the sarong would be sufficient to land the malay man into forced matrimony by any scheming maiden. It reminds me of my pak long. As a young man, his first marriage was to a fairly elderly widow he befriended. His songkok was presented to the Penghulu, the headman, by the widow and that ended his days as a roving bachelor. Well, it did not stop him from further exploits, that was my paklong and his songkok.

Here I am in Kuala Pilah admiring the beauty of the songkok. … a gem of a discovery.


3 Responses to the songkok – the headgear of the Nusantara man

  1. azliya says:

    My son Shahid was carried away to put on songkok to school when he was in the middle of primary two.It was his own decision and had been like that for quite sometimes with reasons to him was to carry the image of a good, obedient boy.I was impressed!
    Then one day, as I was getting him to school, I noticed no songkok on his head.I reminded him thinking he might have forgotten.Then he said reluctantly”Shahid tak nak pakai lagi.”
    “Why?”I asked sensing something amist.
    “Sebab kawan ejek Shahid ustaz jendul..”he answered with that sakit hati feeling.
    Eversince then he is ever conscious about his forehead and his songkok.The two must compliment each other or else forget about this songkok. coz it’s never easy to get the right size.
    Also,be very careful about this songkok coz as happeneed to Shahid , many titles will come along..
    My husband who used to work for a telecom industry in KL once had to be an e-syariah consultant.So, one day. he decided to put on his songkok on his visit to pejabat mahkamah syariah in PJ.As he enterd a lift to a destinated level, everybody in the lift was caught on guard and greeted him “Selamat pagi tuan Hakim..”he smiled assumingly he was as he heard one lady whispering”hakim baru..hakim baru..” amongst the rest.
    Well..songkok is indeed an unassuming headgear.You cant expect what your day would be…good or bad..

  2. pezze says:

    Cool Pak Long….

  3. inspigoblog says:

    he was a cool cat alright…my last conversation with him was not about the songkok but about matrimonial harmony. He always looked smart with his songkok on, talll and slightly tilted. budiman style.

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