2006.18.04 Fulani with classroom.JPG

Time Period: early 1600's- Present

Category: Hat
Accession Number: 2006.18.04
Donor: Dr. Pat Helms


This particular African tribal hat comes from the Fulani tribe, located in Western Africa. The hat is considered a basketry hat, made of plant fibers. The hat stands 5.9 in. (15 cm) tall, and has a diameter of 15.4 in. (39 cm). It contains a .4 in. (1 cm) strip of black dye and is partially covered in leather both at the brim and top. Directly below the black strip are four cloth-covered, decorative objects, that are colored a shade of dark green, which are placed evenly around the circumference of the hat. At the very top of the hat, there is another decorative element, which is covered in leather with a .2 in. (.5 cm) loop at the top and .6 in.(1.5cm) worth of fringe at the base of the decoration. At the base of the hat, there is a chinstrap, also with a tassel at the end about 1.6 in. (4 cm) long. According to the University of Rhode Island's HTTC donor records this specific hat is a "Hand-made hat from Mopti, Mali, by the Fulani tribe."


This straw hat is the trademark of the Fulani tribe of West Africa, and originated in the early 1600s. The Fulani tribe stretches across over 17 Western African Countries. At large, the Fulani are a Muslim group, with over 98% of them identifying as Muslim, although some may practice more religiously than others. Their Muslim faith influences the way the Fulani value apparel; they use their clothing to represent social status, beauty, and occupation. [1] The Fulani people are made up of nomads, settled, and semi-settled groups, and are known for being the largest group of Nomads in the world.

The Fulani live the lifestyles of herders and traders. Most of the Fulani's lifestyle revolves around cattle. The herders have such pride in their cattle. The quality and quantity of their cattle is representative of their social status. Many traditions and taboos have been developed revolving around their herd. The Fulani do not kill their cattle; they solely use them for their milk or will sell them at the market for money to invest in better cattle. In fact, the herders name each individual cattle depending on their hide and will only refer to them by their given name.[2] Their cattle not only affects how the Fulani tribe lives, but also the apparel which they must wear to adapt to this certain occupation.

With their entire lives revolve around their herds, the Fulani people were forced to create attire that would adapt to the environment in which they work. Most herders occupy zones between the desert and the forest, so their cattle can have a good environment with plenty of food and water. Along with this sub-Saharan location, comes the relentless African sun.[3] To protect their faces and shoulders from the sun, the Fulani People created the Fulani straw hat. They are created in both medium and large sizes, depending on how wide of a brim the wearer prefers. The average hat has a diameter of around 15 in. (38.1 cm.)

This straw woven hat is created with a large enough brim to protect the herders while tending to their cattle. The Fulani tribe pride themselves on being the most beautiful group of people in the world, and one of their attributes they favor most is their complexion. These straw hats are used to protect their copper-colored skin, which they love so much, from the sun. The Fulani people’s fascination with beauty is incorporated into every aspect of their lives. Not only did they embroider their straw hats, but they will also be found covered in both henna and real tattoo’s to enhance their looks.[4]

The Fulani straw hats are handmade by the herders. Many young herding boys will begin making these hats by collecting grass and straw to weave. The youth often create these hats to give to older more dignified herdsmen in an attempt to earn their respect. Other times the boys will make these straw hats to sell at the market in return for either money or chicken eggs to bring back to their families. These hats are made from fibers but embellished with cowrie shells, leather, and other adornments. The undersides of these hats are also decorated with dyes or leather pieces. Cloth accents are commonly added to the hats, when available. They are often decorated with pieces in the colors of red, black, and green. Each hat is handmade to be both functional and beautiful, and are often constructed in Mali, West Africa. Not only are these straw hats used for protection, but they have also become a cultural icon for their tribe.

Fulani men will now be seen wearing these hats at festivals, both to represent their social status,[5] and also in attempts to attract women. At many festivals and markets, drummers will be seen wearing these hats, while playing traditional Fulani music. These straw hats have evolved to become a tourist attraction. Many visitors will attend these festivals or markets and purchase these hats to bring home with them to represent their visit to the Fulani tribe.

Women are not often found wearing these straw hats. Throughout the Fulani tribe, women play less of a role in the responsibility of herding. They rather, are often found wearing either a different type of headpiece, or an intricate hairstyle to accentuate their beauty. The way the Fulani straw hat was created to adapt to the lifestyle of these men, the women who carry milk to and from the market have also created a headpiece to adapt, which you will commonly see a Fulani women sporting. [6] Like the straw hat, this hat is also decorated so it has the ability to be both functional and beautiful.

This trademark straw hat has become an iconic representation of the lifestyle the Fulani people live. It has become one of the only items of apparel that is common throughout the culture of most of West Africa. This authentic African head-wear has evolved from a garment of protection, to a symbol of status, wealth, occupation, and culture.


Olivia Stalker, TMD 224H S15

Last updated:

April 30, 2015

Other Images:

2006.18.04 top view.JPG
  1. ^ Jirousek, Charlotte. "CLOTHING." Cornell. Cornell University, 2004. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
  2. ^ Johnston, H. A. S. The Fulani Empire of Sokoto. London: Oxford UP, 1967.
  3. ^ Carlston, Kenneth S. Social Theory and African Tribal Organization. Illinois: U of Illinois, 1968.
  4. ^ "Heilbronn Timeline of Art History." The Fulani/Fulbe People. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2002. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
  5. ^ Stuchlik, Ladislav Holy- Milan. Social Stratification of Tribal Africa. Prague: Academia House, 1968.
  6. ^ Riesman, Paul. Freedom in Fulani Social Life. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1977. Print.