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The Non of Hue

The easily recognizable conical hat of the Vietnamese, known as non, is worn throughout the country. The non is not only a symbol of Vietnamese culture, but a symbol closely tied to its origins in Hue. 

Even though there are now a great variety of other unique and practical hats found everywhere in Vietnam, the non has been closely associated with the Vietnamese culture for generations. Apart from protecting the head from sun andrain in the rice fields and on mountain paths, the non is simply an indispensable accessory to the wide variety of the traditional clothing worn by beautiful Vietnamese women, young and old alike. Wherever you notice a graceful woman adorned in the traditional long silk ao dai and wearing a non, you can be certain that she is Vietnamese.

A non will nicely accent the shapely figure of a young woman whether she iswearing a traditional ao dai, a four-flapped gown, or a national blouse. For this reason, the non has been an endless source of inspiration for countless writers, poets, artists and painters alike, all creating masterpieces that live to tell the story of Vietnamese grace and beauty forever.

The long history of the Vietnamese conical hat can even be seen in the ancient engravings on the Ngoc Lu bronze drum and the Dao Thinh bronze jar, both made 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Interestingly Thanh Giong, a popular and legendary hero in Vietnam who served under the reign of King Hung VI more than 2,000 years ago, was said to have gone to battle wearing an iron version of the non, not only to keep off the rain and sun, but to shield against the enemy arrows as well.

Traditional production of conical hats has been a craft maintained for generations in Hue city. Within Hue is Phu Cam village, where most villagers continue to pass on the tradition of this craft passed down to them by their ancestors. Hue city conical hats consist of sixteen layered rows of brims made of palm leaves and bamboo, all of which are readily available in the area. Unlike other regions, conical hats from Hue are attractive, lightweight and durable thanks to the exceptional skills of the craftsmen and craftswomen of this village.

A non made in Hue is renown throughout Vietnam for its high-qualityleaves with pink paper pictures and famous poems inserted between the layers of leaves. The pictures often depict elegant scenes from Hue city. Some of the most common themes are a couple strolling over Truong Tien Bridge; the Thien Mu Pagoda; the skies above Ngu Binh

mountain; a traditional boat gently floating on the Perfume river; and not surprisingly,the charming young girls of Hue city. These hats not only protect the wearers from the sun or rain, but have come to make the girls of Hue city an endless source of inspiration for poets, writers and dreamy young men. Needless to say, the non has become a popular souvenir for many domestic and foreign tourists. The conical hat is not only produced Phu Cam, but in many villages other within Hue as well. Huong So, Thuy An, Vy Da, An Cuu, Phuoc Vinh, Phuong Duc, Thuy Xuan, and Thuy Bieu, just to name a few. However, the best-known place for making conical hats in the ancient capital city is the Phu Cam village in the Phuoc Vinh ward. Here most villagers continue to earn a living in this way.

The non is meticulously and creatively made from natural materials. First thin wooden strips are notched and used as a frame to shape the conical form which holds the hat rims together. All this is done by hand, as tradition dictates that no machines are to touch a truly “Poetic Non.”

The young leaves selected to cover the hat are collected from the forest surrounding Hue. To begin, the leaves are left exposed overnight for the morning dew to soften their rough texture. When the moistened leaves are dried, they are flattened either by hand or by ironing. A non consists of sixteen to eighteen layers of rims made from a specific variety of bamboo. The framed lines of poetry and scenic pictures of Hue are made in advance and carefully layed between the layers. In the final stage, the non is trimmed and painted with a coat of attar oil to keep it clean and smooth. The beauty and unique value of each one depends upon the artistic detail of the dexterous craftsman and women.

The secret of each non is discovered when it is held up to the sunlight. Here one finds widely popular and romantic poems and proverbs. Sometimes you can find the image of a meditative temple, a famous palace or an ancient yet solemn tomb. In particular, Hue has long been regarded for its attractive, soft spoken young girls with long flowing hair, so they are commonly featured in non poetry and paintings. Thus the “Poetic Non” has a prominent place in the dreamy, yet scholarly world of the ancient city.

Visitors to Hue not only enjoy the famously romantic Perfume River and the majestic Peace Mountain, but will most certainly be transfixed by the graceful beauty of Hue girls proudly wearing a traditional, flowing au dai gently accented

Photo: mytour.vn