Heads and headgear for men concentrated immense attention, among Philippine peoples in antiquity. How long ago is unknown, but when it stopped is clear. By the early 20th century, the person who was more and more self-identified as Filipino was less and less given to dressing the head.
Nevertheless, from the evidence of Philippine headgear dispersed widely, profusely, and in multiple forms in European and North American museums—most dating to the 19th and the first decades of 20th century—the human head was the location of animated culture-making.
The cultural investment in amplifying the human head is widely shared across humanity, of course, and the proclivity of Philippine peoples to do so is by no means unusual. So it is without suggesting a unique cultural bent that some awe may be fostered around the remarkable array of headgear becoming known to more scholars of bodied material from this country’s past.
Leadership and the speech of headgearThe talking heads, so to speak, spoke clearly in the past. The visual and textural vocabularies of the headgear spoke of leadership, as these would in any other culture. But in the case of Philippine peoples, the wearers led political units no bigger than single villages, or, infrequently, small clusters of villages. It should be assumed that the wearers were neither kings nor princelings.
Neither were they necessarily heirs of previous leaders—these men who swathed their heads with elaborately-tied, deep red cloth, or predominantly red feathers, or red-beaded or red lined hats. Or, in the remarkable cases of the Ilongot and Ifugao, the entire massive red casque and beak of the hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax) was appended to the head of the successful headhunter.
Colonial literature writes of these headgear as accoutrements of privilege, after the man would have taken x, y, z number of heads, or otherwise killed numbers specified within the social groups. Such was the crude understanding mustered by the colonial travellers, scientists, priests. Still, there is enough data in their writing to divine that the special personal qualities that make a man a leader was non-transferable to sons who do not exhibit similar or better qualities that compel or inspire allegiance. Allegiance that could be withdrawn at any time in the so-called warrior societies; that is to say, in most of the archipelago.
In any case, the earliest records about the peoples of the archipelago christened las islas filipinas in the 16th century, inevitably mentioned the red headcloth worn by males whose social elevation was further evidenced by gold body accoutrements and impressive weapons. The 16th century Boxer Codex, the very earliest compilation of painted images of the denizens of this archipelago and the neighborhood, shows many versions of this assemblage.
BifurcationIn the succeeding 400 years, two streams of headgear aesthetics, expressive of notions of male power—mga gamit na pang-ulo or mga gamit ng pangulo sa ulo — transpired simultaneously.
The more conservative of the two streams maintained the signifying power of the color red, through inevitable transformations stimulated by increasing trade with the Middle Kingdom and South Asia, and further afield.
The more embracing of change, of the two streams, shifted to the make and use of actual hats, albeit as variations of what would have been the ancient form of the wide-brimmed, peaked head cover (salakot in Tagalog, sayap in Maguindanao, among other variants), while slowly losing the emblematic role of red. The affectation of hats also involved elaborately-fashioned walking canes in the Christianized areas; and of daggers hiding in baton- or cane-like scabbards in Islamicized areas. Both canes and cane-like scabbards often employed repousséd gold and silver.
As for the more conservative stream: aside from the continuing importance of deep saturations of the color red, male leadership was maintained around concepts of extraordinary power. Sustained by (regularly recharged) talismanic stuff, unusual martial and arbitration talent, and often, oratorical skills, these leaders had more than the modern “It”.
They are not necessarily the orang besar, “big man”, of a good number of historical and anthropological studies of island Southeast Asia. But this aggrandised male figure, where they occurred, would have drawn conceptual strength from much older ideas of male leadership as human location of powerful spiritual emanations. This male figure is mirrored by the spiritual power of priestesses, who also exercised martial prowess — however in spiritual realms.
Within the range of deeply conservative ideas of male leadership and male headgear are the cloths that simultaneously exhibit fidelity to the archaic significance of red and the ability of the culture to absorb cultural ideas from distant places, without yielding the very old core concepts.
The Bagobo tangkulu, “headcloth”, which they describe as pamudbúd, “reserve-dyed”, is an outstanding example of this integration of exterior forces within interior systems. Cotton itself was an import. Reserve dyeing of the warp ikat variety was not foreign, especially on abaká; and likely has archaic depth in island Southeast Asia. The tangkulu pamudbúd on the other hand is plangi-dyed, clearly a technical idea that reflects the influx of Gujerati bandhani textiles into Mindanaofor centuries until the 19th century.
In the case of this very instructive headcloth type, the borrowing (the technique and the material) was absorbed into a social structure with its male-female binary system; and which signals spiritual energy in concentrated form in the blood red depth of saturation called linombós. Cloths of this particular saturation level were only allowed the Bagobo magani, the equivalent of the Mandaya bagani, elsewhere the berani; It might be well have been the same deep red the Tagalog bayani topped his person with.
Among the Bagobo and Mindanao’s other ikat dyers, linombós cloths were also worn by worthy female bailán, or mabailán, or belyán, healers-ritualists, who were often also expert dyers. The bagani/bailán dualism was, as it were, synthesized in the particular redness of linombós.
Until well into the 20th century, red cloths preserved this power to preserve a social order that may be described collectively as Austronesian. Or, to be precise: the long-duration tradition of Austronesian-speaking peoples. But even as the shape of society endured in some recognizably consistent form until the present—based on the enduring concepts shared among the 170+
Austronesian languages of the Philippines—much of it was obscured by dramatic changes in headgear among language communities that dominated the rest.
Hat and peinetaThe hats affected by principalia leadership in the Spanish colonial order were of the same order of aesthetic fineness as the well-wrought headcloths and clutches of bird feathers. From any survey of the existing salakot examples in turtle carapace, tight and fine cane weaves, gourds, and woods, it is clear that the use of red is either hidden in the interior or absent entirely. The location of male power, it may be surmised, shifted elsewhere: not in the redness amplified on the head, nor in bird feather elaborations.
Meanwhile, the women in Christianized Philippines set about donning veils, while the comb forms were transformed into peineta of superbly worked gold and silver in filigree, granulation, repoussé and casting at miniscule scale.
The relationship of hat to peineta was no longer clearly one of equivalence. Social order started undergoing reorganization in large parts of the Philippines. At least visually, particularly in churches, the covering of female heads seems to have signalled demotion in status. Something for scholars to still unpack — particularly in light of today’s inconsistent Philippine picture.
The increasing interest in some quarters in reviving elaborate headcloth-tying, today a la Malaysian kingly affectations, appears to be of the same quality of desire as the Christian Filipino need, in certain quarters, to don silver-decorated salakot as ultimate dress-up.
The astounding headcloths of the Sulu Archipelago—tapestry woven using a scintillating palette of silk threads, made to be worn along with meters long, tapestry woven waistbands tied to the scabbards of beautiful weapons—can be viewed as also replacing the signifying power of red. In the case of these Tausug pis siyabít, red would have preceded the rainbow spectrum of the silks, as this society absorbed Islam and its cultural devotion to strict hierarchy. The concentration of eye- catching color on the head remains, however, a suggestion of continuity with pre-Islamic culture.
Absence and presence
That stamina is unseen because the red cloth which showed up repeatedly in from the earliest records through those chronicling the last 400 years, has disappeared. The hats and gorgeous tapestry squares that replaced them in certain groups have also disappeared but for the antiquarian interest.
But the male leader with strange spiritual power has not -- in however twisted, malefic, or benevolent ways today in the Philippines. And the equivalent female leader who seems verily babaylanic in her often preternatural calmness exists, also in local and national politics, in however ill-recognized ways.
These heads still talk symbolically, over and above political speech. Without the headgear now, it is difficult to follow what is being said. Especially that these matters do not, in fact, coalesce into an evolutionary narrative; and is, rather, a dynamic of different systems from vastly different aeons, newer ones grafted onto the ancient. The direction of growth eludes prediction.
More Examples of Philippine Headgear
Explore items in Exhibit
Name: Solang-solang - Five head dress of crown worn only by old men, or datus, who have taken several human lives. Lower part is of red cloth, embroidered. Points are in tassels of four colors, 3 center points topper with horse hair. | Notes: This…
Name: Panyo ña sinoláman. Man's h kerchief. Tied around the head (see ph elaborately embroidered, also has whit edges. See "decorative art of the B" for designs. | Notes: Sometimes worn over shoulders by [symbol for female] Field Museum Catalogue…
Braided bamboo hat
Square scarf, red cotton with embroidery, as part of men's costume party. -
Hat made from waterbuffalo horn, silver.
Two plumes of wood and feathers. The plumes consist of a round wooden stick palm which terminates at one end in a sharp point. On the other hand, a trim attached, which consists of many red feathers, which end in yellow and white tips. The bunches…
A scarf, a Tangkulu, carried by men. The fabric is made of woven reddish brown cotton. The pattern consists of white eight-pointed star surrounded by "branches" or "windows". These represent crocodile motives. The basic components of the crocodile…
Locality: *Mangali ["Lepanto-" strike through] Bontoc Sub Prov. | People: Igorot Stock. | Name: Man's pocket hat. Palm leaf interior crown. Outer side covered with fine basket work of fine basket work of split rattan. Ornamental designs in black,…
Annotated text (Blaan Kastulen June, 2022) SLAUNG The headgear is only worn by elders or the identified leader of the Blaan community. It was noted that the Blaan leaders no longer wear this type of headgear, but that it could be a good marker of…
Locality: Probably western coast of Mindanao | People: Probably Moro. Stock.| Name: Man's hat of tortoise shell. Sections joined with fine wire. Silver ornament surmounted with gold tip on top of hat. Rattan head "form" on inside. Purple cords with…