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This Filipino Makes Hats Out of Vegetables

Teofilo Garcia, 78 years old, is a creative craftsman living in a remote mountain village in the Northern Philippines. He painstakingly handcrafts hats from the vegetable gourd, tabungaw.

Making tabungaw hats is a seasonal process. Garcia plants tabungaw seeds during the months of June or July and harvests the fruits when fall comes. He then weaves soft bamboo mesh to form comfortable padding inside the hat and strengthens using rattan. He would often polish and varnish the outer shell to bright yellow or orange hues. He then would travel from village to village to sell his hats.

In an era of baseball caps (often worn by farmers in rice paddies) and indoor office work, wearing a tabungaw hat today is equally symbolic—a fact represented by a small monument in front of Garcia’s workshop, given to him in 2012 by the Filipino government, that announces that he is a “National Living Treasure”for keeping this tradition alive. Rather than use smoke to harden the hats for fieldwork, as he once did with an open fire, Garcia now uses varnish. The yellow hats stacked under a table are for an upcoming school graduation. Garcia also receives orders from politicians and generals, as well as the odd overseas hat collector.

Crafting vegetables into hats has become an excellent business for Garcia. However, no one wants to follow his footsteps – not the government neither his children. In this case, he may be the last tabungaw-hat maker in the Philippines.

Image Credit: Richard Collett

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My Filipino uncle had a mural of a bucolic scene of the Philippines on his kitchen dinette (in the U.S.). The people in the mural wore these hats, though they were brown (perhaps smoke-hardened, as described in the article). My sister and I (Filipino but U.S. born and raised) called them "Hershey Kisses hats."
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