Making and Wearing of Songkok

Category: Traditional CraftsmanshipSocial Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Songkok is a traditional headgear commonly associated with and worn by males from the Malay community, particularly in the Malay Archipelago. It is usually worn to complete traditional Malay attire at formal occasions, social functions and religious events.

A songkok made of velvet from mid to late 20th centuryA songkok made of velvet from mid to late 20th century. Source: Roots.sg

The songkok is also known as “peci” in most parts of Indonesia, and as “kopiah” in Java. It is usually oval-shaped and made of black felt, cotton or velvet. Through the years, the songkok has gone through several modifications to suit different tastes, styles and occasions. In general, the songkok has a flat top. However, there are also songkoks with slightly raised sides called bergunung (mountainous).

Songkoks with laces or decorations along the sides are referred to as berlis (with laces). There are also songkoks that combine these two elements, making them much heavier than usual songkoks. The “songkok berkalimah” is another version, which literally means songkok with ayat (religious verses). Other variations of songkoks include those with studs punched into the top of the songkok or openings at both ends at the top of the songkok with netting to provide ventilation.

The wearing of songkok is believed to have been adopted by the Malay community in Southeast Asia since the 13th century. Some associate the wearing of the songkok to the practice of Islam, where it is considered sunat (a voluntary good deed) for the Muslim males to don a headgear.

During the colonial period, the songkok was worn by the Malay Regiment and the Singapore Guard Regiment with the former donning green, black and purple songkoks, and the latter donning red songkoks.

Although the songkok is still widely worn by males from the Malay community in Singapore, the trade of handmade songkoks is in decline. Most of the songkoks available in Singapore are imported from neighbouring countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which mass-produce the songkok in factories.


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