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Meet Malaysia's Last Songkok Cap Maker

Meet Malaysia's Last Songkok Cap Maker

Picture of Michelle Leong
Updated: 7 February 2018

If you need to balik kampung during Hari Raya, be sure to drop by this 82-year-old songkok shop in Penang. Mr. Haja Mohideen has a few interesting designs up his sleeve.

The Songkok

Typically worn during formal occasions, the songkok is a critical piece of traditional Muslim-Malay wear.

Similar to the Ottoman fez, but without the tassel, this cap often appears during official functions (think legislative assemblies and coronation ceremonies), festivities (such as weddings and Hari Raya), and Friday prayers at the mosque.

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

The Songkok maker

First opened in 1936 by the late Mohd Shariff, this unassuming kedai songkok has been supplying songkoks for every Hari Raya, every newborn baby, and every tourist who asks for it. The family business is now operated by son Haja Mohideen (the smiling gentleman in these pictures), who intends to leave the business to his son-in-law.

“There used to be seven to eight hat makers in the area,” says Haja Mohideen. “But they’ve all closed shop. Now I’m the only one left.”

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

The process

It was his father who first taught Haja Mohideen the craft when he was only 12 years old. The process involves measuring and cutting out cardboard or newspaper, and then sewing this to Korean silk or satin.

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

By a deft hand and decades of experience, striking colours are weaved together to form intricate patterns for the inside of the crown. The process is repeated for the front and side panels of the cap, and then attached to the crown. Finally, it is covered with soft velvet, usually black (though you can customise this to your preference).

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

The styles

Want to get a cap, but not a songkok? Haja Mohideen also hand-makes the fez (historically favoured by the Ottomans), the karakul (traditional men’s cap in Central and South Asia), and the rampuri (men’s cap in Pakistan).

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

It takes about two hours to make a single cap, and each cap costs RM20-40 ($5-10). Songkok requests account for 95% of sales, especially during the Raya season.

“We have all sizes,” says Haja Mohideen, “even baby size.”

Cap circumferences range from 6 inches (15.24 centimetres) to 24 inches (60.96 centimetres).

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

The shop

Kedai Songkok OSM Mohd Shariff sits at the cross between Chulia Street and King’s Road, right opposite the Restoran Kapitan (renowned for its mamak food). You’ll find Haja Mohideen rocking his feet rhythmically on a 60-year-old sewing machine, working on his latest songkok.

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip

Hats in Georgetown, Penang | Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip