A quinciano, that is, a sombrero vueltiao made of fifteen-lap braids, is shown on the left in this picture of two sombrero vueltiaos. The braids that form this hat contain 15 pairs, or laps, of caña flecha (arrow cane) fiber strands. The quinciano is the most economical sombrero vueltiao. A veintiuno, a sombrero vueltiao consisting of braids that contain 21-laps of caña flecha fiber strands, is shown to the right of the quinciano. Notice the relatively supple appearance of the veintiuno. A 21-lap sombrero vueltiao is so supple that it can be folded and carried in a pocket without damaging it, as shown in this video:
The English translation of the name of this well know, very distinctive Colombian hat is "hat of laps," or substituting the Spanish word for laps, "hat of vueltas"; hence, the name sombrero vueltiao. Woven from strong, yet supple caña flecha (arrow cane) fiber, this hat is very durable, as well as flexible and attractive. The tightness of the weave makes for a very effective sun screen.
Zenú Indians, natives of the Caribbean region of present-day Colombia, make the sombrero vueltiao, which was adopted as the national symbol of Colombia. It is a very popular sombrero de playa, beach hat. Each sombrero vueltiao has interwoven pictures, or "faces," which are called pintas. Each pinta constitutes a historical record of Zenú experience with something in nature, a particular natural phenomena or something else deemed worthy of commemoration.
Pintas are living records; they bear instructions for doing things, such as how to catch a particular type of fish, or how to mitigate a particular natural phenomena, such as a blight on crops. The instructions encoded in pintas are handed down from generation-to-generation. The "face" of each pinta serves as a reminder, a mnemonic device, of the information it contains.
Pintas serve other purposes as well. Some pintas commemorate types of music or dance, a song or dance that was popular in a particular year, or a religious practice. Other pintas constitute totemic elements, identifying marks of the artisan clan that made them. Certain letters of the alphabet are recorded in pintas. Historically, a gift of a sombrero vueltiao from a woman to a man constituted an invitation to courtship. Visit our gallery to see a collection of fully illustrated Zenú Indian pintas.
This Colombian hat is made in a range of quality levels, which vary directly with the number of laps of caña flecha fiber strands used to make the braids that comprise it. Hats consisting of 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, and rarely 27 lap braids are made. The readily apparent difference between hats in various quality levels is their suppleness. All sombero vueltiaos are very durable; however, those made of braids of 21 or more laps of fibers are so supple they can be folded very compactly, carried in a pocket, and readily unfolded; they are very resilient. (See the video on this page.)
In the past, the sombrero vueltiao was not just a sombrero de playa, a beach hat, it was worn by hardworking farmers for its functionality as a shield from the sun and for it durability. Today, this hat is popular with people from all walks of life... especially Caribbean folks... or perhaps, those so inclined.