The ak kalpak is to Kyrgyzstan what the ten-gallon hat is to Texas.
They’re these tall, narrow, white, felt hats each with a turned up rim around the bottom. They have a crease down the front, either side of which has a swirly design that differs from kalpak to kalpak. To top it off (ha! pun.) they have a bit of a pointed peak and a small tassel which hangs down from it.
They look something like this:
They look even better on me:
Adinai, Me, Leah, Cute Kid #1, Cute Kid #2
Kalpaks are only worn by men and usually only old men at that. The younger generation is a little more western in their style and abstain from kalpak wearing except for holidays and religious ceremonies. They have for the most part adopted the modern day official Kyrgyz head gear: the Adidas ball cap. Ok, the Adidas ball cap isn’t really an official hat of Kyrgyzstan, but given how ubiquitous it is country-wide, you’d be tempted to think so.
Kalpaks are also really common gifts. Because they’re just made of thin felt, they’re really inexpensive even by Kyrgyz standards. Way back in July, Kuban gave me one before I left for Talas. And last month a friend’s host mom gave me another after I spent the night at their house. I’m really looking forward to expanding my collection.
A while back, Adinai, a high school student in the nearby community of Ak Dobo told me about Ak Kalpak DAY. A whole holiday dedicated to a type of hat; granted a pretty sweet hat, but still.
“In Ak Dobo we will have a celebration and a parade. Everyone will wear kalpaks and we will walk through town.”
“Right on, who doesn’t like a parade? Everyone will wear them? Even the girls?”
“Even the girls. I will borrow my grandfather’s. Would you like to come?”
“Yeah, sounds pretty good to me. I’ll be there.”
Because I’m a wuss I dragged another volunteer, Leah, along for backup just in case things got more complicated than “just a parade.” That turned out to be a good choice, because we both got co-opted into giving a short speech each. After that, though, there really was a parade and we walked all the way through town singing songs, chanting, and waving flags.
Don’t worry if these kids don’t look excited to you, you just don’t have the nuanced understanding Kyrgyz culture that I do. Trust me. They were STOKED.