Men’s tapestry crocheted and looped hats are very popular in the western highlands of Cameroon in Central West Africa. Sometimes the styles are meaningful (denoting status, a specific event, or one’s home town), other times the hats are just fashion statements.
Both tapestry crocheted (left) and looped hats (right) can be seen in Bafut. Tapestry crocheted hats of a different style are for sale on the wall behind them. (2000)
Detail of a looped hat from Cameroon.
How are looping and crochet related? They are similar, but with looping the entire strand is pulled through each loop; only a small loop is pulled through another loop with crochet. Looping is an ancient technique, but no one knows when or where tapestry crochet developed. I suspect loopers embraced it because tapestry crochet is quicker.
Tapestry crochet is one of many crafts done in Foumban, home of the Bamum (Bamun, Bamoun) people. The early 20th century Sultan Njoya encouraged metal casters, leatherworkers, potters, embroiderers, woodcarvers, beadworkers, and other craftspeople to move there and a hundred years later, it is still the center of craft production in Cameroon.
A Bamum leather worker and a sculptor wear tapestry crocheted hats with diamond motifs, but each is quite distinctive. (2000)
Bamum crocheters often carry recycled synthetic sack fibers to stiffen the hats they tapestry crochet with cotton and acrylic yarns. The hats on the right commemorate the local biennial Nguon Festival. (2000)
Detail of the synthetic fiber carried in Foumban. Notice that the top loop of each stitch is laying over the next one. This happens when the yarn color is changed after completing the stitch (instead of when 2 loops are still on the hook).
These tapestry crocheted hats are from Foumban. The knob on the top is a decorative element that is specific to that town. (2000)
Although I observed more women tapestry crocheting than men when I visited in 2001, I did find one male crocheter in Dschang.
This Bamileke man from Dschang is crocheting a hat like the one that he made below. (2000)
Aren’t the crocheted ruffles fabulous? (2000)
These tapestry crocheted hats are also from Dschang and are more typical of the hats worn there. (2000)
I suggested in an earlier blog that Korsnäs tapestry crochet might have evolved from nalbinding, an ancient looping technique. I believe the same thing happened in Cameroon. My next blog will show a similar development in Guatemala.