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Old 29th January 2008, 04:42 AM   #1
Nick Wardigo
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Default Rattan helmet, maybe Vietnamese

I'm attaching pics of a rattan helmet I picked up a few months ago that I suspect is Vietnamese, but I wanted to get some other opinions. I have a few reasons for suspecting its Vietnamese origin, but without going into long and laborious detail, I'm simply going to attach an illustration of a South Vietnamese soldier, circa 1850. Note that both helmets have a spiral construction, similar to Chinese and Vietnamese rattan shields. As far as I know, there is no Chinese equivalent to this helmet construction, but I'd like to know if anyone else here is aware of any other cultures that constructed helmets in a similar way. I would think Indonesia could be a candidate, but I'm largely unfamiliar with their armor. In short, I want someone to come up with a plausible candidate other than Vietnam.

The helmet is slightly oval, being 11.25 inches at its longest and a hair under 11 inches at its shortest. Height is about 6.25 inches. The model in the photo is my lovely wife. She enjoys supporting me in my hobby and can't seem to resist putting this thing on her head.
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Old 29th January 2008, 04:43 AM   #2
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A soldier from South Vietnam (Cochinchina), circa 1850.
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Old 29th January 2008, 05:01 AM   #3
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Neat headpiece, Nick. One thing I'm interested in is how thick the main strand of rattan is. If it's a functional helmet, then the rattan needs to be thick enough to absorb a blow. Otherwise, it could be primarily a fashionable hat, as your wife so ably demonstrates.

F
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Old 29th January 2008, 05:13 AM   #4
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Nick,

I chanced on your query out of curiosity and do not profess knowing anything about this helmet. I asked my secretary, who is a Thai and she immediately said that it was Vietnamese. She knows nothing about armour and arrived at her conclusion on the strength of appearances.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 29th January 2008, 07:10 AM   #5
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Wives can be really handy in so many ways. What a super thing to have.
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Old 29th January 2008, 12:27 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Evans
Nick,

I chanced on your query out of curiosity and do not profess knowing anything about this helmet. I asked my secretary, who is a Thai and she immediately said that it was Vietnamese. She knows nothing about armour and arrived at her conclusion on the strength of appearances.

Cheers
Chris

At the end of the day, it is always the secretary who has the last word
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Old 29th January 2008, 03:07 PM   #7
josh stout
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Here is an example of a Chinese rattan helmet. It is a bit different, and may be asymetrical to give more overhang for the face. European accounts describe Chinese soldiers using them in the water, but I would imagine they were widely used.
Josh

http://forum.grtc.org/viewtopic.php...highlight=naval
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Old 30th January 2008, 12:47 AM   #8
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Thank you everyone for your responses.

Fearn:
The hat/helmet is very sturdy. At it's base, it is nearly .75 inches thick. I suspect the main spiral of rattan is actually a double layer, but it is weaved so tightly that there's no way to prove this without deconstructing the thing. It probably is tough enough to absorb a sword blow, but more to the point, it's definitely tough enough to DEFLECT a sword blow. The particularly steep incline seems well-suited to deflecting an overhead strike...even the very top is peaked by a cone-shaped piece of wood. I think the construction, coupled by the soldier illustration, makes a good argument that this is a helmet rather than a hat. You are correct, however, that my wife makes it look so stylish that it is easily mistaken for a fashion statement.

Chris:
Please thank your secretary for me. Would you mind asking her to be a little more specific? I'd like to know what characteristics about it make it look Vietnamese to her.

Josh:
Yes, I followed this thread with great interest when Scott first posted the photo. These photos depict fairly typical Chinese rattan helmets. The obvious difference is that the Chinese use vertical strips of rattan to construct the "bowl," whereas this helmet uses a spiral of rattan, held together by thinner rattan strips, weaved into the spiral vertically (again, very like Chinese and Vietnamese shields). The Vietnamese also used a helmet similar to these Chinese examples; I'm attaching a postcard depicting a couple of Vietnamese soldiers, circa 1910. Curiously, I haven't found any depictions of spirally-constructed helmets in China, despite them having shields of that construction.
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Old 30th January 2008, 07:39 PM   #9
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Vietnamese is very plausible. It is nothing like the war hats used in Burma & Thailand, which are more like sombreros, with wide brims. I have a book of illustrations made during the French Mekong expedition in the late 1800's, in which a number of ethnic groups are shown. When I get home tonight I will flip through it and see if I can find a match.
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Old 31st January 2008, 12:34 PM   #10
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Really interesting and cool, Nick. When I saw the initial photos I wondered how that could be a helmet until I scrolled down and saw the "lining" and "accoutrement" that went with it.

Wear it to the Irish restaurant in Timonium.
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Old 31st January 2008, 01:41 PM   #11
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Here is a detail of Plate 151 in Delaporte & Garnier, [i]A Pictorial Journey on the Old Mekong," originally published as part of the Mekong Exploration Commission's report of their journey to the headwaters of the Mekong River in 1866-68 & reprinted by White Lotus (ISBN 974-8496-76-7 or 1-879155-76-1 - not sure why there are two). The caption identifies them as "Annamite" (Vietnamese). The hat on the man to the right is not an exact match, and he is a civilian, but note the little cone on the tip of the hat, similar to yours. Whether it is coiled or slat construction cannot be seen.
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Old 1st February 2008, 04:40 AM   #12
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Mark:
Thank you for discounting Burma and Thailand. If it isn't too much trouble, could you post a photo of a helmet from one or both countries? I don't think I've seen warhats from this area, and it would be extremely informative to me. Also, thanks for posting the illustration from Delaporte & Garnier. There is certainly a similarity.

Charles:
Yes, I'm fascinated by that illustration myself. I particularly enjoy the European features of the model. I suspect that somebody brought the uniform back to Europe, had a local gentleman model it, and then somebody drew the illustration from that. I also doubt that the feathers are authentic. The wooden point on mine is removeable with a little prying. I suspect the illustrator inserted some plummage to spiffy up the uniform.

I'll wear the helmet to the Irish pub if you use your Burmese double-knives to eat your shepherd's pie.
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Old 1st February 2008, 06:53 AM   #13
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Nick,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Wardigo
Chris:
Please thank your secretary for me. Would you mind asking her to be a little more specific? I'd like to know what characteristics about it make it look Vietnamese to her.


She said looks! Couldn't be more specific, save than to say that hast like that are not worn in her country.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 4th February 2008, 06:40 AM   #14
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Default helmet construction

Interesting to note that this helmet, like the Vietnamese and Chinese rattan bucklers, has an essentially spiral structure, the cane being of round cross-section and bound with thin, narrow strips of split rattan. The rattan headgear worn by the Vietnamese units serving in the French colonial forces (the Linh Tap) are constructed quite differently. Though they vary in size and degree of conality, they are made of thick rattan split into flat laths, assembled radially around a central peak and reinforced with other rattan strips at the rim.

Either type of helmet or hat will provide considerable protection against cuts to the head. Even a direct hit with a blade is not likely to penetrate the weave. The British learned from their experiences in Asia that they could not cut through a rattan shield with their naval cutlasses, which are quite stout, heavy-bladed weapons. The extensive use of cane for shields in areas as diverse as Tibet, Turkey, and parts of equatorial Africa attest to the virtues of this material in the construction of effective, lightweight, and inexpensive body protection.
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Old 6th February 2008, 05:21 AM   #15
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Thanks for chiming in, Phil. Here's a thought...I wonder if the flat-lath construction you describe (and which I believe is depicted in the postcard) is more typical of Tonkin (North Vietnam) and the spiral construction is more typical of Cochinchina (South Vietnam). We already know that there were differences in their swords: southern Vietnam more closely resembling dha; northern Vietnam more influenced by Chinese jian and dao. It's no great stretch to imagine there might be variations in their armor.
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