Fulani hat

Those who have been to West Africa are familiar with the hats often worn by the Fulani cattle herders who roam between the borders of the West African nations.

A good friend, a Burkinabé, told me that in his tribe (the Mossi of south Burkina Faso), a boy could get his start in life by collecting the grass to make such a hat. The youth would weave and decorate the hat and give it to a fellow tribesman in exchange for a chicken. With the chicken’s eggs, he would gradually start bringing in an income which could lead to all manner of enterprise further down the track.

Today, these hats are usually made en masse for the tourist market, and I’m one such sucker. I bought mine in Ouagadougou’s grand marché, and it hangs on the wall in our bedroom after filling in as a lampshade for several years.

Today at the Sunday Markets (we were at a different location than last week), I stopped a woman who was wearing a Fulani hat.

“Where,” I asked, “did you get your hat?”

“Oh,” she replied, “it’s from Ecuador — hardly a hop, skip and jump away.”

I was intrigued. Have I been away from Africa so long that I can’t recognise an genuine West African artifact (or fake) when I spot it?

“Did you get it in Ecuador?” I asked. I had to know if the South Americans were cashing in on the African tourist-trinket trade like the Chinese. (You can buy beautiful Baoulé masks in resin, with a sticker on the underside declaring: Made in China.)

“Oh no,” the lady replied. “I bought it in Byron Bay, but it’s from Ecuador.”

I thanked the lady and left her and her Fulani hat to wander the market. Perhaps the Byron Bay shop got it wrong. Or did someone write “Equatorial Africa” on the origin tag, with the lady just misreading it?

I’ll never know. Should I have told her the truth?