When you’re traveling through the north of Morocco, undoubtably, you will see colorful Moroccan reed hats dotting the landscape. These are the “sheshia” (also: chichia) hats traditionally worn by the men, women and children of the north.
They are the Moroccan reeds hats of the people that inhabit the mountainous regions, known in Moroccan as Jbala. This stems from the Arabic word, Jbel, meaning mountain. So… Jbala means mountain people. The Jbala inhabit the areas around Rif Mountains as you head southward from the Mediterranean, around Tangier, before meeting the Middle Atlas Mountains a bit north of Fez. It is in this region you will see the traditional sheshias coloring the countryside and the local souks, covering the heads of jbeli (mountain men) and jbeliya (mountain women) as they have for centuries.
There are two different types of sheshias, interchangeable between men and women. They are both wide-brimmed hats with a structured crown. What sets these two hats apart are their coloration.
The older-style sheshia is woven with dark blue yarn and features a large yarn pom-pom at the top of the crown. Four other pom-poms anchor the large yarn strings connecting the brim to the crown. These hats are generally decorated with threaded dark blue yarn threaded around the crown and brim.
The newer-style is much more colorful with alternating reds, yellows, greens, blues and patches of white. Instead of one large pom-pom, there are usually numerous smaller pom-poms dotted around the crown and sometimes on the brim.
Some people believe that the colorful pom-poms not only help to ward off insects, but also deter djinns.
Sheshias are incredibly picturesque. However, like a lot of traditional wear in Morocco, they are also extremely functional. The handwoven reed provides needed protection against the hot sun. Because the material is woven reed, this also allows for the head to breath. Like this, men and women working the fields are less likely to suffer from heatstroke or overheating, as are children who often wear them under the harsh midday sun.
If you’re traveling through the north of Morocco, particularly in the summer, it’s easy to find these Moroccan reed hats for sale, generally less than 50 Dh (or about 5 USD). They’re the perfect hat for a photo op, make a fantastic compliment to just about any beach wear, and are one of the most authentic and affordable treasures of Morocco you could ever hope sport on your head.
About the Author
Morocco expert, writer and photographer Lucas Peters curates and edits the Journey Beyond Travel blog and pens the JBT Insider’s Guide series. After spending years traveling to the distant corners of Morocco, he wrote and photographed the best-selling guidebook Moon Morocco. He is now based in Paris, where he lives with his wife and son – both shamelessly used in the photographs that accompany this piece.