Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Cossacks were first recorded in 14th century. The word ‘Cossack’ derives from the Turkic term ‘kazak’ which roughly translates to ‘free man’ or ‘adventurer’. Cossacks are a group of Russian military workers who traditionally lived in semi-military communities and followed a simplistic lifestyle.
In the sixteenth century, the hat was very symbolic; if removed from the head it showed the end of a blood feud of warring clans, or a romantic gesture to woo a lady. A Cossack would throw his hat into the window of the lady he wanted to pursue, if she kept his hat she was happy for a proposal to follow.
Invaded by Poland and Russia, the Cossack warriors had to use their strengths to keep armies away from the land between the Caspian and Black Seas. Cossacks devided themselves into six major land linked regions; the Don, the Greben (in Caucasia), the Yaik (on the Middle Ural River), the Volga, the Dnieper and the Zaporozhian (maily west of the Dnieper).
At this time, Poland began to organise the Zaporozhian Cossacks into their own military ranks to protect their boarder. It was at this point in history that the Zaporozhian Cossacks signed a treaty with the Russian Empire to retain their autonomy. This solution worked for a short period but eventually the Russians were determined to capture their land. A 47 year battle finished with victory for Russia.
There were many traditions surrounding Cossack life; the way they lived, their values and their strong traditions. They worked and fought together, in order to stay together and keep their land. Horsemanship was a key skill. Young male Cossacks were trained to use weapons and ride horses by the age of three, giving them an amazing advantage on horseback for life.
In the homeland, named Caucasus, between the Caucasus Mountains and Greater Caucasus Mountains, the Cossacks lived together. Their Cossack hats were important to Cossack life. Identified as the papakha hat, it was also called an astrakhan hat.
The Cossack hat was worn for honour not for warmth. The papakha was an integral part of life and expressions were deep seated in their beliefs. Their sayings include “If you have no one to consult, consult your hat” and “If the head is intact, a papakha should be on it.” No Cossack hat could be removed without the head! A Cossack regarded his papakha and shashka (a special kind of saber) as his most precious possessions.
A papakha was a hat that formed part of a uniform, the fur and the height of the hat defined the rank and tribe. Up to 1917 these hats were usually made from bear, sheep, and wolf fur. After the war, the papakha was replaced by the Communist Budenovka Hat. Later the Cossack hat reappeared as part of the Red Army’s high command attire. After the fall of Stalin, high level officials in the Politburo chose the Cossack Papakha and introduced them as part of their official uniform.
The Cossack hat has always been worn with pride by members of the public. This has continued to the present day. Cossack hats are popular and reflect luxury across the Russian Federation and beyond. Authentic Cossack hats are made with a variety of animal furs. Animal rights activists and modern customers prefer faux fur and natural wool fibres, so Cossack hats are made with these materials too.
See more The Hat Channel Mag June 2020.