Learn About The History Of The Afghan Karakul

For hundreds of years, Afghanistan has been a place with rich culture and numerous ethnicities. All these Afghan ethnicities have colorful histories and cultures that everyone must know of.

One aspect that could showcase the way of life of these different ethnicities is the headgear that the people wear. Each Afghan ethnicity wears a certain headgear, which helps distinguish them from other ethnicities.

The cap or turban Afghans wear determines their social standing and status. However, they also help in distinguishing which part of Afghanistan they are from or from what ethnicity they belong to. For instance, an Afghan wearing an Uzbek cap, a flat and round cap with colorful wool embroidered on it, and is worn tight on the head, could mean that the person is from the northern part of Afghanistan, such as Faryab, Jawzjan, and Mazar-i-Sharif.

One of the beautiful headgears and headdresses that Afghans wear is the Karakul, among the oldest styles in the country. They usually use the wool of baby lambs to make this hat, and

What is a Karakul Hat?

The Karakul hat, sometimes called Qaraqul hat or Jinnah Cap, is a hat or headgear made of the fur of a Karakul sheep. The fur or pelt they use to make this hat is often called the Astrakhan or broadtail fur. The Karakul hat is huge and pointed, but it is usually flattened when the wearer does not wear it. This is such a historical fashion item that many people love.

The Karakul hat belongs to the traditional attires worn by ethnic groups from the northern part of Afghanistan, including the Tajiks and Uzbeks. This hat gained its fame in 2002, when Hamid Karzai, who took office that year, started incorporating the Karakul in his wardrobe to create a more Afghan look.

Men from Central and South Asia usually wear the Karakul Hat. Ghazi Amanullah Khan, the king of Afghanistan in 1926, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, are also among the legendary people who liked wearing the Karakul. The hat is usually used to distinguish the educated urban men in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 20th century. Sadly, it’s not any more liked by many and is no longer a part of men’s fashion trends.

Soviet Union Karakul Hat

Aside from Afghanistan, the Karakul hat also became famous in the Soviet Union, especially among the members of the Politburo or the political bureau. Leaders from the Soviet Union usually appear in public while wearing a Karakul, so it’s easy to distinguish the leaders among the crowd.

The Karakul hat gained popularity among Soviet leaders since they were mandated to use the hat during parades with the Emperor and Soviet generals. Leaders usually emphasize their high class and political status by wearing hats on their heads.

They also often call the Karakul hat the Pie hat because it has a similar shape to the traditional pies in the Soviet Union.

Kashmiri Variations

Another variation of the Karakul hat is the Kashmiri hat. The Kashmiris, an ethnic group, living in the Kashmir Valley in India, have used the Karakul hat for several years.

The Kashmiris usually call the hat “Karakuli,” and it is part of the traditional attires of this ethnic group. The gentry or the upper-class in Kashmir usually used headgears, like turbans tied similarly to that of the Pashtuns, an ethnic group from Afghanistan. But aside from the turbans, the Karakul cap is also quite popular among the Kashmiris.

The Karakul hat is usually worn by the famous and high-class politicians of Kashmir. Aside from that, it is common to see a Karakul hat in a Kashmiri wedding and is usually worn by the groom while he is at his in-laws’ house waiting for his bride to come home with him.

Who Popularized the Use of Karakul?

The Karakul hat was popularized by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder. They often call it a Jinnah cap when you’re across the border of Pakistan. But aside from Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Karakul hat also owes its popularity to former President Hamid Karzai, who regarded the Karakul as his wardrobe staple.

This hat also became a hot item and attracted several trendsetters and fashion enthusiasts in the West. The Karakul gained various reactions from citizens – many liked it, but some hated it, and these people are mostly animal rights advocates.

Hamid Karzai wears his Karakul hat religiously, especially when he appears in public gatherings or a public setting. However, Karakul is not quite a symbol to the Afghans – it doesn’t seem as historical to them as it once was.

The country exported countless pelts or fur of the Karakul sheep for hundreds of years. These are in demand by many people in the country and abroad because they use these pelts to produce these fashionable Karakul hats, usually worn by leaders, politicians, and trendsetters. These Karakul hats were usually prized for up to three thousand dollars each.

However, after many years, the Karakul hat was out in the limelight, and Afghanistan has been exporting less and less of the pelts of the Karakul sheep each year. This is because the Karakul sheep were listed as endangered, so they cannot gather enough pelts to produce this iconic headwear.

Falling off the Trend

When Hamid Karzai became the president, he appointed the Karakul hat as part of the Afghan wardrobe, and this movement gained a lot of attention and praise from Afghans and the people abroad. One famous designer from America even called Hamid Karzai “the chicest man on the planet.”

Shortly after gaining popularity, the Karakul hat fell out of fashion. One reason is because of the tarnished presidential election in Afghanistan. Abdullah Abdullah, the opponent of Hamid Karzai in the aborted election runoff, preferred a suit-and-tie wardrobe without the iconic Karakul hats.

Shops on Shamshera Road that sell Karakul hats halted their business operations, and those that opened would be lucky if they could sell one Karakul hat a day. But despite the hat being out of the limelight, the pointy woolen Karakul hat remains an iconic fashion piece that symbolizes and distinguishes Afghanistan from all the countries worldwide.