Heritage

The Secret Messages Filipinas Used to Send With Their Abanikos

If a woman covers half her face with a fan, it means she's asking you to follow her.
IMAGE SIAMESE TWEENS/ ETON DE GUZMAN/ CARIZA CHUA
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Similar to the vinyl record player or the film camera, a traditional hand fan or the abaniko possesses unparalleled craftsmanship that will rival any of its modern counterparts.

But more than its design, novelty, and original purpose of cooling us down, the fan played a big role in our own history as it acted as a secret communication device.

Hand fans have enjoyed a long history, dating back to at least 3,000 years ago. They were originally used as cooling and ceremonial devices by the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Etruscans. During the Spanish regime in the Philippines, the abaniko became a mainstay in women’s attire, complementing the baro’t saya.

Fortunately, the women during that time were resourceful enough to work around the modest façade that they had to keep around men and cleverly used fans to convey the words and emotions they were supposed to keep to themselves. It was an unspoken and widely understood language that women would use to interact with their suitors. It was their own type of code equivalent to the text messages men and women would send each other today.

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While the secret language is no longer practiced, the abaniko still remains a precious relic from the genteel age, one that brands like Casa Mercedes strive to preserve.

Here’s what each fan action meant, according to the Language of the Fan by Casa Mercedes:


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Action: Holding the fan downwards with the right hand

Meaning: “Single”


Action: Holding the fan downwards with the left hand

Meaning: “I am betrothed”


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Action: Fanning quickly

Meaning: “I like you, sit with me.”


Action: Closing the fan slowly

Meaning: “Not worthy.”


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Action: Closing the fan abruptly

Meaning: “Bored.”


Action: Dropping the fan to the ground

Meaning: “I trust you.”


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Action: Holding the fan to the chest

Meaning: “I feel bad about what you did to me.”


Action: Counting the ribs of the fan

Meaning: “I want to talk to you.”


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Action: Covering half the face

Meaning: “Follow me.”


Action: Playing with the fan’s tassel or fringe

Meaning: “I don’t treasure or value you.”


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Action: Hiding the fan behind the back

Meaning: “I don’t want to talk to you.”


Action: Lending the fan while closed

Meaning: “I trust and accept you.”


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Action: Lending the fan while fully opened

Meaning: “I see you as a sibling or friend.”

For more information, visit monchetycia.com.

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Features Editor
Hannah is originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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