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The Language of the “Abanicos”

The Language of the “Abanicos” (fan) represent a mystery of the Spanish culture

It looks chic, creates a fresh breeze and is also a coquettish flirt tool – the fan. Today it is merely used in southern countries, because the temperatures are appropriately high. Or it is applied as stylistic device, for example in a dance. The fact that it was considered a transmitter for secret messages is widely unknown nowadays.

The history of the fan

The history of the fan can be traced back into the ancient Egypt. There was one found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tut-Ench-Amun, from the era of 1350 B.C., emblazoned with golden leaves and feathers. Also in China there were some exemplars from 2697 B.C. found, that were made of feathers, bamboo, vellum or wood. Probably they belonged to the emperor Hsien-Yuan.

In the seventh century Anno Domini an ordinary artisan from Japan invented the foldable fan. Legend has it, that he was inspired by the wings of a bat, which strayed into his studio. The revolution of the fan began. The huge palm fronds were replaced by the more popular handy and foldable models throughout the centuries.

In the 16th century the fan journeyed on the sea way from the Orient to the Iberian Peninsula and their success story in Spain commenced. The demand was very strong and eventually the Abanicos – the Spanish expression for fans – were being produced on European ground. Just as in the ancient Egypt the fronds were initially confined to the nobility. Much too precious were the gems made of nacre, ebony and beaten gold.

The fan becomes a tool of seduction

In the 17th and 18th century special fan-guilds were founded and the occupation of the fan-maker got acclaimed. Form and material of the produced fronds became more varied and the prices affordable. Simultaneously a so called “language of the fans” was established in the south European countries and especially in Spain – a way of allurement that heavily facilitated the societal life in the royal houses.

In the 17th and 18th century special fan-guilds were founded and the occupation of the fan-maker got acclaimed. Form and material of the produced fronds became more varied and the prices affordable. Simultaneously a so called “language of the fans” was established in the south European countries and especially in Spain – a way of allurement that heavily facilitated the societal life in the royal houses.

The young women, rigorously sheltered by their concerned mothers, were thereby able to send encrypted messages to the man of their desire. By means of movements and position of the fan the chosen one could tell, if the lady was showing interest or in which mood she was. For example by running the opened fan with the left hand along her cheek, the lady sent a declaration of her love. Secret meetings could be arranged, without anyone knowing. Quickly the new secret gestures were adopted by other European countries. Even a few academies were found, in which the art of sending the hidden love messages was taught.

The Fan today

With the beginning of the 20th century a refined way of communicating got buried in oblivion due to a more and more unreserved and explicit society. Indeed the former seduction tool still existed, but more to fight the heat or for decoration purposes. It was not until the 60s, that the fan celebrated its comeback at least in Spain. And that happened at just the right time: When tourism in Spain was booming, the fan become a symbol of the Spanish culture and, printed with Flamenco-motives, one of the most sold souvenirs among tourists.

Today the fan is a popular fashion accessory in the south of Spain. On paintings it is a repeatedly appearing motive. 95 percent of the fan production is from Valencia, the city in which in 1802 the royal fan-factory was opened. Here are still around 50 businesses that craft Abanicos in laborious handwork.

RTA can organize a fan language class as team building activity inside a Flamenco museum in Sevilla or Madrid

Contact us for a very fun program proposal!

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