Saturday, October 27, 2012


Anahaw pamaypay: only 10-to-15 pesos each
In Metro Manila and Bohol, especially during the torrid summer months, I always carry an anahaw fan (pamaypay). It’s not only good for temporary relief from the sweltering temperatures, but it’s also handy as a shield against the blistering sun or a light drizzle. 

The folding fans (abaniko) in the picture below are of the cheap kind; usually sold by street vendors in church vicinity for no more than twenty pesos. Made with less than durable materials, they don’t last that long. They’re about as good as those cheap folding umbrellas from China.  Be that as it may, having one is better than having none at all.

The affordable folding fans: 20-to-25 pesos each
During the early 2000s, the only ones who use folding fans in public besides the women were gay teens and gay men. However, nowadays, a lot of straight guys — from high school students to businessmen — can be seen with a folding fan in public instead of using a notebook or a manila envelope. 

And since folding fans can be easily stashed in brief bags and back packs, they have since gained further public acceptance as a necessary accessory for both men and women; not to mention that they'd make effective self-defense weapons.

Personally, I’d rather stay dry and comfortable than get soaked in sweat. Thus, I always carry a fan in my bag — either the large plain anahaw or a folding fan — to use when needed despite how others might perceive or discount my masculinity. Same as with an umbrella; I never ventured outside without one whenever it was raining or about to rain.  No veiled messages attached to these items – they are merely necessities.

The pricier folding fans by Casa Mercedes -- San Juan, Metro Manila
Speaking of veiled messages through one’s accessories, during the more prudish zeitgeist in local culture, as instituted by the Spanish friars during the Spanish rule, the folding fan and another must-have accessory, the handkerchief, were effective tools of communication used by women in the affairs of courtships. Such visual lexicon was expressed silently and discreetly.

From the Spanish era up to the early 1960s, courtship in the Philippines was an extremely arduous undertaking, because women were born and raised to be one of only three things: nun (to serve God), housewife (to serve a man) or spinster (to serve her family). It was also difficult for a man to meet a woman, unless he was fully accepted and welcomed by the woman’s parents.

At social gatherings, at the sala or ballroom, the women were usually seated at one side, while the men on the other. The most a man would get from a woman he desired were shy smiles or monosyllabic responses, lest she wanted to be perceived as "loose,” so to speak.  If the man was lucky enough to know someone close enough to the woman, then he would be used as a “bridge.” Without such middle person -- for a woman to subtly disclose likewise interest to the awaiting suitor -- the use of a folding fan or handkerchief would be the next best thing.

Here’s a sampling of the signals and their corresponding meaning according to The Prewar Lovers’ Guide by Ambeth Ocampo:

Through a handkerchief:

Brush against the lips = I’d like to exchange letters
Brush against one eye = I feel a sense of sadness
Brush against the left hand = I think I like you
Brush against both cheeks = I love you
Let if fall = Let’s get to know one another
Press against the right cheek = Yes
Press against the left cheek = No
Brush against the shoulder = Follow me
Fold = I’d like to speak with you
Fold the ends = Wait for me
Twist with both hands = It matters not
Twist with right hand = I love someone else
Twist with left hand = I don’t want to meddle in your affairs
Tie against the index finger = I have another sweetheart
Tie against the ring finger = I am married
Tie against entire hand = I am yours
Play with the handkerchief = I care not for you

Through a fan:

Carry it dangling from the right hand = I’d like to have a boyfriend
Carry it dangling from the left hand = I already have a boyfriend
Fan constantly = I love you a lot
Fan slowly = You don’t mean anything to me
Fold suddenly = I like you
Let it fall = My aim is true
Cover half the face = Follow me
To not carry or hide in one’s pocket = I am not interested in your courtship

Nowadays, courtship is a lot more relaxed and less stressful, especially since the advent of cellphones and text messaging. There’s also Facebook. It is now also an acceptable norm for a woman to initiate and pursue a man she desires. 

And for those intrepid lovers unable to curtail their urges, the fans and handkerchiefs have become even more necessary accessories — but this time for their original purpose — especially after a heated rendezvous in one of those cheap motels without air-conditioning that abound in Manila’s university belt area.

Performance troupe in early 20th-century regalia

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