Saturday, 6 January 2018

Handfan or Visiri

The origin of the hand fan is quite uncertain. Thanks to artistic representations we know that, around 3000 B.C. fans were used by Egyptians. Egyptian fans were big, fixed, and semicircular shaped, made with feathers and with long handles.

They had double function: blowing air and scaring away insects. Also it was a sacred instrument, used in religious ceremonies. Greeks and Romans used fans, too. The most famous was the "Flabellum" that in the middle Ages was used during the Christian liturgy.

During XVIII and XIX century, fans became integral part of court etiquette. The aristocrat women had one for any occasion: to proclaim an engagement, to be included in the trousseau, to be introduced in court society, for the birth of children and for mournful happenings. In 1700s there were also fan to be used in church, or with theater’s and geographical maps. In the same period women developed a secret language, to make signals with fans, that was codified in XIX sec and was used to engage secret dates.

 The main gestures and their respective meanings that together configured what it was known as “the language of the hand fan” were:

To hold the fan with the right hand in front of the face.
Follow me.

To hold it in the left ear.
I want you to leave me alone.

To let slide it on the forehead.
You have changed.

To move it with the left hand.
They are watching us.

To change it to the right hand.
You are imprudent.

To throw the fan.
I hate you.

To move it with the right hand.
I love another.

To let slide it on the cheek.
I want you.

To hold it closed.
Do you love me?

To let slide it on the eyes.
Go away, please.

To touch the edge of the hand fan with the fingers.
I want to talk to you.

To hold it on the right cheek.

To hold it on the left cheek.

To open and close it.
You are cruel.

To leave it hanging.
We will continue being friends.

To fan slowly.
I am married.

To fan quickly.
I am engaged.

To hold the fan in the lips.
Kiss me.

To open it slowly.
Wait for me.

To open the hand fan with the left hand.
Come and talk to me.

To strike it, closed, on the left hand.
Write me.

To semiclose it in the right and on the left.
I cant.

To hold it opened, covering the mouth.
I am single.

I wonder whether the men of those times were educated on the above gestures and meanings too !


  1. Very nice aritlce on the fans. I used to have one in Sri Lanka...helped with the flies and kept me cool like you said.

  2. Thank you Dave for reading this article :-)


Book Info: Publisher : AiR Foundation ISBN: 9789352814466 Genre: Non-Fiction / Self Help Format: P...