The history of the fan in Cuba

Beginnings of the fan in Cuba

With the rise of the Creole bourgeoisie on the Island , in the mid-nineteenth century, a very popular garment among ladies came to stay, the fan. Since then it became part of the clothing of young people, ladies and even men.

In Cuba, the preference for fans generated competition between those imported from Europe and those manufactured in the Greater Antilles by artisans and decorators. This meant that the most purchased were those in the country – the upper part of the fan – that did not have any decoration, since they were later painted by hand, embroidered or used as autographs when purchased.

Wifredo Lam’s work, made in the 1940s.

The popular accessory gained fame in Cuban trousseau in the 19th century for the excellent quality of the material with which they were produced, compared to those used in Europe, but its authenticity was based on the touch of Cuban that its manufacturers gave it.

The first fan factory in Cuba was founded by the Venetian Bonifacio Calvet y Rodríguez, in the 1830s, and was located at 98 Cuba Street.

Varieties of fans

In Europe there was a type of fan called Barajas, due to its diminutive size, combined only by patterns and linkage; with decoration in the center and in wood, bone or ivory.

Ivory deck fan.

In the Caribbean country, this model was completely made of tortoiseshell, the center of the garment was decorated with the initials of the owner in silver and gold accompanied by some painting with sweethearts or angels on one side.

Tortoiseshell deck fan.

Other styles and models came to light in those years, such as the Pericón, named for its large size, which was sometimes made of feathers or fabric and wood, always bearing the family monogram.

Pericón fan with feathers.

But without a doubt one of the most popular is the Pai Pai or Flabelo. It is the simplest and oldest. Its origins go back to man’s own evolution. It is used in principle to scare away insects and cool intense heat. It consists of a handle and a piece that is generally round. Nowadays, due to its easy making many do it with their own means.

Pai Pai fan.


It is said to have a universal language. Curiously, they have even dedicated dictionaries such as those published in France, the 18th century and England, the 19th century, although each nation has its own particularities, related to color, texture, shape and movements.

In the Greater Antilles , during a conversation between two young men of the opposite sex, if the maiden opened the fan and held it in front of her chest for an instant, she indicated to the knight that she was delighted to see him. Also in the independence wars against the colonial regime they played an important role, as they were used to send messages from one place to another, hidden among the funny gestures of a Cuban woman.

Today they are made of plastic and decorate in different designs, but they retain their importance and wide use. In the hot climate of the Island it is almost an indispensable object.

Fan painted by Tomás Sánchez.jpg.

According to the theories of the analyst stars, it is good luck to have a fan, because when moving it its breeze can remove the unpleasant from our path. So let’s refresh our surroundings, and let the fan weave its own language.


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