A Portuguese Lovers’ Tradition
“Lenços dos Namorados” (Sweetheart Handkerchiefs or Fiancée Handkerchiefs) are handkerchiefs made of linen or cotton and embroidered with several related love patterns. This piece of handcraft is part of the typical clothing from Minho province (in Northern Portugal) and used by women of marrying age.
“Lenços dos Namorados” were used as a ritual of romantic conquest. The girl’s sweetheart should use the handkerchief in public so that everyone would know he had started a love relationship with her.
Poetry and codes
The girl in love embroided her handkerchief with poems, like this one…
“Escreve-me amor, escreve.
Lá no meio do caminho;
Se não achares papel,
Nas asas de um passarinho.”
“Write to me, my love, write.
At the middle of your journey;
If you can´t find paper,
in the wings of a little bird.”
…and drawings with specific meanings…
a rose — woman;
a heart — love;
a lily — virginity;
a red carnation — some provocation;
and finally, the doves were the symbol of the in-love couple.
…and gave it to her sweetheart when he left on a sea journey to the former colonial provinces.
A small Portuguese lesson
Also known as “Lenços de Pedidos” (Request Handkerchiefs), “Lenços dos Namorados” are closely related with the 17th and 18th centuries Nobility handkerchiefs. Later, they were adapted by the general female population, becoming more widely used, sometimes with spelling mistakes, like this one:
“antes murrer qe o teu amor perder” (“rather shall I dye than lose your love”)
(here “murrer qe” should be written “morrer que”.)
“E tão serto eu ti amár [It is so true I love you]
cumó o lenso branco ser [white as the handkerchief is]
i só déixarei de ti amár [I only will stop loving you]
cuando o lenso a côr perder” [when its colour fades away].
The same poem without mistakes:
“E tão certo eu te amar,
como o lenço branco ser,
e só deixarei de te amar,
quando o lenço a cor perder”.
Times are changing
Nowadays, it’s totally different. We send love messages by email or cell phone. We use Skype easily. We travel mostly for pleasure and for business, not to distant colonial provinces or to discover unknown lands. And mostly, we travel by plane. Even when we travel by boat, it’s safer.
But once upon a time, not so long ago, even during the sixties in the last century, a young man went on a sea journey to the Colonial War in Angola or Mozambique and said farewell to the girl he loved with the “Lenço dos Namorados” she had given him minutes before…
Have a lovely February!