In my country Guyana this time of the year is associated with kite making and kite flying. It is so traditional in my country that when I first lived away from it I was taken aback that Easter came and there were no kites.
Recently I tried to find out the origins of this tradition. Asking older people only brought vague responses about it being our way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ. When I began researching the history of kites I found out that in both China and India there were long kite traditions. Something clicked. Maybe the Chinese or Indians brought it to Guyana.
As usual there are different claims about where kites originated. In some accounts it is China. Other stories say it began with societies in the South Pacific. The Balinese have a beautiful story on the origin of kites.
Kite flying symbolizes man’s dream of flying. One of the most powerful Greek myths is that of Icarus who flew with wings but went too near the sun which melted the wax holding his wings together. Kites even have their own museums and festivals.The Kite Museum of Ahmedabad in India gives you a glimpse of the history of man’s joy of flying kites.
Kite flying has not only been a recreation it has played important roles in war and science. There is the story of Hsiang Yü who flew a kite at night to frighten the army of Liu Pang founder of the Han dynasty in China. This is the ancient equivalent of our flying black hawk helicopters to scare the Taliban.
There are accounts from 100 BC to 500 AD of generals using kites to send signals, messages and even weapons. They were used for observation and to measure the distance of enemy camps. A modern version of this is pilotless drones doing similar duties.
Many of us have read about Ben Franklin’s kite experiment in 1752.He sent up a kite in a storm to prove that lightning was of the same electric matter as the one that generated electricity. He attached a projecting metal wire to his kite. This drew lightning when an electrified cloud passed over his kite.
Kites played an important role in the development of aircraft. A major milestone in kite flying was in 1870 when an Australian inventor Lawrence Hargrave created box-kites whose stability was the inspiration for power driven aeroplanes. Alexander Graham Bell,Samuel Cody and the Wright brothers experimented with very large man-carrying kites and biplane gliders.
From my research the most popular Kite flying countries are China, Japan, India, and Thailand. I was intrigued to read about ‘kite fights’. This is something I remember from my childhood. Kite fighters try to cut opponent’s kites down using various methods. The technique used in Afghanistan ( Gudiparan Baz. ) where the string of the tails of the kites are passed through a mixture of ground glass powder and glue to make them capable of cutting either the tails or the string controlling the kite is very familiar to me. Perhaps my Corentyne cousins had some Afghan ancestry!
Some interesting traditional International Kite Flying festivals I found are in Greece, India and Pakistan. Greeks fly kites on the first Monday of Lent. This is known as Clean Monday. Millions fly kites all over northern India during the Indian festival of Makar Sankranti, a spring festival celebrated every January 14 and a public holiday in Gujarat. In neighboring Pakistan, kite flying is done in Basant -their spring festival.
Today we have competitions for multi-line kite flying,precision flying and for the artistic interpretation of music.The Joy of Kite Flying continues.