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April 27, 2004 > Go Fly A Kite

Go Fly A Kite

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

Type the word "kite" in to any search engine on the Internet and you will be surprised at the multitude of "hits" that result. Kite enthusiast websites claim to be some of the most visited on the Internet and this assertion can easily be believed. People from all corners of the globe have constructed sites dedicated to the kite and its many forms and functions. There are pictures, message boards, chat rooms and numerous other items that can be found all relating to the classic flying toy. Kites come in numerous styles and designs, depending upon the abilities and needs of the kite-flyer. Upon closer inspection, however, the kite is realized to be much more than mere "child's play". One need only look at the history of the paper and stick contraption to realize it is more than just a windy-day pastime.

When thinking of the kite, most Americans picture Ben Franklin maneuvering his famed kite in a rainstorm, investigating atmospheric electricity. American physicist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell also conducted kite studies in his scientific pursuits. On November 12, 1894 Lawrence Hargrave was lifted from the ground by a train of four of his "cellular kites", doing his utmost to invent the airplane. It is also believed that none other than the Wright brothers used kites to experiment with aerodynamics and that this experimentation lead directly to the creation of the airplane. Yet, the history of the kite goes back even further than a few centuries.

Kites have a long history that began more than 3000 years ago, far from the North American continent. Although the origin of the kite is debated, reportedly, the first appearance occurred in China some 3000 years ago. Bamboo and silk, the perfect materials for constructing a kite, can be found in abundance there. Once discovered, the Chinese used kites for battlefield communication and to frighten the enemy. One commonly believed story about the origin of the kite involves the famous Chinese general, Han Hsin, who, in 200 B.C., supposedly asked his men to tie him to a kite and fly him over the enemy camp at night. The soldiers below saw the frightening object in the sky and heard a loud voice commanding them to return to their families, or else they would die. The soldiers fled and the next morning Han Hsin and his troops easily defeated the few who remained.

Korean kites started out not as means of entertainment but as a military weapon, as well. In Korean history, kite flying is traced back to 637 A.D., during the first year of the reign of Queen Chindok of Silla, when General Kim Yu-Sin used a kite to calm the agitated populace. He launched a kite in the night sky over Kyongju. The kite had a large cotton ball attached that was burning, causing the superstitious people to think it was a falling star soaring up in the sky, and that their misfortunes would soon come to a close. Another general in Korean history, General Ch'oe Yong, of the 14th-century Koryo period utilized kites for shooting firearms. Admiral Yi Sun-sin used kites in the 16th century as a fast way to inform the naval troops of his strategic instructions, flying kites having different pictures signaling tactics to use, while fighting the Japanese invaders. This use of kites was a precursor to what would become known as "kite fighting".

Numerous other cultures have their own forms of kite fighting, too. The Indian fighter kite, made in India or Pakistan, is called a "Patang" or "Guda". It is one of the most popular fighter kites available. Some Indian individuals insist it's not really fighting but simply "kite flying," and the competitions are refereed to as "tangles." This puts Indian-style kite matches in the category of such games of basketball and football in the U.S., and soccer in Europe

The kite-fighters of Brazil, Piao, are nicknamed "Top Kite" because of the of their kite's resemblance to a spinning top. In Brazil, kite flying is such a popular pastime that it is not uncommon to hear of electrocutions because of the numerous kites becoming entangled in power lines throughout the city. The Piao fighters are usually flown using string tails with ribbons attached

Thailand's own version of kite fighting has been played and favored by the Kings of Thailand for centuries. Kites have been enjoyed since the 13th and 14th-century, the Sukhothai period. The sport was probably most popular during the reign of King Rama IV (1851-1868), when people were granted royal permission to fly kites at Bangkok's Phra Men Ground next to the Grand Palace.

Among the most enthusiastic of kite-fighters are the Japanese, who have embraced kites as a distinct part of their culture. It is believed that Buddhist monks brought kites to Japan from China and Korea somewhere between the sixth and eighth centuries. Kites are flown to ensure luck, for religious purposes and, most popular of all, for sport. The Japanese sport of a fighter kite is usually small and highly maneuverable. The line is coated with a paste of cooked rice, tree gum and powered glass, sharp sand or even knife blades. The object of the fight is to cut an opponent's line and send his kite crashing to the ground. The winner quickly reenters the fight, as there are usually hundreds of battles occurring simultaneously.

In more recent history, the kite has become a symbol of freedom, particularly to the people of Afghanistan. Kite flying has been popular in Afghanistan for more than 100 years. During the rule of Taliban, kite flying was banned for being "un-Islamic" and has been allowed once again with the return of freedom. It has been said that when the "Taliban fell at five in the morning, people were flying kites by nine a.m."

Afghanis have taken the art of kite flying, or "gudiparan bazi", to a new level and their newfound freedom adds to its attraction. There is even a kite-selling market in old Kabul called the Shur Bazaar, where some kite-makers sell as many as 2,000 in a single day!
Like other kite-flying countries, Afghanistan it has its own form of kite fighting. During the fight or "jang" the two kites are flown close to one another, often at great heights. The object is to use the wire of your kite to cut the wire of your opponent's kite and set it free.

In the United States, kites have enjoyed a loyal following, as well. There are numerous kite-devotee websites including www.kites.org, which lists a nearly endless amount of links to kite-related sites based in the U.S. You may also want to visit The American Kitefliers Association at www.aka.kite.org, where you can find out everything that you want to know about the kite flying community in the United States

In the Tri-City area, a wide selection of unique kites can be found at Scenario Game & Hobby Shoppe in Fremont. Throughout the Bay Area, there are various shops that specialize solely in kites and their accessories.

Although April is National Kite Month you can still celebrate in May by attending Family Kite Day on Saturday May 8 from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. at Silliman Activity Center 6800 Mowry Ave., Newark. You can build your own kite and watch giant kites dart through air. There will also be Rokkuku Fighting Kites battling it out in the sky. In addition, there will be a magician, inflatable fun jumpers and a GIANT Kite candy and prize drop for the kids. Admission is free and all are welcome.

 
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