Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sibu Kite Wars -Memories of a Brother, A Painting and A Movie

During the months of July, August and September in the 50's and 60's, the boys of all races and even some adults were taking out their best kites to fly.Hundreds of kites could be seen soaring up the skies ,darkening the vivid sunset like marauding planes on strike. The kites,big and small, colourful and plain,giants and tiny ones, were indeed an inspiring sight to behold.

However due to many negative instances of kids falling into the drains with some stories of their drowning, kids getting electrocuted, or cut by the sharp (glued with pounded glass) and fights which ensued after losses in the kite wars, kite flying and kite fighting was banned. How the police and the politicians erased this game from the then social life of Sibu was an interesting social "devolution" and perhaps a slow process of erosion of simple childhood fun.

So after just a few years of articles published in the newspapers, a few talks by community leaders, and lots of advice against kite flying, the obedient young citizens of Sibu stopped flying kites altogether. However, it seems that the political flavour of the moment (2008)is to bring kite flying back again to Sibu and probably there WILL BE an annual kite festival in the Tourist Calendar of Sibu.

Perhaps unknown to many Sibu people,actually in East Asia kite flying is an ancient custom. How many of us know that some Asian kites are musical. When the wind whistles through the reeds or bamboo tubes of the kites, the sound is thought to frighten away evil spirits.

In Korea, for example, people fly kites during the first days of the New Year. And in our own ancestors' China the ninth day of the ninth month—Kites' Day, or the Festival for Climbing Heights—is a holiday honoring elders and our forefathers who had protected us.

Kite flying is thus not necessarily an evil activity which can kill, or do harm to creative fun loving children or become a public nuisance.

In Sibu, my late brother and his friends made their own kites out of light bamboo and waxed paper.They would talk excitedly for days about the quality of the bamboo they used and the quality of the paper they have bought.They would cycled for miles to discover the best bamboo grove to cut that perfect stem for their beloved kite. Strings were those large spools of white thick Coates cotton (size 10 or Size 2). The boys painstakingly pounded blown light bulbs (glass) until they were just fine powder using a kitchen mortar and pestle, or lesong.

A solution of home made glue made to perfection was mixed with the powdery glass and long lengths of strings were stretched out in the garden. A small paintbrush would be used to brush the strings and have them lovingly coated with the gluey glass particles.This ensured that crushed glass will grip onto the strings. The boys would wait patiently for their strings to dry in the sun.

As they sat under a rambutan tree, they would recall with gaiety, and slaps on each other's shoulders, kites of past years and their own kite fights. And yes, fights with their mothers because they would come home all bloodied , losing a slipper or two and even with torn shirts as they had skirmishes looking for the fallen kites. Mothers would never understand the hormones and adrenalin which pump through the boys' blood system during the kite season.

When the strings were dry and attached to the special champion kite, they boys were ready for war. They would wait for a good wind, probably around 4 in the afternoon . Hundreds of kites would be flying and Brooke Drive was a favourite "fighting" ground.

any kite could be taken, but the best kites could easily be identified within minutes of flying. And these were targetted by the kite fliers.

Sometimes we could see four or five boys running with their strings from one road to another, just to cut the string of a special kite. When the kite fell, they would shout "belayang! belayang or balayan...." and every one would rush for the fallen kite. The boy who grabbed the kite would feel elated and the euphoria of getting a prized kite was beyond the imagination of a boy. He would have to run through trees, even cars, and perhaps climb a tree just to get hold of a treasure. Sometimes there was a fight. But this was the fun of a lifetime!! And talk would be just greatand for days they would recount their joys and sorrows.

The kite fliers had to be very skilful in letting their kite go low and then soar right up the sky and then bend a little. And with a little jerk, the flier could just cut of the string of the other kite. This was all very strategically planned. Sometimes one kite could down three or four in one evening. This would make that kite the champion kite. The following day, the other boys would be ready to take on the corky kite. And war began again.

the Malay boys from the Kampong were for once united with all the Chinese boys in this season. And you could see that language, race, religion and culture were all forgotten. All barriers were down. They were united in the pure enjoyment of kite flying. Sometimes they even shared their knowledge of how to make the best glass coating for the strings.

Those were also the times when boys were boys and they even forgot to go to school because they would rather spend time making kites and flying them. Only they knew the wonders and pleasures of flying their own kites.

These are my memories of my kite flying days in Sibu.

In many cultures around the world, the custom of kite flying has been passed from generation to generation almost as a ritual. Kites have been introduced more than three thousand years ago in China and from there the kite flying experience traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and later in America, Australia and other countries around the globe. From the years of Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Graham Bell to the World War II, kites have been used in scientific experiments or as lifting tools for military purposes. Today, kite flying and its contemporary successors, like kite buggying, kite sailing/surfing, or kite jumping, are considered to be joyful, relatively inexpensive and unique recreational activities practiced around the world, almost all year around.

The traditional kite flying involves flying a tethered man-made object with the help of the natural wind. The necessary lift that permits the kite to fly into the open space is generated when airflow over and under the kite creates the right amount of low pressure above the kite and high pressure underneath it. Those practicing kite flying state that running against the wind while holding the string that connects the center of the kite with the surface is a unique experience that one has to practice in order to fully comprehend. Typically consisting of one or more spars (sticks), made by bamboo, rattan, or other flexible but strong materials to hold the pressure powers exercised by the wind, classic kites use paper or light fabric sails, such as silk, and are made in different shapes and/or themes, such as birds or dragons. From the classic flat geometric form of a polyester diamond kite, modern designers have created kites that have three-dimensional forms or are made of sparless inflatable designs.

In recent years, in many countries, kite flying has developed into a competitive sport where precision flying skills and artistic interpretation are required.

But for the rest of the world, kite festivals have become a popular form of entertainment. These can be small local events, like traditional festivals, practiced by the local citizens for hundreds of years, to international festivities which bring in kite flyers from distant countries to display their techniques and distinct kite art forms. Moreover, with kite museums all around the world, kites are exposed to the eyes of the public and attract thousands of new practitioners every year. The world kite museum in Weifang Shandong China, the famous international kite capital, is the largest one in the world featuring a display area of more than 8,100 sq.m.

One very famous painting which depicts kite flying is "Kite Flying" by Ian FAirweather, painted in 1958.

It is an amazing painting, a fusion of eastern knowledge and western art.

Ian Fairweather is one of Queensland's most distinguished artists. Born in Scotland in 1891, Fairweather travelled through Europe and Asia as a young man, arriving in Australia in 1933. He eventually settled on Bribie Island, just north of Brisbane, where he lived a rudimentary and solitary lifestyle from 1953 until his death in 1974

Kite flying 1958, one of Fairweather's most significant works, exemplifies the artist's approach to painting. Lines inspired by Chinese calligraphy cross the work, exposing layers of underpainting. Figures, kites and balloons dance in and out of focus in a fusion of shapes and colours.

The work is based on a 2000-year-old Chinese kite flying festival, which celebrates the protection of loved ones against misfortune. The festival commemorates the story of Huan Ching, a man from the Han period in China, who was warned by a sage to take his wife and children to the mountains.

Taking this advice, he took his family kite flying, and so escaped the massacre that befell their livestock. The felicity of this occasion is reflected in the painting's joyous vibrancy.

Isn't it amazing that kite flying can inspire painters and fire the imagination of boys!

And finally,one of the latest movies is "The Kite Runner" based on the book by Khaled Hossein reignites my interest in my childhood kite flying. Perhaps even in Sibu there was a great story behind all those kite fighting days.

Article Source:

7 memories:

Kai Grey said...

i remember when i was younger, we used to go to the beach to fly kites.

one time, we had taken the kites made by uncle valentine's students in his art class. that was quite fun.

kite flying is most definitely in the memories of many people as a fun and beautiful part of their childhood.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thanks for dropping by. The beach is always a good place to fly kites. Even today, many expats in Miri are flying their high tech kites (made from very good materials) at the Esplanade.

Fathers/uncles and their sons/nephews should fly more kites together. And make real memories to keep.

But in Sibu, telephone wires, small roads, heavy traffic and lack of recreational grounds make kite flying almost impossible today.

I love to see colourful kites against a clear blue sky.

Bintulu has a great Kite Festival. Congratulations to the organizers!!

Unknown said...

Hello all!

Even though I have never made or fly any kites myself, I have fond memories of those kite flying days. I remember every young boys were excited and everybody were talking about it. I saw them making kites. There were even ready-made kites for sale. Someone must be enterprising. At less than RM1, the kite is of inferior quality.

Unknown said...

Hello all!

Even though I have never made or fly any kites myself, I have fond memories of those kite flying days. I remember every young boys were excited and everybody were talking about it. I saw them making kites. There were even ready-made kites for sale. Someone must be enterprising. At less than RM1, the kite is of inferior quality.

Unknown said...

Long Bridge is also one of the places where kite-flying were popular well into the 1970's.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

it is always nice to think of all the friends who enjoyed themselves making and flying kites. I remember some Malay boys who loved to fly kites in Kampong Nyabor and the brilliant smiles they had when they looked up at the sky. Their kites were home made.

such simple joy!! Gone forever, now boys like fast cars and other hobbies.

I Am Sarawakiana said...


where are you?


web statistics