July - Kite Flying Season in Bali!
Two things get your attention this time of year in Bali. It only depends upon what you’re doing as to which one you notice first. If you’re in a quiet place you hear this funny humming sound. Like a bus or big truck that is in it’s lowest gear and going slowly up a hill – but a little more Country-N-Western sounding (twangy, ya know?). It’s the sound of the kite ‘strings’ vibrating in the wind. If you’re not in a quiet spot and are outside, you see the kites. These aren’t your usual kites that we flew as kids (or adults). These things are HUGE. The kites themselves can be up to 30 feet long. Tails can be over 400 feet long. Their size is really a function of the size of the roads here on Bali. If the roads were wider (max is 2 lanes), then the kites would be wider and longer too. Anyway, you can see these babies from a long way away.
Like almost all things on Bali, kites have a religious (or spiritual) side. Balinese-Hindu’s believe that when the Indian god Indra enjoyed leisure time, he amused himself with kite-flying and taught young cattle herders how to fly them! Today though, they are built as a village (Banjar) tradition and the designs are passed down from one generation to the next. It’s a symbol of both Banjar pride and the village’s unity. The kites are built and flown by almost all members of the village. The creation of each huge kite is so complex and has so many steps that everyone is involved as kite builders, transportation specialists, launching engineers and cheerleaders.
There are two basic types of kites. Tourist kites – these can be taken apart for transportation home; and Balinese kites – these can’t be wider that a 2 lane road. Even the tourist kites are neat looking – very colorful vampires, owls, birds, reptiles, monsters, and more. But the Balinese kites are something to behold. They come in 3 basic models: Fish, or bird, or ANYTHING. I’ve seen huge aircraft, cars, Harley Motorcycles and red vampires.
Since the larger the kite, the more wind that can hold it up and thus, the higher it can go, the kites are designed to be huge. Last year the Banjar in Sanur created a kite over 600 feet long (ok, most of it was a tail, but still…)! The spiritual side of Bali comes into play with kites just like all the other aspects of Balinese life. First a Balinese calendar is consulted. But since the Balinese calendar is so complex, a traditional Balinese calendar expert or a local priest is brought in to determine the very best date to begin the planning and construction of the ‘village’ kite. Each kite is beautifully constructed. Bamboo of different sizes is split and lashed together for the frame. Each one customized for the skin that will go over the frame. Light strips of bamboo are used for the struts that need to be somewhat flexible. In some places many pieces of thin bamboo are used to form curves and arcs. Finally, the plastic or cotton skin is attached. Well, attached seems too simple to describe what they do. On these kites the skin is actually sewn on to the frame. It’s quite beautiful: Several blessing rituals go along with each step from the initial planning stages, thru construction, to launching and flight. Once constructed a long procession of villagers along with priests and a traditional Balinese drum band march from the village meeting hall (bale Banjar) to the launching site. Because of the constant trade winds blowing from the east over the beach, it’s access to the 2 lane By-pass road, and the huge open field, the place chosen for launching is Padanggalak Beach, north of Sanur Beach and the Grand Bali beach Hotel.
The festival takes place over a four-day period in July. This year it’s Thursday July 25th thru Sunday July 28th. The reason for the 4-day festival is the number of villages involved. Each day around 350 villages bring their kites to the beach. So that makes about 1,500 kites in all. I arrived on Friday at about 9AM after following a huge truck carrying a kite and about 20 villagers. Several motorbikes with the flags of the village led the truck. (The colors of the kite match the colors in the village flag). After paying my 2,000 rupia parking fee ($.20) and parking, I walked down the beach about 500 yards. A procession of kites was strung along the beach. Each kite had its supporters (usually about 10 big guys carrying the thing) along with a priest, a small orchestra of drums and gongs, and the village supports and cheerleaders. It was quiet a sight. The kites seemed to fall into 2 general categories: standard (huge) bird like and painted the colors of the village, or something else – spider, fish, dancing girls, barong, and more. When they came to the actual entrance to the festivities, the kite was measured and placed in a category and then the team was told where to ‘park’ their kite. You can image how much room 350 kites take up. So all along the perimeter of this huge field were all the kites. Of course this was a festival, so also along the perimeter where the wonderful food stalls. Some selling wonderful, steaming homemade soups; freshly made sates; and other Balinese delicacies. Plus soda, candy, sunglasses, small kites, and other trinkets. And the guys wandering among the crowd selling cold canned sodas, fresh peanuts, even pie shaped boxed pizza slices.
About 10:30 everyone was in place and the contest started. The ‘unusual’ kites went first. Each team had to launch their kite 3 times. They were judged on originality, overall design, color, ease of launching, how well it stayed up, etc. On this day some of these designs were: swordfish, gold fish, barong, 7 dancing girls, a horse drawn carriage, turtle, and a spider and it’s web. All the gathered throng were seated along the sides of the open area. And of course, everyone had an opinion on the design, airworthiness, etc, of each kite. If a kite didn’t make it too far up into the air on one of its attempts you could hear the catcalls for a mile.
Everyone is laughing, eating, visiting with friends and other villagers, and just relaxing in the shade of their kite awaiting their turn. It reminded me of what a 19th century American county fair must have been like. All the excitement, the socialness of the all the participants, the contests (well no ‘biggest pig’, or pie eating – but the biggest kite!). Lots of folks milling around, gawking at their neighbors kite, fussing with the kids, the usual. And the kids – like kids everywhere, they were busy eating candy and drinking soda, flirting with each other, or just plain hanging out with buddies.
On Sunday afternoon I returned. It was in the afternoon that the largest kites were judged. These babies were about 20 feet long and about 15 feet across. It took 10 guys to carry it into position for launching and another group of 20 to handle the string (rope actually) to launch her. The line ran about 200 yards own the open area. One set of lines for each kite and in the afternoon they launched 22 at one time. The reel was placed on the beach end of the field and the kite at the other end. Imagine 22 of these lines going across this field that was also filed with thousands of people. At a given signal each group would launch their kite. It took about a half hour to get 22 kites launched. But it was kinda funny to watch the crowd sway back and forth to get of the way of the line handlers as they ran along launching their kite. But all 22 did get launched at one time. These kites were judged along the same lines as their smaller, diverse kites from the morning. These were only launched once though. They were judged on things like: ease of launching, stability in the air (did it stay in one place or was it weaving), over-all control of the kite, AND the landing. The landings were the trickiest of all. The kite had to be slowing reeled in and a strong group of guys had to in just the right place to ‘catch’ it. The crowd was much larger than Friday morning’s. Perhaps it was because it was Sunday, which is the common day for all offices to be closed (stores are open, or course), so the crowd was much larger than on Friday. Perhaps, between six and 10 thousand people. (Of course, I’m no judge of size – I think I look thin J Everyone was again in a great mood. It was a perfect day – partly cloudy with a nice wind blowing from the east across the beach. Everyone had a great time!
A Potential Hazard to Air Traffic
Bali's commitment to kite flying does bring its share of problems and hazards to local residents. Sometimes facial injuries are suffered by motorcyclists who unwittingly encounter a kite's line stretched across local roads; power blackouts occur when escaped kites short circuit high power lines; traffic accidents do occur when a bus-sized kite suddenly lands on one of the major highways; and the kites are an acknowledged threat to commercial aircraft operations. Anticipating these problems, local laws prohibit kites flying within 6 miles radius of the Denpasar airport at altitudes exceeding 100 feet. Further out, in a radius of 6 to 12 miles from the airfield, kites are forbidden to fly at altitudes exceeding 200 feet. Fines stipulated for violating this statue can reach as high as Rp. 5 million (+/- US$ 580).
Kids get in the Act Too
Just like the construction of the Oogah-oogahs during Nyepi; the building of kites is not restricted to the men of the villages. Nor to the building of huge kites. In the rice fields surrounding my house there are sometimes a half dozen boys ages 6-12 with their kites. These are also hand made like their big brothers, just 'boy' size and launched by 2 kids. The look of joy and satisfaction on their faces when I walk by and give them the ol' 'thumbs up' sign makes my day. I’ve seen small tykes with kites less than a foot long, tied to their fingers. You could tell they were dreaming of being like their big brothers some day.
I've added about 30 photos to THIS page and you have your choice of a slide show or just double-click! There is also another site that has an additional right up and a few photos (even a sound file of the humming sound of the kites flying): http://www.bhc.com/Bali_kite_festival/