Flying In The Land of Lightning

by Audrey Lim, May 8, 2001 | Destinations: Malaysia / Kelantan

It's a two way process! Kites and Kelantan (also known as "The Land of Lightning" - a state located on the East Coast of Malaysia) goes hand in hand. No one can deny the fact that Kelantan is famous for its kites. And the irony of it, the kites are famous because of the state as well. It is up in Kelantan's blue skies that you can view some of the most magnificent and traditional kites in Malaysia. These huge kites will offer you an experience of a lifetime. Imagine seeing a bunch of these giant kites enveloping the skyline of Kelantan, all in their magnificent glory and in colorful designs. A truly awesome sight!

Just like spinning tops, kites are also flown to mark that the harvesting season is at an end. It is during these times that people are free to pursue their interests. As these kites are huge, it would require two persons to fly it. The principal guy (juru anjong) is to lift the kite while the assistant (juru tarik) helps to lift it. The best time for kite flying is between the months of May to July where you'll get calm winds in the East Coast.

Up at the East coast of Malaysia, kites are known as "wau". These Malay kites have a very interesting history and legend. During the olden days, kites were used in wartimes to scare away the enemies. There is even a myth about a Malay prince flying off on a kite to meet his lover in the heavens. Legends aside, it was said that the Chinese were the ones who brought the kites to the Nusantara region many years ago. Then, the Malays developed the kites to suit their taste and flavor. They made the kites and have them flown to appease the Weather Gods. In the Malay Annals, it was stated that Prince Ahmad, the son of Sultan Mahmud Shah of Malacca flew the kites too.

Most of the designs chosen for the kites are based on individual choice and taste. Some of the decorative designs are strongly influenced by motives found on carved timber walls, palace pillars, or even from the border of sarongs (a loose skirt consisting of brightly colored fabric wrapped around the body; can be worn by both women and men). Besides these, common kite designs include the flowers and leaf motifs. There are actually more than 20 styles to the wau bulan (moon kites).

To make a kite, it would take anything from 2 days to 2 weeks. Of course, skills and patience are vital traits in constructing a kite. In a traditional sense, it is said that these kites should have "eyes" so that they can see their way in the celestial realm. All in all, each kite must have the following: a head, a spine, a waist, a wing and a tail. To make a good kite, the frame of the wau is very important - it must be strong but flexible. The most suitable material to use is a kind of bamboo. Another important feature for the kite is the "hummer" (noise-making bow). It gives the kite character while the noise is said to make the kite come alive. For balancing, the kite uses the bow in the frame. The flying line is usually a fishing twine made from tree fiber wound on a wooden spool. But in today's modern times, monofilament nylon is being used instead. Personally, I think the way a huge kite defies gravity and sways gently in the breeze is truly a mystical sight.

Kite competitions are widely held in Kelantan. The winner is the one whose kite can fly higher and lasts longer than all. In this state, the ability to fly the 5ft x 4ft kite successfully strongly determines the reputation of a village. In a high-flying match, two teams of four fliers must each choose their best kite for launching. Once a team loses, they may choose another kite and try again. The competition ends when every kite in each team has been defeated or used up. There is also a humming match where the winners are judged according to the sound their kites make on a continuous 15 minutes run. They must, of course, not use modern material to produce sounds on their kites. If you are interested in these kites, you may purchase the miniatures ones throughout Kelantan. You will also get to watch these kite festivals/competitions organized by the state government.