Published on June 13th, 2012 | by Adrian Simpson0
Let’s go Fight a Kite! Kite-fighting Around the World
In the best-selling novel The Kite Runner, a story about children growing up in war-torn Afghantistan, Khaled Hosseini can be credited with popularising the sport of kite-fighting for people around the world. However, in many places in Asia and South America, kite-flying and kite-fighting have long been cherished pastimes, as recreational sports but also as a way of celebrating new life and bringing communities together.
Photo Courtesy of Glogster
In the autumn, when the winds are highest, the skies over cities in Afghanistan become filled with kites in many colours, either handmade or bought from shops. There can be up to twenty kites in the air for any one battle, each operated by a team of two players, and the aim of the competition is to cut the opponents’ kites out of the air using lines coated with a mixture of glue and crushed glass.
The champions of this sport, called ‘sharti’, bring respect not only to themselves but also to their whole neighbourhood; yet kite-fighting can also be a dangerous sport, as every year people are injured either through not looking where they are going while watching the skies, or chasing after downed kites (kite-running) through busy streets. When the Taliban was in power, they banned this sport as unholy, but since 2001 the kite-fighters, and the aerial maneuvers of their battling kites, have returned to the skies to the joy of many Afghans.
In many places in India, the middle of January is a time of great celebration, as the transition from the winter to the summer months ushers in the harvest season. The festival of Makar Sakranti is a time not only for food and companionship but also for kite-flying and kite-fighting.
Photo Courtesy of Paul Chapman
Kite-fighting in the state of Gujurat is particularly popular, with children getting up before dawn to take advantage of high winds and spectators staying out on the rooftops of the city late into the night. In the city of Ahmedabad, a special Indian kite (or ‘patang’) market is set up which stays open 24 hours a day in the week leading up to the festivities! Ahmedabad also holds the International Kite Festival to coincide with Makar Sakranti, a place where expert kite-makers and kite-flyers can show off their craft.
The Japanese take their kite-fighting very seriously, as in Hamamatsu where each block of the town enters the competition with its own massive kite which can be over 3m long on each side. This is a world away from my own experience of kite-fighting in one of the poorer parts of Brazil, where the children made their own kites from sticks of wood and plastic carrier bags, battling skillfully to avoid not only other kites but also overhead power lines and passing cars and motorbikes.
In Japan, the Hamamatsu kite festival draws the whole community together, and after the towns have competed to choose the winning kite, the town is filled with lanterns, parade floats and the delicious smells of food stalls as part of the wider ‘Golden Week’ celebrations.