If you have visited Bali between the months of June and August, you have no doubt felt the wind pick up, particularly on the east coast. If you direct your gaze skywards during these months, you are likely to see a kite, or a cluster of them, flying high and bopping along with gusts of wind. The reflection of the strings will often glisten in the sun, and on the ground, you’ll usually find a group of young boys keeping an eye on things. As an expat in Bali, there was many a time when a sudden thud on the roof or a splash in the pool, would soon lead to a bashful knock on the gate, as the owners of their kites would come to collect them.
Kites on the island of Bali were initially flown over rice fields as a tradition to ask the Gods for a strong harvest and abundance, known as “Rare Angon”. When you see a kite flying high, you’ll also usually hear the sounds produced by the bamboo bows used to bind the kites. The bamboo is strung together using rattan bands and each is done strategically. The upper piece of bamboo creates a high-pitched sound and considered female, while the male produces a lower pitch sound. To produce a bumper crop, the sounds must be in harmony and the balance is important.
From a young age, boys are taught to make kites from colourful paper called “kertas minyak” using just scraps of bamboo to keep them together. As the boys grow older, the designs become more ornate, using silk cloth sewn onto the strong bamboo frame, and rope to navigate the kite instead of string. The making of the kites can be a complex process, and walking along the beach path in Sanur, you may come across groups of men arduously strapping the bamboo and then attaching the silk fabrics. If you’re lucky, you can catch the maiden flight, the excitement and cheers as the kite takes to the air for the first time is a wonderful thing to witness.
Each village across Bali holds their own festival, and if you make your way down to Mertasari Beach in southern Sanur late July or early August, you’ll find the Sanur Kite Festival. Stroll amongst the crowd, feel the excitement and witness the pride of each kite owner as they prepare to fly their creations, and each banjar will have their own group competing. The kites are made with many different materials, with wide wingspans and come in all shapes and sizes, and some with amazingly hand-carved heads.
The most common shapes are known as Bebean, Pecukan and Janggan. Bebean represents a giant fish and is generally the largest kite of all. The pecukan is similar to a leaf and requires the most skill to fly, while janggan looks like a bird with a very long tail, these tails can reach up to 100 metres in length! Traditionally, competition colours are limited with black representing the Hindu god Shiva, red representing Brahma and white for Vishnu. Yellow has been added in recent years with the colour meaning balance.
Transporting the kites can be tricky, and some must be taken in pieces and put together at the competition site. It’s not uncommon to see the kite being held above the head of a pillion passenger on a motorbike, but more often the group travel together in the back of a pick-up truck.
In competition, the teams vie for the best launch and the longest flight. Sometimes the kites don’t fare so well and come crashing to the ground. When a team wins however, you will certainly know about it, the team will drive back in their pick-up truck, holding their trophy up high and tooting the horn all the way back to their village where the celebrating continues.