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Lahaina event celebrates the world of kites: Past, present and future

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Apr 12, 2018

Dr. Busaba Yip and Robert Loera showcased ancient and modern kites from around the world at the event. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WO HING MUSEUM.

LAHAINA – Lahaina Restoration Foundation celebrated the world of kites at last week’s Chinese Kite Festival and Kite Flying Day during the National Kite Month of April. Presented by Lahaina Restoration Foundation, Wo Hing Society and Maui Toy Works, the event provided displays of ancient and modern kites from around the world, kite making crafts, games, Chinese foods and music.

“On Saturday morning, April 7th, at the Lahaina Cannery Mall, Kite Master Robert Loera demonstrated acrobatic sport kite flying, and the community enjoyed the colorful variation of kites that were flying high,” said Busaba Yip, Ph.D., Wo Hing cultural director for LRF.

“Loera, a former U.S. stunt-kite champ and co-founder of the Hawaii Kiteflyers Association, always contributes his stories and love of kites to festival attendees.”

Loera, his wife and his brother opened Hawaii’s first professional kite center with stores on Maui and Oahu. The current Maui Toy Works in Lahaina Cannery Mall used to be named Kite Fantasy.

“I’ve traveled widely and enjoy sharing stories about my kite collection,” said Loera. “I specialize in sports kites and love flying large, colorful display kites in Hawaii and around the world. I love seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they gaze up at the colorful kites.”

Yip explained some of the fascinating history of kites.

“Kites originated in China over 2,300 years ago, in the Chinese province Shandong, where materials ideal for kite-building were readily available: silk fabric for sail material; fine, high-strength silk for the flying line; and bamboo for strong, lightweight framework. The kite was said to be the invention of the famous Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban in the 5th century B.C. By A.D. 549, paper kites were being flown as a message for rescue missions.”

The idea for kites came from a legend, The Chinese Farmer and His Kite. It tells of a Chinese farmer whose hat blew off his head because of a gust of wind. To keep it from blowing off his head again, he tied a piece of string to his hat. When another gust blew the hat off again, it sailed off into the sky and remained airborne while he held the string, and thus the first kite was born. It is also believed that the idea came from ancient banners that used bamboo reinforcements.

“These ancient Chinese Buddhist ritual banners were made of pattern and plain-woven silk with split bamboo reinforcements and carried aloft hooked on a staff, closely resembling modern kites,” said Yip. “Chinese kites were tools before they were toys. They were used as an ancient mode of communication with the spiritual world and the higher power. Kites carrying messages hoping for rain or good crops were flown and released. The ancient Chinese believed that their messages would eventually reach the heavenly spirit, who would grant their wishes.”

Designs used on Chinese kites have symbolic meanings or illustrations from Chinese folklore or history. Tortoises, cranes and peaches signify long life, bats are a sign of good luck, butterflies and flowers represent harmony and a dragon design represents power and prosperity.

In the mid-Tang Dynasty, during the 7th through the 10th centuries when society was stable and peaceful, the use of Chinese kites was gradually changed from military to entertainment. With increased recreational use, kites evolved to silk, satin and paper. Even more designs and new ideas, such as the musical kite, emerged in later centuries. Chinese Kites became an art with beautiful shapes, pictures, images and the movements with music from space.

The 10th century was known for the introduction of beautiful, elaborate and detailed hand-painted, silk-covered kites. So much went into these kites that it’s likely they were only made and used by the royalty and aristocracy of the time. After A.D. 1000, Chinese kites became more popular in all levels of Chinese society. There are numerous types of kites.

Traders from China carried the art of kite flying to Korea, Japan, India, Thailand and gradually found their way from the East to the West and other parts of the world. Each culture took the knowledge and put their own spin on the idea, creating individual styles of kites and reasons for them.

Some interesting facts: in 1804, an American made a kite like a flying vehicle, before airplanes. In 1826, the British invented a winged vehicle pulled by a kite. In 1874, an American flew over a 240-meter canyon on a kite. And during the 19th century, the French made use of a kite in a successful rescue operation at sea.

Kites continue to play a role in scientific and technological development. The idea of the kite has suggested a way to help remove space debris by attaching a structure to a defunct satellite, which catches the extremely rarified wind in space. The tiny but constant tug on the string will eventually bring the debris object down into the atmosphere.

Yip concluded, “Kites have a fascinating history, and along with just being so much fun, they still have many future possibilities.”