Saturday, December 12, 2015

Cambodia's Kite Festival Sticks to Tradition

By: Olivia Harlow and Buth Kimsay
Produced & Edited by: Olivia Harlow

On November 12, hundreds of colorfully designed, handmade kites flew over Koh Pich around 8 a.m. as part of the 19th annual Khmer Kite Flying Festival.

The event, organized by the Ministry of Culture, observed 49 kite flyers release large, vibrant bird-shaped and airplane-shaped kites into the air. The kites—made from plastic, paper and bamboo and decorated with detailed drawings of elephants, tigers, and water buffalo—were constructed using traditional techniques.

Over 2,000 years ago, Khmer people built kites from hard bamboo and tree leaves, flying them at the end of the rainy season in hopes that ancestor spirits would bless the farming period. Because of continued agricultural success throughout the Angkor era, Khmer people continued kite flying, holding annual festivals in honor of the harvest. During war, the yearly celebrations came to a pause, but in 1994 tradition was revived and has persisted ever since.

Today, the most traditional Khmer kite, “Khleng Ek”—which translates to “kite musical instrument”—is still flown. These kites use a sounding bow, which creates a buzzing, musical noise when met with wind. 

In this year's competition, a panel of judges evaluated kites based on their flight ability, aesthetic, and sound, offering cash prizes, flowers and trophies to the winners.

Him Vibolphal, Director of Culture Development at the Ministry of Culture and member of the judging panel, explained, “We judge on three things: design, stability of flight, and sound. If the kite makes seven different sounds, it is good.”

First place winner, 37-year-old Yen Sina from the Kompong Thom province, said he not only enjoys creating and flying kites, but that he thinks it is important to introduce the art form to those who know nothing about it. “I want to show the Khmer kite to other people living in Phnom Penh and other provinces who have never seen a Khmer kite,” he said.

According to Mr. Vibolphal, many more people attended this year’s festival than in the past, giving flyers such as Mr. Sina greater exposure and increased competition.

“There are many kite flyers and many kinds of kites this year,” said Mr. Vibolphal. “We announced the kite competition in advance this year, which is why we have more competitors than other years,” he explained. According to Mr. Vibolphal, flyers all the way from northeastern regions came to compete.

“I come to compete here, because I want to have fun. It was so much fun, and I’m very happy that I am the first winner,” said Mr. Sina.  “Khmer kites are our heritage, so we should take care of it.”

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