Kite mak­ing: From fam­ily ac­tiv­ity to com­mu­nity busi­ness

FROM FAM­ILY AC­TIV­ITY TO COM­MU­NITY BUSI­NESS

Stabroek News: Lifestyle - - Contents - By Than­deka Per­ci­val

Ev­ery Easter Mon­day the skies come alive in a burst of colour and sound as Guyanese flock to ev­ery open space with their kites to join in the an­nual kite-fly­ing ac­tiv­ity. While some in the lo­cal Chris­tian com­mu­nity use this cel­e­bra­tion to com­mem­o­rate the as­cen­sion of Christ, kite-fly­ing is more of a cul­tural than a re­li­gious ac­tiv­ity with per­sons from all re­li­gious back­grounds tak­ing part in it and con­tribut­ing their own unique flair to the ac­tiv­ity.

The Euro­peans may have brought Chris­tian­ity to the Caribbean, but the kite it­self has a his­tory go­ing back mil­len­nia to an­cient China. Kite-mak­ing and kite-fly­ing for some is a se­ri­ous ac­tiv­ity re­quir­ing thought­ful con­sid­er­a­tion; each flyer re­quires the per­fect kite of the per­fect colour and size which can ‘sing’ at the per­fect pitch. There is no such thing as a stan­dard kite; ev­ery­thing about a kite is in­di­vid­ual. Any­one view­ing the spec­tac­u­lar va­ri­eties of colour, sizes and shapes dec­o­rat­ing the sky on Easter Mon­day dares not doubt that a lot of time and ef­fort can go into sourc­ing that per­fect kite.

Once upon a time that per­fect singing en­gine was made at home; the lit­tle ones sat at the feet of their fa­ther as he made their spe­cial kite with their favourite colours, while older chil­dren com­peted to make the fastest fly­ing, loud­est singing or fiercest fight­ing kite. Time was when kite-mak­ing sea­son would see chil­dren strip­ping the leaves from their ex­er­cise books and pinch­ing ‘point­ers’ from their mother’s pointer broom to make what was called the ‘caddy ol’ punch’. They would scale the gamma cherry trees for its sticky pro­duce that pro­lif­er­ated dur­ing the Len­ten sea­son, and pil­fer from the flour bin if nec­es­sary—flour paste be­ing known to help kite pa­per ad­here. To­day kite-mak­ing is a com­mer­cial rather than a fam­ily ac­tiv­ity with adults and chil­dren buy­ing their of­ten cus­tom-made kites from ven­dors around the coun­try.

De­spite the rise in use of the made-in-China ‘bird’ kite, for sev­eral Guyanese kite-mak­ing is still a prof­itable busi­ness. One such is Marvin Cole of Bux­ton.

Like many oth­ers, Cole learned kite-mak­ing at his fa­ther’s feet. Each year he watched his fa­ther Em­manuel Cole, make kites for him and his sib­lings, but when his fa­ther mi­grated in 1986 he had to source his own kite. His aunt tried to fill the gap by buy­ing a ‘bird’ kite but that didn’t go well as a bone fell out and that year, he said, they had no Easter.

The next year he saved his Mashra­mani money and didn’t just make one kite but sev­eral, us­ing ‘pointer’ frames. Th­ese kites were such a hit that his neigh­bours started re­quest­ing that he visit their homes to help them with theirs. In 1989, he and his brother with the help of com­mu­nity mem­ber Ray framed and de­signed 20 kites which sold out in 3 hours.

Recog­nis­ing that he had stum­bled on a niche mar­ket, Cole set up shop in the vil­lage. He sold $85,000 worth of kites in 1990. Each year since he has done brisk busi­ness with de­mand al­ways seem­ing to out­strip sup­ply, as no mat­ter how many kites he makes it never seems to be enough. Not­ing in re­cent years that per­sons seemed to have a fear of Bux­ton, Cole shifted his busi­ness to the public road to even more suc­cess, netting $1.2 mil­lion in 2014.

Cus­tomers

His cus­tomer base extends as far as Lin­den to the west, Suri­name to the east and Canada and the US to the north. Along with the walk-in and drive-by busi­ness, Cole ful­fils sev­eral cus­tom or­ders year round. He has al­ready taken an or­der to pro­vide 50 kites this Easter Mon­day, and last Christ­mas he mailed kites to Canada.

Cole recog­nises that many of his cus­tomers do not lack the skill to make their own kites, in­stead they may lack the pa­tience re­quired to paste them. They may be de­terred by the cost of in­di­vid­ual ma­te­ri­als too, he feels, as the price for source ma­te­ri­als can add up. Ac­cess to the ma­te­ri­als and the time needed to de­sign and paste the kite means buy­ing one is a bet­ter in­vest­ment for many.

Sev­eral cus­tomers even go to Cole where they use his prod­ucts to paste their own kites or watch him as he makes their kites to spec­i­fi­ca­tions. He notes that he is never too impatient to make sure the cus­tomer is sat­is­fied.

Cole at­tributes his suc­cess to a loyal cus­tomer base and a first-rate prod­uct. Any­one who buys a Cole kite is “guar­an­teed it gon fly,” he says. Un­like the kite pa­per from Bar­ba­dos used by kite-mak­ers in Ge­orge­town, his kites are made from plas­tic kite pa­per im­ported from Trinidad which is able to sur­vive the rougher han­dling of some of his more en­thu­si­as­tic younger cus­tomers.

He notes that with in­creas­ing de­mand have come re­quests for spe­cialised styles. He and his staff rou­tinely take the time nec­es­sary to cus­tom fit among oth­ers ‘Star Points’, ‘Hass­aback Di­a­monds’, ‘Round the World’ (all kite names) and spe­cially fit­ted star kites and birds for his young fe­male cus­tomers. He is will­ing to meet any chal­lenge a cus­tomer brings, such as mak­ing 50 box kites for the first time in 2014.

Along with va­ri­ety, the in­creas­ing de­mand has caused him to ex­tend his staff to 20 per­sons; all vil­lagers. From the man who makes the frame, the girl who grooves them and the young men who sit with him on the road dur­ing the day and some­times through the night past­ing, ev­ery­one is Bux­to­nian. As he says, “This is a Bux­ton thing. This is a Bux­ton cre­ation… We can be cre­ative and sup­port our own at the same time.”

Fur­ther like any truly com­mu­nity minded busi­ness­man he rou­tinely donates his prod­uct to vil­lage schools, churches or other com­mu­nity groups who might have a need.

A boy fixes his ‘Caddy ol’ Punch’ (Photo taken in 1992)

(Photo by: Arian Browne)

Mak­ing the 1,000th kite

(Photo by: Arian Browne)

Kite maker Marvin Cole

(Photo by: Arian Browne)

A pile of kites await­ing sale

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