Kites fly high in Malaysia – for now

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

SHAFIE Ju­soh loves tra­di­tional Malaysian kites so much that he can’t get a good night’s rest un­less he’s been work­ing on them daily. “I need to make kites ev­ery day – if not I can’t sleep,” the 69-yearold said. He be­gan mak­ing them when he was a young boy, skip­ping classes to en­ter­tain his flights of fancy.

“If you don’t do it ev­ery day, you will lose the tech­nique,” he added.

Shafie is among a di­min­ish­ing group of Malaysian mas­ter kite-mak­ers who have ded­i­cated their lives to breath­ing life into the an­cient craft.

A colour­ful gi­ant 2-me­tre kite with ex­tended wings greets visi­tors at the en­trance of Shafie’s dark and dusty stu­dio in a sleepy vil­lage in Ke­lan­tan state.

“I made this kite 30 years ago. You need 25 men to fly it,” the self­taught kite-maker quipped proudly as he showed a faded photo of it soar­ing in the air.

A wooden ta­ble at his stu­dio is lined with sev­eral awards from gov­ern­ment agen­cies for his ef­forts pro­mot­ing Malaysia’s kites, a na­tional sym­bol, world­wide.

He re­called one par­tic­u­lar visit to Paris many years ago, where he had brought over 30 Malaysian kites to an ex­hi­bi­tion and all were sold quickly.

“To the for­eign­ers, the kites are just so unique and they love it,” he said.

The early morn­ing rays stream through a rick­ety green win­dow, high­light­ing the thick veins on his arm as he flips and turns his knife, cut­ting a spiny bam­boo stick to per­fec­tion.

Af­ter thin­ning out sev­eral bam­boo sticks, he bends and ties them with strings to form the main kite frame.

Sep­a­rately, us­ing a small knife, he cuts out in­tri­cate flo­ral de­signs on an as­sort­ment of coloured pa­per. These are painstak­ingly pasted onto trac­ing pa­per which is then glued to the main bam­boo frame.

The kite is then left in­doors for a day to let the glue dry.

A rib­bon is at­tached tightly to two ends of the kites and this pro­duces a loud “swoosh” sound when the kite makes sharp turns in the sky.

The en­tire process can take be­tween two weeks to three months de­pend­ing on the size and the in­tri­cate na­ture of the kite.

“You need both the pas­sion and the pa­tience to make kites,” Shafie said.

There are sev­eral kinds of Malaysian kites, with var­i­ous shapes based on st­ingrays, cats and pea­cocks. There is also a kite called wau jala budi where its curvy shape, some be­lieve, is in­spired by the out­line of a woman’s body.

But the wau bu­lan or moon kite with its lower tip re­sem­bling a cres­cent, an Is­lamic sym­bol, is the most pop­u­lar in Ke­lan­tan.

It takes around a week or two to pro­duce a small moon kite and is sold for around 400 to 500 ring­git (US$100-125), said Shafie. Some moon kites though can be as high as 3 me­tres. The big­ger mod­els can cost as much as 9000 ring­git ($2225).

The wau bu­lan is also the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the Malaysia Air­lines logo.

Many of Shafie’s cus­tomers are keen kite fly­ers but some also pur­chase his de­signs as dec­o­ra­tive pieces for their homes.

As he has built up such a rep­u­ta­tion for his artis­tic pieces, his stu­dio is also a pop­u­lar pit-stop for in­ter­na­tional tour groups from Europe and North Amer­ica vis­it­ing Ke­lan­tan.

He en­lists his wife Wan En­bong Wan Dera­man to help when there are large or­ders. The state’s an­nual kite fes­ti­val causes a surge in de­mand, with many lo­cal students buy­ing his pieces.

“My students like these tra­di­tional kites be­cause of the his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge and art in­volved,” one teacher told AFP.

While the peo­ple of Ke­lan­tan, known for its crafts, still love such Malaysian kites, in­ter­est is wan­ing.

There are fears the an­cient skills, passed from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, will die out.

“It takes many, many years to mas­ter the craft and the sit­u­a­tion in Ke­lan­tan and else­where in Malaysia is that there are very few crafts­men who still have the tra­di­tional knowl­edge,” said Pauline Fan, creative di­rec­tor of Pusaka, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that works to doc­u­ment and pro­tect tra­di­tional Malay arts.

She said, “It’s in­tri­cate and hard and most young peo­ple don’t have the pa­tience to do it ... Once the masters and the knowl­edge are gone, it will be dif­fi­cult to get it back.”

As for Shafie, he has no plans to re­tire any time soon and hopes there is still time for him to pass on his knowl­edge and skills to oth­ers.

He said, “Some students, even a few out­side of Ke­lan­tan, have come to ask me to teach them.” –

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