Kites and Cultures
By Kathy Nixie

These ten stories are my adaptations. The major resource for the information comes from Kites an Historical Survey by Clive Hart

Mr. Franklin, What did you do with that kite?

Wright Brothers
Two brothers who liked to build things, used a kite to build an airplane.

Paul Garber made one of the first dual line kites.

Han Sin
The Oldest Written Kite Story.

All Saints Day Celebration.

Good Friday kite festival.

The Good Luck Kite.

Hamamatsu Kite Festival.

Fighter Kite Day.

Kite Fun In America.

This group of ten stories about kites gives the reader some insight into the history and uses of kites throughout the world. Kites are thought to have originated in China. Our oldest written reference comes from China. Kites have been used as tools, for scientific experiments and war. They have been used in spiritual and artistic ways. They are widely thought of as toys for celebrating being young and young at heart. These stories could be used by grade school teachers to begin discussing cultures of the world. The bibliography will include books and web sites to look for kite information, including patterns for building kites.

These stories show how kites have been used for scientific tools and war. In order to tell the history of anything you have to relate it to war or technology. The study of the atmosphere and the principles of flight were important to the development of so many other things. These stories of the uses of kites in war are just the beginning of a very long list. Kites have been used to lift observers to look out over battlefields, they have been used to drop leaflets on the enemy, they have been flown at night with screeching noisemakers to scare enemy troops.

Kites have been used as spiritual and religious objects over the centuries. These two stories point out how people are using them today. When you are working with an unseen element of the world, it can lead you into the realm of the religious. Ancient peoples understood that we were never going to be able to explain everything that goes on in the world and that is still true today. We can enjoy and commune with the unknown by using a kite as they did. The Central American peoples are poor by any standards but they have rich traditions and enjoy their lives. They put together beautiful kites of bamboo poles and tissue paper. Kite flying is an activity everyone can enjoy.

The fun of using a kite in some kind of sporting contest has developed over the several thousand years kites have been flown. In these stories we see a range of activities that are used today to make kite flying more fun and interesting. There are many ways that have been developed to show off the skill of building or flying kites. The Japanese have the longest running contests that have been recorded. In India they confine the major kite flying activities to several weeks, culminating in one national day on the 15th of January. In these contests they fly for bragging rights of how many kites they cut out of the sky, but no one really knows for certain. They enjoy the moment and go out next year and try again. In the United States, they hold many different types of contests each year. The parks and recreation departments of some cities hold contests for all ages in such categories as highest angle, most beautiful, most unique, youngest and oldest kite flyer. Ribbons and trophies are awarded and gifts of new kites are given away. The Sport Kite phenomena spread through the country in the late 1980's and 1990's with many people flying dual and quad line kites in patterns and in ballets to music.

The reaction to kites in the sky is always one of amazement. People of all ages and all nationalities enjoy seeing a kite fly using the unseen element of the wind. The sight of kites flying will bring a smile to the sad and upset. It is a symbol of hope and freedom to some. When you are looking at a kite you have to keep your chin up. This saying keep your chin up means to look on the bright side. People who fly kites are happy and hopeful.

The changing view of kites over time is evident in the last hundred years. At the end of the 19th century the rush was on to create the first airplane. Kites had been used as tools before and were pressed into service again as models for what might fly. There were many experimenters coming up with all notion of styles from Alexander Graham Bell's tetrahedral to the man lifters of Samuel Cody. They tried to lift man where he had not been before except in a hot air balloon. The Wright brothers had used a kite in their aerodynamic experimentation but after the plane got off the ground it became out of fashion to use kites. Kites were still produced by hand at home as toys and most boys could build and fly one. It was for the most part a male activity. After WW2, the peace time activities of the nation were slow to get to the point in the late 1960's when kites began to become a bigger activity for the baby boom children, born in the late 40's and early 50's. There was a resurgence of activity in building kites, especially out of new polyester-cotton blend materials that were stronger and wooden dowels were more common and cheap enough for toys. These materials gave way in the 1970's and 1980's to what we call space age materials and designs. The man made material of rip stop nylon had been developed over several decades and became cheap enough for toys. The use of fiber glass and graphite rods for kite building helped to usher in a new era of kite building. Kites have been more and then less popular over the years. The resurgence of Earth Day activities and finally the understanding of thinking globally in the last several years has made a group called ONE SKY ONE WORLD popular. They promote an international kite festival that everyone can participate in by flying a kite the second Sunday in October. The organization asks that you think about world peace and taking care of the environment as you fly kites where ever you are.
I was surprised to find that these ten stories could tell so little about kites. I have so many more stories to tell! The history, the development, the materials, the types of kites, and the cultural stories of kite uses have only been touched upon in this report. I look forward to developing the stories and performances to convey them in the future.

I can now understand how difficult it has been for the writers of kite books to tell their stories. I always found them disjointed and since I have been trying to write one, I can see that the scope must be very narrow in order to completely express each subject. You just can't capture the essence of kites in one book.


Hart, Clive, Kites an Historical Survey, Appel, New York, 1982.

Tourigny, Michael, The Soul Lifting Kites of Guatemala, Kite Lines,
Spring 1993,36-40.

Useful Resources:
American Kitefliers Association
Kitelife web ring
Kite plans

The Stories:
Ten KITE Stories
Adapted by Kathy Nixie May 2001

Kites as Tools, Franklin

Mr. Franklin what did you do with that kite?
In 1752, Benjamin Franklin was doing an experiment with a kite to prove that lightning was the same thing as the electric sparks they were producing with magnets and primitive batteries. He wondered if he could harness the lightning and send it to the ground in a predictable path thus saving many structures that were struck by lightening, with explosive results. From this experiment he developed the lightening rod. This device, a metal rod with a wire that runs to the ground, provides lightening a path to the ground, thus grounding it and preventing damage to buildings. In order to do the experiment, he built a kite out of a silk scarf, two sticks, cotton line, a key and a piece of silk ribbon. He sent the kite up in a thunderstorm and after the line got wet the key at the end of the line became electrified and would produce sparks to his knuckle. The key was tied to the silk ribbon, which did not conduct electricity as well, he held this ribbon and stood under a shed roof where he would stay dry and he could be standing on dry ground. In this way he did not provide a direct path for the electricity to get to the ground. The lightening never actually struck the kite. There was enough electricity in the atmosphere to prove the point. This story was conveyed by letter, to a friend of his in England. The friend published it to the scientific community in Europe and Franklin was an overnight celebrity there. Some say that when he became an ambassador to France to plead for funds for the revolution it is this notoriety that opened doors for Franklin and thus the fledgling United States got the help it needed.

Wright Brothers

At the end of the 1890's, two brothers who liked to build things began trying to build an airplane. Man had always dreamed of flying, but up until then he had only been able to ascend into the air in a hot air balloon. The balloon had its' drawbacks however, since you could not control where it went. It was at the mercy of the winds. The Wright brothers had built kites as children and when they tried to build an airplane it seemed reasonable to build a kite to test out certain principles of aerodynamics. They built many models and produced some of the first scientific data about aerodynamics using kites. Getting a plane to fly was not the hard part, getting it to turn and go where you wanted it to, was the problem. They built a kite that had four controls on it to enable the wings to warp in order to turn it. This was the leap of knowledge it took to produce a plane that worked.

Kites in War, Garber

Paul Garber was in the US Navy, Bureau of Aeronautics during WW2. He devised a successful two line maneuverable kite. It had two controls in order to make it do dives and spins similar to airplane flight. It was used by gunners to practice shooting down German and Japanese planes. He went on the work for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Han Sin

This is the oldest know written reference to kites. About 200 BC a general by the name of Han Sin was trying to figure out how far it was to the walls of the enemy strong hold. He had his men fly a kite over the wall and then measured the line and dug a tunnel the length of the line to get into the fort walls and vanquish the enemy.

Kites in religion, Guatemala

In this small Catholic country in Central America they celebrate All Saints Day or the Day of the Dead on November 1st each year. This is the day that they go to the graveyards to visit their dead relatives. The day is not solemn but a celebration. When you fly a kite you help the relatives that have passed away that year to go to heaven. The kites are beautiful. They are made of bamboo poles and many, many small colorful pieces of tissue paper. They are usually octagonal and have fringe around the outside edge. They need a long tail for stability. This has not been a long tradition according to an article in Kite Lines magazine. I think they like to fly kites from graveyards because it is the only place where enough jungle has been cut down to provide space.


In Bermuda, a small island in the Atlantic off of Florida, they fly kites on Good Friday. They have been doing this for many years since a schoolteacher was trying to teach the Ascension to her students and thought it would be fun to send up the idea on a kite. In the Christian religion Jesus raises from the dead to heaven at Easter.


Kite flying in Korea is a seasonal affair. On the 15th day of the year it is the end of the two-week kite-flying season. This is the day to fly the "kite for warding off evil". They take any kite and write on it, "bad luck go away, good luck stay". They then fly it and when it has taken out all the line let it go and their bad luck goes away with the kite.

Kites as Sport, Japan

In Japan in a place called Hamamatsu they have been competing for 300 years with giant kites. The large groups, usually family related get together to build kites that are made of split bamboo and rice paper. They are painted red and black. The teams that fly them try to knock the other kites out of the sky by catching one corner with their line and tipping g the kite or getting in front of it to steal the wind. After the lines become tangled they have a tug of war with both kites crashing to the ground or into the river. They save the line, rope really for next year and start from scratch to build another kite.


In India the national day to fly kites is January 15th. The kite builders have been working for a month to build the small tissue paper and bamboo kites. They cook rice into paste and add ground up glass then run their cotton line through it to create Manga. Manga is the cutting line. The kites are flown from the rooftops. They are unstable kites since they are flat, but when you pull on the line it goes in the direction it was pointed in. This letting out line and pulling it in action allows the flyer to control the kite. The object is to get your kite line over or under the next person's line and then pull back quickly and the line of the other persons kite will be cut with your cutting line. He loses his kite reels in what is left of his line and puts up another kite. They do this for one long day, or until their supply of kites is exhausted. They usually buy a stack of them and several reels of line. The children have fun catching the kites that have been cut and then go fly them.


The American Kitefliers Association began holding conventions over twenty years ago. The members would get together and find ways to have fun with kites. They took cues from other countries and held competitions like those in Japan (Rokaku battles) and India (fighter kites). Then in the late 1980's dual line or sport kites were brought into the competitions soon followed by quad line kites. Today individuals, pairs and teams compete in three levels of skill in comprehensive and ballet categories. The conventions include kite building competitions and kites are judged in categories for such things as structure, overall beauty, flight and construction. Americans will make a sport of anything. There are large powerful kites with four lines which are used to pull buggies and surf boards. They compete in races.

Through interviews with southern cooks, Fowler produces a unique cookbook that is more than just a compilation of recipes. It is the story of hundreds of who preserve southern culinary traditions in their households each day. The book describes in detail the fruits and vegetables of the south, and how to prepare them "southern". Mr. Fowler uses his southern knowledge to tell which fruits and vegetables are most used in southern cooling, where to find the best ones and what equipment and materials are needed to prepare them properly. The book is broken into chapters based on the four seasons and what fruits and vegetables you commonly find growing in southern gardens during that season of the year.

Roberts, Nancy. "Alice of the Hermitage." South Carolina Ghosts: From the Coast to
the Mountains. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Press, 1983. 27-33.

This tale tells the story of Alice Bellin Flag who grew up in Murrells Inlet, SC, at her family's home known as The Hermitage. Alice was a beautiful girl, and had fallen in love with a young man from Charleston. Alice and the young man were engaged, however Alice did not tell her family. She knew they would disapprove of her marrying this boy who was not of the same social society. So no one would know, Alice wore her engagement ring hidden on a string around her neck. Alice became seriously ill, and while taking care of her, her brother found the engagement ring around her neck. He became infuriated, tore the ring from Alice and threw it into the stream near their home. Alice knew the ring was gone, even in her illness, and she became even more distressed. Alice finally died, after being ill for a while. The family buried her body in All Saints Cemetery at All Saints Waccamaw Church. And to this day, people report having seen Alice wondering around the Hermitage and graveyard in search of her long lost ring. The ghost of Alice has also been known to try and take the rings of young girls who visit her grave.

Rylant, Cynthia. When I Was Young in the Mountains. E.P.Dutton: New York, 1982.

This picture book tells the story of a young girl who lived with her grandparents in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. It is highly descriptive and gives the reader the sights, sounds, and smells of what growing up in the mountains would be like. Cynthia Rylant has stated in many articles about her writing that this story, her first, is about four years of her life that she spent with her grandparents in West Virginia.

San Souci, Robert D. The Talking Eggs. Dial Books for Young Readers: New York,

This folktale is adapted from a Creole folktale. It is the story of two sisters, one who is spoiled and the delight of her mother, Rose, and the other, Blanche, who is very sweet, but is forced to do all the hard work for her mother and sister. Blanche hates her life until she finds kindness from an old witch woman. The tale unfolds as Blanche finds happiness and Rose and the mother find despair because of the way they handle themselves in the presence of the witch.

Schwartz, Maryln. A Southern Belle Primer or why Princess Margaret will never be a
Kappa Kappa Gamma. Doubleday: New York, 1991.

This primer covers what it takes to be a "true" Southern Belle. It tells of the commitment of being a Southern Belle from "cradle to grave". It is filled with anecdotes, observations, lists, and true stories from the lives of Southern Belles from Natchez to Charleston, to Chattanooga and everywhere in between. This book is quite humorous, and tells all when it comes to Southern Belles, their big hair, the southern silver patterns, and most important the fashion calendars of the Belles.

Siegelson, Kim L. In the Time of the Drums. Hyperion Books for Children: New York,

In the Time of the Drums is a story about slaves making their way from Africa to the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina. They came not because they wanted to, but because they were being sold as slaves to the many plantations throughout the area. This story is a retelling of an oral account that has been passed from generation to generation of African Americans who live in the area of the Sea Islands. It is the story of Mentu, an island born boy who is raised by his grandmother, Twi. Twi came from Africa and longed for her homeland. Twi passes on the culture of her homeland to Mentu. The story unfolds as Mentu learns what it means to be "strong-strong". He faces growing up as a slave, but also faces the need to continue Twi's heritage by passing it on to his family. The story is interwoven with some dialect and cultural background of the Gullah people who inhabited the Sea Islands. An author's note at the end explains much of the history behind the story and how it has affected the African American community in this region of the country.

Wells, Rosemary. Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories. Viking: New York,

Imagine the mountains of Kentucky in 1923. No running water… no electricity… very few roads…. large families in small quarters…no healthcare. These are the things that Mary Breckenridge found when she set out to start the Frontier Nursing Service. She started in 1923 with herself and 3 other nurses riding the harsh terrain of the Appalachians on horseback tending to whom ever they could, and ended up with six outpost clinics, a forty bed hospital and 30 nurses on horseback by 1931. This book based on true stories from the Mary Breckenridge Archives at the University of Kentucky, Lexington and from the help of Breckenridge ancestors tells of how Mary took her own tragedy in life and turned it into a miracle for the residents of the poor mountain area in Kentucky. This book delves into the despair and the harsh reality of life in the mountains. This book makes us thankful for all the modern conveniences we have available.