Here is to a point to ponder. A recent archaeological excavation in the Vanuatu Islands included a burial site more than 3,000 years old with an engraving of a kite. When you are relaxing under a desert sky while watching your kite dance on high, when you stop by Tumbleweeds and Tarantulas to purchase a kite or kite supplies, your are bridging the chasm between past and present.
Even though the kite today, aside from kite fighting competitions, is a peaceful endeavor it has a long association with violent history. After all, war also has a prehistoric history and the kite has been used by military leaders since ancient times. Thousands of years ago the Chinese general Han Xin would send up kites with whistles attached to their tails under the cover of darkness to induce panic among the enemy soldiers. In “Samguk Sagi,” a 12th-century book about Korean history there is a story of another general, Gim Yu-sin who launched a kite with a burning oil lamp tied to its tail to instill fear in superstitious enemy soldiers. And in the the 17th-century Phra Phetracha, king of Thailand, tied barrels of gunpowder to kites that were flown over enemy encampments. This was the first record use of airborne incendiary bombs.
Throughout the years kites have been pressed into service for a surprising array of military needs. Still, in many cultures the kite is linked to spirituality rather than combat. In some societies the tail of the kite was seen as the link between earth and heaven. It has also been viewed as a direct connect with the gods that control the winds. As a result the kite may be little more than viewed as little more than a toy today but it is a tangible link to a rich history of folklore, mythology, religion, and superstitions.
In western cultures the kite is a relatively recent phenomena. In the 16th century European traders began interacting the exotic orient; Dutch merchants in the Indonesian Spice Island, Portuguese merchants and missionaries in Japan, the British in China. Among the many things that they introduced to Europe was the kite. Severed from its religious uses, the kite was embraced by scientists and inventors, and in the role of tool, it was brought to the American colonies. One of the kites most ardent proponents on that side of the Atlantic was Benjamin Franklin.
Not surprising is the fact that in the mid 19th century, military applications for the kite were rediscovered. During the American Civil War they were used to send messages behind enemy lines and as a means to deliver bombs Civil War. Kites were used for similar purposes by most armies involved in WWI.
And so flying a kite is more than a therapeutic exercise in this time of COVID 19 induced stress. It is a tangible link to history stretching countless centuries into the past.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America