Kites have been used to relax and for scientific experiment. They have been pressed into service during combat and fostered friendly competition between villages.
Here in the states, kites figure prominently in festivals as well as fond childhood memories. And neighborhood kite shops such as Tumbleweeds & Tarantulas in Bullhead City, Arizona, now celebrating its 20th anniversary in the Colorado River Valley, become treasured destinations for local enthusiasts.
In Afghanistan kites are taken much more seriously. Kites and kite festivals that center on battles in the sky are almost a religion. And so as the Taliban again takes control of the country, there is growing concern among kite enthusiasts as well as shop owners. After all from 1996 to 2001 during their first reign kite flying was outlawed on the basis that it distracted people from prayer and religious duties.
Kite fighting is both a recreational activity and a passion. The popularity of games such as soccer, baseball, cricket or basketball pale in comparison in Afghanistan.
To many Afghans the site of a single colorful kite dancing on the breeze is seen as a challenge. The objective of the kite fight is simple, slice the other flier’s string with your own, and capturing the opponents kite when it crashes to the ground.
Every aspect of the kite is carefully crafted using the wisdom passed on for generations. Even the string is given special attention. For kite fighting the string is often coated with resins impregnated with crushed glass. An so an important accessory for kite fighters is special leather finger guards.
Afghanistan’s passion for kites was not well known until the publication of Afghan author Khaled Hosseini’s book The Kite Runner became an international best seller. Awareness grew exponentially when the book was tuned into a film in 2003.
A recent article published in Aljazeera profiled kite shop owners in Kabul. It also noted their concerns for the future and their defiance. The article noted that since 2001 the kite store with hundreds of fragile, colorful kites are again popular in the city’s Shor Bazaar. Craftsman that build custom designed kites have also experienced a renaissance.
Interviewed in the feature was Zelgai who says that he has no plans to abandon the family business that, except for that brief five year nightmare, has operated for generations in Kabul. He noted that during the era of Taliban rule, he made kites in secret.
Winter is kite season in Afghanistan. Kite makers and kite stores literally sell hundreds of thousands of kites, kite accessories, and related products. For these people kites are their livelihood.
And so the return of the Taliban are storm clouds for the Afghans and their love for kites.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America