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One legend says that farmers used kites as a kind of flying scarecrows in the

fields. The sound made by the kites lulled their children to sleep, so they
could work with little interruption. Another popular belief is that coastal
inhabitants once employed fishing kites made from palm leaves and fitted
with a line and hook to catch fish.

In making a wau, bamboo is used for the frame. The bamboo is split and soaked in mud for
two weeks. This prevents the bamboo from being attacked by weevils as well as makes it
more flexible. The bamboo splits are made into a complex but lightweight frame, tested with
one layer of paper and making alterations accordingly to make sure the kite is structurally
sound. Next, the patterns are meticulously cut from rice-paper and glued on piece by piece to
form intricate motifs.

The 5 Types Of Wau


Wau Bulan

Also known as the Moon Kite since the crescent-shaped lower sail looks a little like a
moon in the sky. It comes from the state of Kelantan. It also has the status of being
one of Malaysia's national symbols. As such, it featured on the reverse side of the
Malaysian fifty-cent coin in 1989.

This type has curved leading and trailing edges, coming to a pointed tip on each side.
On some examples, there are blank spaces on either side which are called the 'eyes'.
According to folklore, these help guide the kite in flight!

The Wau Bulan is bigger than other traditional Malaysian kites. Typical examples are
2.5 meters (8 feet) wide and 3.5 meters (11 feet) tall. The two we saw were certainly
around this size.

... Jala Budi

Also known as the Woman Kite, although considerable imagination is required to see
why, from it's shape!

The tail of this kite is similar to the budi leaf which is found in Kedah. 'Jala' means
'net' and refers to the tail structure.

... Kuching

This means Cat Kite. When viewed from the back, there is apparently a similarity to a
sitting cat and hence the name.

In keeping with this, some of these have their hummers tuned to screech and yowl
like a cat in the dead of night! One of these days I need to add sound files to this
website, so I can illustrate stuff like this...

... Barat

Or, the Leaf Kite. This design is similar to the Bulan version, but is wider and
does not generally have a hummer. Being painted rather than stuck with colored
paper, the artists tend to be more creative and less bound to traditional guidelines
with their designs. Additionally, artists who use Batik techniques are often used to do
the decoration.

Interestingly, there must be some weight savings here, since these kites are able to
stay up in lighter winds than the other designs. I guess the weight of all those layers
of glue or paste add up! Since the winds are often lightest early in the day, this
design is also called the Early Morning Kite or just Morning Kite.

... Merak

The Peacock Kite has a tail rather than a lower sail. Seeing a picture of one of these
reminded me of the tail of a wedge-tailed eagle. This kite is local to the Johor
province of Malaysia. Funnily enough, it's not readily accepted into official
competitions outside Johor. That's because its origins actually go back to Sulawesi,
Indonesia, where it is flown mainly by the Bugis people.

Among the Malays of Kelantan the business of kite (wau or layanglayang) making and flying is
taken very seriously and some of the world’s largest and most beautiful kites are made in that
state. Indeed, so important is the art of kite making in Kelantan that an elaborate symbolism
connects the kite to the human soul and to the operation of shamanism and magic. This is
reflected in a well-known tale, Dewa Muda, performed in the mak yong dance theatre.

There are many shapes in which Malay decorative kites are made. Well known types include the
Moon Kite (Wau Bulan) which is perhaps the most popular and the most attractive. Others are the
Bird Kite (Wau Burung), the Peacock Kite (Wau Merak) and the Cat Kite (Wau Kucing) of these
kites are fairly large, reaching about seven feet from tip to tail and perhaps six feet across the
wings. Smaller ones, for decorative uses have in recent years become fairly common. These are
sometimes made of batik material.

The kite frame (rangka) is fashioned out of light and flexible bamboo. The outer skin is first
removed and then the bamboo is pared into finer strips. These are in turn similarly scraped by
means of a whitling knife. Each strip is then measured, cut according to size and tied into position
by means of white thread. The strip which forms the vertical backbone of the kite must be stronger
and thicker than those used for the wings.

When the frame has been completed, the wings are covered with layers two or three layers of
paper. For the first layer plain coloured paper is used. It may or may not be transparent, and it
covers the entire wingspan. The second layer is usually cut out to provide decorations. A third if
used, serves to provide further decorative features to enhance the overall beauty of the kite. The
traditional practice is to have patterns such as leafy clouds (awan larat), young bamboo shoots
(pucuk rebung) or other floral designs. These usually emanate from the central spine to fill the rest
of the space on the wings. Alternatively, space at the tips of the wings or in their centre close to
the spine may be devoted to other decorative features such as birds or even the state logo.

Once the size of paper to be utilised is measured against the dimensions of the kite and cut to size
in keeping with the shape of the kite frame, it is folded into two. The design selected is then drawn
in pencil on its negative non-glossy and usually white surface. The intricacy of the design may
require a kite maker to spend several days completing it. The completed design is then cut out by
means of a sharp knife and opened out. Thus unfolded it displays the symmetry of the pattern.

The cut out design is then pasted onto the base plain paper by means of home-made rice paste. A
basic two-colour pattern thus emerges, for the base colour is usually selected to contrast with the
colour of paper on which the design is cut out. Further elaboration on the kite design is done by
cutting out designs and pasting them over previous layers. As a matter of common practice, kites
intended for flight or competitions are not given too many layers of paper for these would add to
the overall weight and perhaps prove an impediment.

Many kite makers add trimmings in the form of a bird’s head with a long neck and a fringe (belalai)
of coloured paper above the nose of the kite, in fact transforming the kite into a bird. Further such
trimmings (jambul) may be added to the wings of the kite as well as to its tail.

Tradition, in recognition of the overt resemblance between kite and bird has, in fact, bestowed
suitable designations to the different parts of a kite, which thus has a head (kepala), a waist
(pinggang), wings (sayap) and a base (punggong).Optionally, a kite maker may add to his kite a
bow (busul), to which is affixed a string or a fine strip of bamboo. This is attached horizontally on
the neck of the kite extending on both sides of the central spine.

Necessary adjustments are made so that the bow, whose span is shorter than that of the wings,
does not affect the balance of the kite. The busul makes a pleasant humming sound as the kite is
suspended in the air and folk belief maintains that so long as the humming continues no evil spirit
will venture abroad. This tale thus further adds to the magic that surrounds the Malay kite.

A wau, once it is made ready for flight, is handled by two men, one who helps launch it, while
holding it against the wind, and the other who actually handles the kite, manipulating it by means
of the string. string. Once launched a large wau may rise to an initial height of a hundred or more
feet before being gradually taken to greater heights by its handler. Once steady the kite may be
left flying without any manual help, its the string tied to the branch of a tree. Kites may be left in the
sky all night , the sound of their busul being heard all night long. In the nights silence. Landing the
kite down on the ground also calls for some skill.

During the kite flying season kites are flown from about three o’clock in the afternoon until
darkness sets in. Competitions, in several different categories– taking into account the height to
which the kites flown, the skill of the kite handlers, the quality and length of the musical hum the
kites produce or for the ornamentation of the kites — may be arranged between nieghbouring
villages or districts. The criteria for the various styles of competition and the rules for the
competitions are well established. Where the competition involves the judging of the height to
which a kite is flown, it is a requirements that the participating teams use kites be of the same
type, wau bulan for instance. In competitions involving humming, the kite style is more flexible, but
a specific minimum length of time is fixed for the humming to be heard without a break. In the past
competitions in which kite flyers would attempt to bring down their rivals’ kites by cutting the
strings of their kites were also common. The strings were specially prepared to for this purpose.
This practice is no longer seen in areas where the large kites of the wau type are flown.

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