By Maung Phyo (WYU)
In Myanmar, Thadingyut usually unveils itself with outdoor activities and annual festivals. Thadingyut is equivalent to October in the Gregorian calendar. As a matter of fact, Thadingyut reminds the busy-bees in the urban and peri-urban areas of its coming with children flying kites at the pale, westering sun usually accompanied by a cool weather. The workaholics would wake up to notice that Thadingyut is under way. The rain is also withdrawing and the monsoon abating. Sometimes the north wind sets in. Of course, it is about time kite-flyers took off their reels from the iron hook on the wall, cleaned and readied them for kite-flying.
In retrospect, huge paper kites decorated with various figures and long, beautiful tails were flown very high. They were well caught in the rustling wind, standing immobile against the wind. They were called Myanmar kites. Flying lines for Myanmar kites are big with thick strands. The line of Myanmar kite caught in the wind was usually hanging low due to its weight. These lines of Myanmar kites were not hmanzai-coated. Therefore, fighter kites never came to attack them. This is kind of an unspoken law among kite flyers.
Fighter kites are smaller in size. They are of one and a half square feet at most. They are made of plain or colorful papers sometimes with figures. Fighter kites made out of wax-paper fetch higher price. They are also called Indian kites. Hmanza or hmanza-tike “မွန္စာတိုုက္” is an act of passing flying lines or strings through hmanza to get abrasive and be able to snag other kites. Ground glass or glass has to be pounded and mixed with glue or sago seeds. The mixture has to be boiled. The strings or lines are to be spun on the big reel after passing through well-boiled hmanza. The strings have to be left on the spinning reels under the sun long enough to get dry. Finally, a reel-ful of hmanza-coated lines is ready for kite-fight. In general, hmanza is of three categories: fine, medium and rough dependent upon quality. Hmanza-tike fare varies according to quality of string, size of spindle, length of line and frequency of hmanza-coating. The price may also vary (possibly higher) if hmanza-tike or hmanza-coating masters are prize-winners in kite-fighting contests. Local spindles are of poor quality and therefore only usable in sewing. Hmanza-coated lines also fall into two types namely “ေလ်ွာ့ႀကိဳး” (a type of hmanza-coated line that the kite-flyer has to release by turning the reel anticlockwise in order to cut down another line of fighter kite when in entanglement during kite-fight) and “ဆြဲႀကိဳး” (another type of hmanza-coated line that the kite flyer has to pull by turning the reel clockwise for the same purpose as above). A kite flyer has to decide whether his fighter kite is well caught in the current and he has taken position as appropriate (below or above his opponent’s kite in the air) before he moves on to cut his opponent. Kite-flying or kite fight is a popular pastime in Myanmar. Kite fight, of course, is eye-catching. None, young and old, can look away from the scene of intense kite-fight. It is very likely that pedestrians look up to the skies where colorful fighter kites are swiping or ducking in their attempts to take the better part. Onlookers forecast the winners in the fight as is the case elsewhere. Some enthusiasts are sometimes so moved by the fighting scene that they snatched the reel from the kite fighters to prove what they thought is right. When a kite is cut off or defeated by its opponent, it is drifted in the air, which the kite flyers always called “upturned kite” literally (“စြန္ေကာ့” “စြန္လန္”) (defeated kite cut off by the opponent). There always are some among kite fighters who try to hook the drifting kite with his own. Their purpose is to get a new kite for free. Such act is known as “တိုုင္ကယ္ခ်ိတ္/တိုုင္ကယ္လိုုက္” among the kite fighters. Unfortunately, they were apt to lose their own ones while in entanglement with the defeated kite due always to an uncontrollably strong current.
“They were called Myanmar kites. Flying lines for Myanmar kites are big with thick strands. The line of Myanmar kite caught in the wind was usually hanging low due to its weight. These lines of Myanmar kites were not hmanzai-coated. Therefore, fighter kites never came to attack them. This is kind of an unspoken law among kite flyers”.
Naturally, it goes without saying that kite runners always perfect the scene of kite fight. Wherever there is an intense kite fight, there also are kids to run after defeated kites adrift in the low current. They equip themselves with bamboo pole atop of which thorny branches like plum are tied in order for them to be able to hook the flying line of the kites. They can guess where a defeated kite in the air would fall and they would dart out to that place hurrahing in treble. They would try to get hold of the falling kite with their bamboo pole and other dry branches. Most of the time, the poor fallen kite ended up in being torn to pieces during the kite runners’ attempt. Sometimes, it turned out that a bare-hand kite runner caught the flying line of the upturned kite before the equipped kite runners. At that moment, he shouted “I catch it and it’s mine” just to let others know his catch. Then, it is very likely that other kite runners gave in. In some instances, two kite runners tended to catch the same flying line. Then, they engaged in a strong argument over the ownership. Often, the problem resolved itself as share of flying line and that of kite went to each catcher respectively. It is because they valued the hamnza-coated flying line. When they could not afford to buy a reel, they saved those lines by winding on a makeshift bamboo reel or a tin. It was not for nothing. In the afternoon when they took shelter from the intense sun, they would tie the hmanza line to a stone at one end, hold the other end and try to snag on with one another to test whose line was better and stronger. The adults and the elderly people were accustomed to warning the kite runners against accidents. For, looking always up to the sky and following the direction of the drifting kite, some slipped and fell down, others bumped into the pedestrians, many ran into a lamppost or a car and the few fell into the ditch or as they never looked down. Now today kids especially in the outskirts are having what we once used to have- “Great Fun” with kite flying, fight and running. This is at least what childhood pastime in Myanmar is, and not in the whole year round but only at Thadingyut.