Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kite Buffs Set Record at Bintulu Festival

WONDEROUS SIGHT: Thousands of colourful kites dotting the sky of Bintulu.

THE sky was dotted with the glistening colours of over a thousand kites -- 1,655 to be exact -- yawing gracefully in the wind.

This aerial spectacle which drew a huge crowd of spectators was the highlight of the week-long Fourth Borneo International Kite Festival in Bintulu on Aug 17.

It was the first time in the country that so many kites had been flown together at the same time.

Although not the first festival of its kind in Bintulu, the ingenuity of event this year was special. And not surprisingly, it easily met its target of entering the Malaysia Book of Records.

The rule was that all the kites had to take the sky within 20 minutes and thanks to friendly winds, the record bid went as planned.

“Originally, the target was 1,500 kites but on the day of the attempt, the entries were more than expected,” revealed Bintulu Development Authority (BDA) public relations section (publication) manager Halim Mathew.

The response was simply fabulous, he said, adding that the aim was not just to set a record but also hold the grandest kite-flying festival.

The idea was mooted by Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and it took off in 2005.

Since then, it has been held every year, attracting participants both locally and abroad and Bintulu has been chosen as the venue because its old airport is an ideal site -- being located not far from the seaside with a constant breeze.

About 240 kite-flyers from 14 countries took part this year – slightly fewer than the previous year possibly due to the global economic slowdown.

The peninsular regulars came from Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Perlis and Penang while regional neighbour Indonesia sent the largest team with 35 participants. The other foreign countries taking part were Australia, Singapore, Brunei, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, China, France, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and India.

According to BDA general manager and co-organising chairman Mohidin Ishak, the festival was organised this year with a special theme -- to celebrate BDA’s 30th anniversary and the state’s 45th anniversary of independence within Malaysia.

“It was held in an atmosphere of fun and excitement highlighted by a spectacular display of creativity in kite-making by local and international participants,” he said.

The festival has also acted as catalyst to rekindle interests in promoting traditional kite-making to the world -- how skilful hands adroitly transform bamboo and paper into various types of colourful flying devices and guide them across the sky with nothing more than a thread.

A week-long trade expo was also held next to the site of the festival and local traders seized the opportunity to sell their products ... as what Mohidin had been ho-ping they would do to earn extra income.

A Bintulu supermarket manageress noted that each time the festival was held, the local business community benefited from the spinoffs.

“We have been selling various types of kites at every festival since it began in 2005. We haven’t missed a single event
- this is our fourth successive one.”

She said apart from benefiting the business community, the festival also allowed families to go out together and enjoy themselves

Apart from the main daytime activities, nightly cultural performances also formed part of the programme.

What makes the annual Bintulu Kite Festi-val special goes beyond the convergence of local and international kite experts. More important is the government’s recognition of the cultural significance in preserving the country’s wau (kite) heritage by encouraging students and adults to carry on the tradition.

This culture is the focus of the festival, and international kite enthusiasts are invited to share celebrate their wau (kite) craft with the locals.

The festival which started last Saturday attracted thousands of spectators and vi-sitors.

French kite enthusiast, Pouillaude Fred, on his first visit to Bintulu and second to Malaysia, said it was good to be part of a festival that gave foreigners the opportunity to share their interests in kites with other foreigners and locals.

“I make kites and hold kite exhibitions in France and I know all the things in the world of kites because I have travelled the world to learn them,” he added.

Fred said he was happy to be in Bintulu with his son, Leo. “The people are friendly. It’s really a nice place although the weather is quite hot.”

He applauded the move to promote interna-tional friendship through the festival, adding that in this way, knowledge on the art of making kites could also be exchan-ged.

He believed cultural interaction made life more beautiful, saying he took part in kite-making competition because it was in-teresting and he appreciated the uniqueness and elegance of the art itself.

Meanwhile, Zulkifli, a kite enthusiast from Singapore, said the festival was not only for kite fans because people from walks of life also enjoyed it.

“The festival has an international flavour and should be preserved as such. Many different kites most of us haven’t seen before are here. It is a refreshing eye-opener,” he added.

When thesundaypost approached Bintulu Kite Flyer Club vice chairman Azman Drahman for his comments, he was reeling in his custom-made kite

“Well, this is a once-a-year event where we can meet old friends and make new ones, especially those with similar interests as us,” he said.

“We get to learn and swap various kite-making techniques as well as understand each other’s culture better.”

He said initially, not many local kite enthusiasts showed any interest to take part in the festival.

“But it is picking up. Our association now has over 20 members.”

Even though the number is still small, over time, he is confident that over time, more people will join.

He agreed with Pouillaude Fred that kites were more affordable than things like re-mote control car and easier to carry around.

While launching the festival on August 20, BDA deputy chairman Dato Sri Celestine Ujang Jilan hinted that more categories might be introduced in the festival next year.

He said a kite-making competition for the longhouse folks, the village community and students in Bintulu would certainly make the next festival more interesting.

The 2008 festival was jointly organised by BDA, the Malaysian Kite Council, the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, the state Urban Development and Tourism Ministry, the federal Ministry of Tourism, the Sarawak Tourism Board, the Culture, Art and Heritage Ministry, the Sarawak Kite Association, Kuching, the Bintulu Resident’s Office and the District Office.

The programme included a traditional kite-making competition, a children’s colouring contest, nightly cultural performances, a “Rokaku” challenge, a kite workshop for the public, stunt kite performances, a display of kites by international participants and a local trade and food fair.

For more excitement, we just have to wait for the festival next year, which promises to be different and more challenging.

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