December has always been the windy season in the central villages of Sagada, Mountain Province. For this reason, December naturally became the season for kite flying.
In earlier times, children’s activities consisted mostly of playing with toys that they themselves make, and of games that made use of whatever is available in the locality. In the case of kites, the materials for making them were not readily available until the community absorbed many foreign influences. When people started using paper, and when strings and threads became more available, people learned to make kites.
At the time of my generation’s childhood in the late sixties and early seventies, even these materials were not so common. Threads were available, but these were bought for use in sewing and making clothes. To use the material for such frivolities as childhood pastimes were not encouraged, and indeed many a child has tasted a whipping for using his mother’s long-treasured roll of yarn or thread for kite flying.
Paper was also rather rare, for these were also bought, and since there was not so much cash in the community, it was both wasteful and pretentious to use paper extravagantly. The paper available in those times was mostly limited to the paper from books, and certainly the people frowned upon the destruction of these reading materials, rare as they were and truly valuable for the knowledge they contained. Even magazines were treasured then, and even the non-literate members of the population valued these, for the pictures and the unplumbed wisdom they contained.
Newspapers were also hard to come by, as these were only bought in Baguio City, a full day’s travel though rough roads and rickety buses. Not all those who came from the city were keen on buying newspapers, too. Even if they did, the paper, once read many times over, had other uses than for the making of childhood toys. The paper was reserved for wrapping tobacco in the handmade cigarettes that smokers rolled then, or wrapping goods for storage, or used as wrapping paper by storeowners, or used for cleaning the soiled posterior after moving one’s bowels.
Before these precious materials became common in Sagada, kids had other toys than kites, and amused themselves otherwise than kite flying. It is safe to assume that making and flying kites was introduced by the people who introduced paper to the locality.
How kites were actually introduced was before my time. However, in my childhood, December was already the time for making and flying kites.
There were two basic designs in the kites that we made, one of which was shaped like an elongated diamond, and the other was a half circle with a pointed top. The frames of the kites were made from any of the many varieties of bamboo or woody grasses in the locality, for bamboo strips were both pliable and light. Even then, the material was also not so common, for even bamboo and the stems of other woody grasses had more important uses like the weaving of baskets or for tying bundles of the rice harvest. The alternative was the coconut leaf stalks used in stick brooms.
Yet even stick brooms, called “tingting” in Tagalog, were not so common, for these were also bought, and thus valuable.
So it was that the children in that previous time had to find materials for the frame, either taken from their father’s store of weaving or tying material, or from the family broom. Either way, it was considered an unnecessary waste.
Then they had to look for paper to paste around the frame. The preferred paper was newsprint from newspapers, for these were sufficiently wide. They dug around their homes looking for these, and waited for grownups to finish reading the rare newspapers before taking these, with or without permission, to paper their kite frames. Those whose parents regularly bought newspapers and therefore had abundant supply of such a precious resource traded these for other childhood treasures.
It was not uncommon that a child known to have a stash of newspapers would suddenly have many friends during kite season.
Cooked rice was used to paste the paper to the frame, and to connect the customary “tail” of the kite, consisting of long strips of precious paper. A rule of thumb in the use of cooked rice was not to use fried rice, for it is oily, and the oil reduces the adhesive capacity of the starch found in the rice.
Kite makers also had to find ways to spirit the rice away under the watchful eyes of their parents, for rice was also precious.
Perhaps rarest in the materials were the rolls of thread or string used to fly the kites.
Fortunately for my brothers and I, our mother was a knitting Mom. She knitted sweaters and crocheted blankets, so she almost always had a roll of yarn around. She also bought unrolled surplus threads and strings that we were conscripted to untangle and to wind into rolls for her knitting. We therefore had the chance to separate the stronger and lighter threads, which we rolled for our kites.
Other kids sometimes had to unravel clothes for strings, or to filch the precious store-bought rolls of thread from their homes.
After going through the trouble of gathering materials and making the kites, we children also had to find time to fly them. Going to school and our household chores did not give us much time to play, so we had to do with stolen moments to fly kites made out of materials stolen from our homes.
There was a community water source found on a windy ridge in the village, and it was the kids whose chore it was to fetch water. Late afternoon was the busiest time for fetching water, with long lines of containers to be filled in the watering place. For kite flyers, the longer the line, the better. For kite flyers, the weaker the trickle of water, the better. For then it means that we had a longer time to fly our kites.
Even after our water containers were filled, we just set these aside and flew our kites, only taking the water home when it became dark. Our excuse for taking so long was that the lines were long and the water flow was weak.
It was heady to see kites so far up in the sky, and if a particular kite flew better than ours, we often lent our rolls of string to the owner so that his kite will fly higher, and we take turns flying it. Sometimes, when it became dark, we tie the kite string to a tree, and see if it will continue flying until morning.
The kite does not keep flying. It sometimes dives to the ground, and the long strings that we have filched would get tangled in the trees and bushes. The strings also sometimes break, and the kite would fly off to the farther trees.
At the end of a good kite-flying day, we lose the strings, and we lose the kite. Then we once again gather the precious material to make other kites.
The fun of kite flying always erased the tongue-lashing and whipping we got for wasting our homes’ precious paper and string, or for our delayed completion of our daily chores.