On Friday, November 1, Guatemala celebrated Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). As I hinted in my last blog post, aside from toasting my mom’s birthday, the holiday honors deceased loved ones and is celebrated, in part, by flying kites.
For some folks, kite flying is merely a tradition, just one more way to commemorate the day and your ancestors. For others, it’s more spiritually utilitarian–a means to communicate with the dead. Some people write and tie little notes to the tails of kites, which in turn deliver these messages to the spirits as they soar up into the sky.
People fly kites all over Guatemala on Día de los Muertos, but there are two towns in particular that take kites extra-seriously. Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepéquez–both just outside of Antigua–each boast a Feria de Barriletes Gigantes (Festival of the Giant Kites) that features mammoth, intricately designed kites. Shon and I visited the Sumpango festival, along with a few thousand others. Below are some photos from the event, if you’d like to see.
Groups, made up mostly of men, begin preparations for their kites months in advance. Designs, which can range from political to religious to purely artistic, are usually kept secret until the day of the festival when the tissue-paper-and-bamboo works of art are assembled and slowly hoisted up for the big reveal.
Sadly–though, not surprisingly, considering their delicate construction–some of the kites don’t last long. From afar, we watched one kite slowly lifted up. By the time we actually reached it, though, the tissue paper had torn from the bamboo frame, leaving behind little more than the skeleton of a kite.
Not all of the kites at Sumpango are monsters. Indeed, my favorites measured only about seven feet across but were just as intricately designed as the big boys and could actually leave the ground (the giant kites can’t).
Of course, there are plenty of normal, everyday kites dancing through the air, as well. Next year, buy one and fly your own!