JOHOR BARU: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a wau!
Indeed, the traditional kite was once used as a tactical instrument of war.
According to Azmi Amat Arjak, a public assistant at Malaysia’s first and only Kite Museum in Pasir Gudang here, the country’s most well-known kite – wau bulan – used to have a “tougher” look during the Srivijaya empire as it was used to intimidate war enemies.
“The top of the wau at that time used to be shaped like a bird, with a narrower body and a wider bottom, as opposed to the wau bulan’s softer and rounder lines as we know them today.
“Part of Raja Srivijaya’s tactic was to attack an area where his wau fell. Upon victory, he would decorate his kites with elements from his latest conquests, ” he said.
Azmi said the wau bulan, believed to be the oldest known kite in the country, was among the three most prominent types out of the 15 traditional kites in Malaysia.
“It is also known as ‘the perfect kite’ for its ability to be flown at a 90° angle, which other kites cannot achieve as they usually fly at a 75° angle.
“This is why we have separate categories for wau bulan and other kites in our annual International Kite Festival held on the hill next to the museum, ” he said.
Otherwise, he said the wau bulan would surely “outdo” others if they were grouped in the same category.
The other two popular traditional kites are the wau kucing, which looks like a sitting cat and was also the basis of the Malaysia Airlines logo, as well as wau jalabudi, shaped like a woman, he said.
“According to folklore, a farmer in Gunung Jerai, Kedah, who was in love with a fairy princess accidentally made her upset, prompting her to leave and never to return.
“So in her memory, the farmer made a kite shaped like a woman with a narrow waist, which was also flown to bless padi farmers with a bountiful harvest, ” said Azmi, who has been involved with kite-flying for the past 13 years.
From afar, he said the patterns on the wau resemble batik motifs but each state actually had its own version of the kite to reflect their respective identity.
For example, Johor’s wau merak is shaped like the majestic peacock.
He said the wau merak usually features carvings of black pepper and gambir (betel leaves), which were staples of the state’s economy in the past.
As for international kites, such as those from Japan and Indonesia, they were known for their spiritual elements, flown to ward off evil spirits.
This explained their “intimidating” appearance such as dragon heads and paintings of the samurai, Azmi said.
A signature of the wau is the bow-shaped hummer attached to the spine of the kite, which produces a humming sound when it is flown.
“During the 1970s, some creative kite makers made the hummers from buffalo leeches that have been stretched out and sun-dried but the trend eventually died out and were replaced with more accessible materials such as ribbon tapes, ” he added.
Museum supervisor Ismat Salleh said interest in traditional kites had waned over the years due to the presence of electronic gadgets.
Thus, he said the annual kite festival held in Pasir Gudang, was aimed at increasing public awareness.
“The festival started in 1995 with participation from only five countries.
“This year, there is participation from 54 countries but sadly the much-anticipated event had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.
“To ensure continuous promotion and awareness, we are organising a logo competition from Oct 20 to Nov 19 to design the official logo for kite museum, ” he said, adding that it also entered the Malaysia Book of Records for being the first kite museum in the country.
To know more about the logo design competition, visit https://www.facebook.com/MuziumLayangLayangPasirGudang.
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