Memories of Kiteflying In Port au Prince

Martin Fils Barthold
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We flew kites in the Easter season, but that often meant for as much as two months prior to Easter. Since I was in the city of Port au Prince, where there was little open space, we flew from our rooftops; most houses are one- or two-story and flat-roofed. Whole families flew kites from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. There may well have been 25,000 people flying kites at once.

The kites looked innocent: hexagonal in shape with a simple three-stick, crossed frame, with a bowed stick across the top. Paper for the kite sail was the yellow paper used in Haiti for packaging sugar. Otherwise, old dry cleaning plastic was a second-place substitute. Children used the white sap from the candelabra plant for glue, while adults favored homemade paste made from wheat flour, with secret ingredients from family to family. For the small children’s kites, the spars could be made with the center vein of a coconut tree leaf. These were kites that measured about .4 by .4 m (ca. 20 by 20 inches) and larger kites with wooden spars flown by adults were almost twice that size. Creative kites in all shapes were common as well, but the hexagon was most popular and could be made in very large sizes. Behind the cross-stick was a hummer made of paper, folded and pasted over the bow string.

Of course, the kite had a long tail made from old clothing, and it was on the tail that these kites carried their lethal secret. You see, these kites were for fighting, and on their tails was an array of razor blades (don’t try this at home, folks) for cutting the line or tearing the sail of neighbors’ kites. Often the blades were stuck into a small piece of wood to make a Vshaped barb, or the tail could simply be played through the middle of a double-edged blade.

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