Maori Kites

Ancient Ritual, Modern Pastime

There aren't many ancient Maori kites still intact today. Just a few special ones, in museums. For example, a 4 meter (12 feet) wingspan sacred kite which is housed in the Auckland Museum.

Maori Kites - an example of an authentic traditional kite.

However, New Zealanders are rediscovering their kite-making roots now. Interest is growing, and workshops are sometimes held where anyone can learn how to make Maori kites using traditional techniques.

Birds and kites are very closely associated in Maori culture. Hence the Maori names of their kites usually include the word 'manu', which means 'bird'. Some other Maori names for kites are 'kahu' meaning 'hawk', and 'manu pakau' which means 'bird's wing'.

Maori kites are an ancient form of kite so named because they were first made by the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maoris. These people chose to make many of their kites in the shape of a bird.

Funnily enough, modern Delta kites are deemed to look somewhat 'bird-like' in flight too.

The book Te Manu Tukutuku: The Maori Kite on Amazon will take you far deeper into the topic of this page, if you are interested.




Construction Details

First, some general points about the oldest bird-like kites. Like most things Maori, they often displayed flowing patterning, carving, and decoration.

Frames were made from light wooden rods and tree twigs lashed together.

Some ancient Maori designs were actually triangular in shape like modern Deltas. See the photo at the top of this page: supplied by Robbie Whitmore, from the kites section of her New Zealand in History website. Used with permission of course!

Many of the kites were covered in Aute bark, which originated from the islands to the north of New Zealand. The common name for this bark is Paper Mulberry. Other kites had long 'raupo' or bullrush leaves tied to the frame. All sorts of materials were added to the kite to decorate it, including...

  • dog-hair
  • feathers
  • leaves
  • shells
  • carved horns and points

Some of these kites were quite large and flexible, and must have been quite an experience to watch, with the flapping or swinging movement of the wings in the wind.

In a similar way to modern Western kites, streamers were often used too. Flax and feathers though, not plastic or ripstop nylon!

Also, cockle shells were sometimes fastened to the kites to produce a rattling noise. Now that's not seen on any other traditional kites I know of! However, the idea of letting kites make some noise was also used by the ancient Chinese. Some of their kites were fitted with taut strings that vibrated and hummed in the wind. Also, some modern kite flyers like to attach whistles to their kites!

Another accessory of the ancient Maori kites was a 'karere', or messenger, which was made of bark or other light materials. This was sent up along the flying line towards the kite, its purpose being to communicate with the gods. In contrast, sending stuff up the line or attaching it at various points is merely called line laundry at kite festivals in other parts of the world!





Maori Children Were Kite Fliers Too

Even though much of the Maoris kite flying was very serious business, their kids must have pestered them for a kite... Has anything changed? :-) So, it's not surprising that researchers have found that smaller, cruder kites were indeed made for the kids to fly! These kites had no tails or streamers. The flying lines were simply thin strips of flax knotted together.





Kites As Part Of Maori Culture

Maori kites and culture were closely intertwined. Only a 'tohunga' or priest could make a sacred kite, and it took quite a lot of time and effort. Kite flying was a ritualistic practice.

Kite making was associated with the god Rongo, who was said to be a great patron of the arts, and the god Tane, who was at times pictured as a kite. Rehua, the highest of Maori gods was also linked to kites and was referred to as 'the sacred bird' and was even considered to be the ancestor of the kite.

Beside being able to fly, some people consider ancient Maori kites to be significant examples of Polynesian sculpture. After the 2D art of ancient Chinese kites, there ended up being 3D sculpture embodied in Maori kites. An interesting development. How can the West take that further? 'Kite Installations' perhaps? A bunch of kites interacting with each other in the sky, as a single work of art...

Explore this whole topic more, with Te Manu Tukutuku: The Maori Kite, an authoritative book on Amazon.

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What's New!

  1. Flight Report:
    Dowel Box Kite Rides Inland Gusts

    Sep 16, 14 05:51 AM

    A recent bout of sickness has left me with double vision for a while, which rules out driving the car anywhere. So it was time for a return visit to the small grassy reserve where many of the 1-skewer designs made their debut years ago. The easy walking distance from home was the main thing!

    Looking out the window, the breeze shifting the tree tops around seemed capable of supporting the Dowel Box kite. The Fresh Wind version with its smaller sail panels. Sure enough, down at the reserve, the kite managed to grip enough air around 50 feet to stay up fairly comfortably. A couple of times I had to interrupt some movie-taking to coax the kite higher as it threatened to sink right back to the grass.

    After 20 minutes or so of flying near the lower end of the kite's wind range, a period of fresher breezes began. In the somewhat sheltered location where I stood, the wind meter showed around 8 kph gusting to over 12 kph. However, the breeze was clearly over 20 kph higher up. The firm pull on the flying line was one indication!

    Isolated rain showers had been forecast for the area, so fairly low cumulus clouds were everywhere. No rain had fallen all day in our suburb though.

    The cloudy sky-scape made for some attractive footage of the 2-celled Box surging about in the gusts, lulls and wind-shifts. Due to the small size of the reserve, it was wise to not let the kite fly on more than about 45m (150 feet) of line. But that was enough to let it take full advantage of the moderate-strength (20kph+) airflow over the treetops.

    So, some enjoyable box kite flying today, with the 50 pound Dacron feeling like thread compared to the 200 pound variety with which I do most flying these days!

    About This Post: These days, most flight reports are in the short format you've just seen, above. However, longer format reports are done occasionally, which also feature photos and video taken on the day. Here is a link to all those full flight report pages on this site.

    Read More





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