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.

 

You might have noticed that this site has a monthly newsletter...

For single-line kite fliers and builders, it's always been a good read. But if you are interested in KAP and/or large home-made kites you won't want to miss it!

So sign up today, and download the free 95-page e-book "What Kite Is That?" straight away. Info-packed and fully photo-illustrated.

And there are even more free resources, such as a kite-making e-course, waiting for you in the next issue of this newsletter.

 

What's New!

  1. Flight Report:
    Sea-sick Barn Door Kite

    Jul 28, 14 05:06 AM

    This was an experiment with mounting a camera directly onto the kite. With winds gusting to over 30kph up high, the Fresh Wind Barn Door kite was selected...

    In a word, it was tricky. I mounted the camera as close as possible to the center of gravity of the kite, but it still ended up quite a few cm closer to the trailing edge than I would have liked. It was only practical to mount he camera - on its bendy tripod (!) - near the diagonal spars crossing point. Electrical tape secured 2 short tripod legs to the diagonal spars, holding the camera upright with the kite sitting on its trailing edge.

    It was a struggle to get enough lift to gain much height, and the kite swung dangerously from side to side. Might try the drogues next time! I did my best to urge the kite higher in mid-swing.

    Eventually, for a few seconds, the kite got to around 100 feet on almost 200 feet of 200 pound Dacron.

    A video clip will of course be forthcoming on Facebook. And only seasoned kite fliers will bother watching it all the whole way through, possibly wrestling with sea-sickness all the while. Hence the title of this post. Still, it was an interesting, if slightly nerve-wracking, outing! At shoulder level, the breeze measured around 9kph gusting to 18.5kph. Some low cloud over the hills was absolutely tearing along, perhaps up around 40kph.

    Huge Homemade Kites And Aerial Photography: This is often the topic for posts which appear here. New things are always being tried so sign up for my newsletter to stay right up to date with the latest developments!

    Read More




New! Comments

Plenty of fun kite info, photos and videos - there's definitely too much here for only one visit! Feel free to leave your impressions of this site or just this page, below...



Apologies for this site's current lack of video when viewed on mobile devices...

For now, please view this site on a Desktop or Laptop computer to see the videos. And there's plenty of them!

 

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