Vivid Balinese Kites

From Kids' Toys To HUGE Fish Kites

Bali is kite-mad! Visitors tell of Balinese kites tethered in fields, 15 or 20 at a time. Mostly flown by children who make their own flying creations from scraps of plastic and bamboo.

Some traditional Balinese kites, like this huge Bebean with hummers, requires several people to fly it.Photo courtesy of
Bob Harris

Talking about plastic and bamboo, that's what I've used on our Skewer kites too. However, for many kiters, bigger is better, hence our Dowel series! We've put out some downloadable books covering 'how to make...' all these designs. See over there on the right...

Most of the flying activity in Bali occurs during the dry windy months around the middle of the year. Strong Easterlies blow at these times. July in particular, hence the Bali International Kite Festival is held in that month!

Beside the enthusiasm displayed by the local children, adults also come out in large numbers to fly on special occasions. This is when the huge traditional Balinese kites are flown. Like the one in the photo over there.

Some of these huge bamboo and cotton creations require a team of people to tow them up into the prevailing trade winds. An example is the Bebean, or fish kite. Despite no dihedral, the form of the sail plus the wide ribbon tail on each side are sufficient to keep it stable.

In common with other communities that border the Pacific ocean, like the Maoris in New Zealand, Balinese kiting has very close connections to the local culture and religion. However, in contrast to this...

Kites from Bali are becoming known more and more outside the shores of the island and its mother country, Indonesia. Groups of artisans churn out large numbers of beautiful smaller kites, with no 2 exactly alike. Some end up in overseas travelers' baggage, others are sold over the Internet. There's a real industry in Balinese kites developing here.

Types Of Balinese Kites

Here's some beautiful examples...

An ornate bird kite from Bali, in blue and orange, on a black sail.

The smaller kites from Bali are fascinating from just an artistic perspective! Great skill goes into creating the decoration. In fact, some are so heavily decorated that they are too heavy to fly. The idea is to use them around your home, hung like paintings or placed like sculpture.

A large proportion of all these smaller kites are made to closely resemble various creatures, such as...

  • birds
  • fish
  • butterflies - see that photo down below!
  • frogs
  • lizards or 'dragons'

The artwork is typically very bold and vivid. Sometimes almost photographically realistic too! For example, pink parrot feathers, painstakingly re-created with fine brushes.

These smaller Balinese kites share the following characteristics...

A Balinese butterfly kite in blue, orange and black.
  • a small 3 dimensional body is attached to a pair of wing-like sails
  • leading edge spars are usually straight or only slightly curved
  • trailing edges are much more curved, sometimes with a scalloped outline as well
  • a taut covering of nylon or sometimes rayon is applied over the frame
  • painting is done on the 3D body and the sails to complete the illusion of a real creature - for example legs painted on the underside of the sail
  • long ribbon tails are common, designed to harmonize with the rest of the design

Thanks to the people who supplied the pictures of the bird and butterfly kites! Your website might be gone, but you know who you are.

The big traditional designs are constructed from wooden or bamboo spars and cotton cloth sails. Stylized forms of various sea creatures are common, like that Bebean in the top-of-page photo. A uniquely Asian feature of these huge Balinese kites are the hummers. Some traditional Chinese and Japanese kites have these too. Line is stretched between the ends of a bowed pole, creating an instrument which vibrates in the airflow. When 2 or more of these are used, they are tuned to harmonize. Hence these kites are interesting to listen to, as well as watch in the air. Imagine the effect with several Balinese kites up there, as the blustery trade winds sweep across the island!

Finally, there is the multitude of children's kites. For the most part these are just simplified variations on the smaller artistic ones described previously. You might see butterfly kites or basic delta-style creations.

It's worth mentioning that the almost fanatical fascination with kites on Bali has resulted in some extremely creative efforts which have no connection with tradition at all. In a sense, they can't really be called 'Balinese kites'. They are just the product of talented and keen local kiters. People with an eye for design and a knack for coming up with the unusual. Similar people exist in Germany or the U.S.!

The Bali Kite Festival

This huge international event is held in July, so no surprises there! That's when the wind and hence kite flying fever is at a peak all across the island. So much so, that there are actually problems from time to time. Large run-away kites can plop down in the middle of traffic, causing accidents. Pedestrians and motorbike riders can have nasty encounters with abrasive line draped here and there. Yes, just like in India, there are some keen kite fighters in Bali who insist on using the traditional technique of covering their lines with finely ground glass!

The festival is a real showcase for the largest traditional Balinese kites.

These creations are decorated in simple patterns of black, red, white and gold/yellow, representing the incarnations of various Hindu gods. There is even a god of kites in Balinese Hinduism! Around a couple of months of careful construction and testing go into each kite, based in a local temple.

International visitors are wowed and intrigued with not only the kites themselves, but also the music and rituals that go with it. A gamelan orchestra strikes up as the majestic kites take to the sky, and entire teams are themselves a spectacle in national dress. Hummers hum, and spectators cheer - sometimes when a kite comes unexpectedly to the ground!

If you have ever been to a large kite festival, you will have an idea of the sheer variety of kites to be seen. In Bali, this goes double, since the local kites have great variety in size, shape and color. Add to that the kites brought in by tourists and invited international visitors, and what a mixture results! Everything from local kid's kites to big expensive Western show kites.

Here's another example of the giant traditional kites of Bali. In fact, it looks like another Bebean...

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Wind Speeds

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1-5 km/h
1-3 mph
1-3 knots
Beaufort 1

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6–11 km/h
4–7 mph
4–6 knots
Beaufort 2    

Gentle breeze
12–19 km/h
8–12 mph
7–10 knots
Beaufort 3    

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13–18 mph
11–16 knots
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19–24 mph
17–21 knots
Beaufort 5    

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25–31 mph
22–27 knots
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32-38 mph
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