Kite flying is a popular childhood game for many Vietnamese people in rural areas.
Flying a kite with a flute attached to it is a century-old game that requires a lot of passion and knowledge from the player (Photo: hoangphu.vn)
However, flying a kite with a flute attached to it is a century-old game that requires a lot of passion and knowledge from the players.
Flute kites have been lifted from a pastime into part of the country’s cultural heritage.
Despite his old age, Nguyen Xuan Quyen, an 81-year-old meritorious artisan from Dan Vien Hamlet, Cao Vien Commune, Thanh Oai District, in Hanoi, doesn’t mind travelling across regions to share his experience in folk games.
Quyen has also been invited to festivals hosted by the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, the Thang Long Imperial Citadel, and the Hanoi Old Quarter to give instructions to children on making star-shaped lanterns, kites, and other traditional toys.
According to Quyen, flying flute kites is a time-honoured game of Vietnamese people, and it is mostly practiced in the Tonkin region. Many areas are famous for making flute kites, including Vu Thu District (Thai Binh Province); the districts of Kien Thuy, Vinh Bao and Thuy Nguyen (Hai Phong City); Kinh Mon District (Hai Duong Province); and Ba Giang Village (Dan Phuong District, Hanoi).
True to its name, a flute kite includes two parts, a kite and a flute, which is made of bamboo and jackfruit wood.
A kite can carry one or more flutes, with the size of the flutes depending on the size of the kite. However, no matter how big or small the flutes are, all of them can produce the sound of bass melodies that fill the sky when the kites fly high in the air.
There are many ways to classify kite flutes, and people in Thanh Oai District classify them based on the sounds they can produce.
The making of kite flutes is not only time-consuming but it also requires a lot of technique and patience from the craftsmen, who must have a certain knowledge for the physics, aerodynamics, sound absorption, and have an understanding music theory.
For the frame itself, it takes at least a whole day to complete a 2-metre long frame. Old bamboo is used as it is more resistant because of having experienced rain and sun. Traditionally, the kite is covered by paper, but nowadays, kite flyers are using more durable materials such as cloth and polyester.
Making the flute for the kite is the most difficult step, which requires three to seven days to complete based on the number of flutes attached to the kite. In the past, a kite carried one or two flutes, but now the number has increased to 13 or even 17 flutes, which are attached together and tied along the “backbone” of the kite.
The flutes are made from old bamboo, which can help to produce profound and deep tones like an orchestra. The craftsmen then drill holes in the bamboo, the more precisely they make the holes, the better the quality of sound that can be produced.
Historical records have not yet provided an exact time marking the start of kite flute playing in Vietnam. Experts have still however acknowledged that it is a unique time-honoured practice in Vietnam.
According to Deputy Director of the Centre for Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Kites, Le Thanh Binh, the centre has worked with kite flutes’ clubs nationwide to promote the tradition while preparing a dossier on kite flutes to seek for national intangible cultural heritage status.
Following the success of the first International Kite Festival in Vung Tau city, Ba Ria – Vung Tau province in 2009, the centre has worked to promote kite flying at schools to help children learn more about the traditional pastime. Nhan Dan