Did you know that the kite or wau in Malay language originated from China? In ancient times, the Chinese kite was made from simple materials such as wood and cloth.

Back then, the Chinese kites were used by the military to measure distances so that they can move their armies across tough terrains. Since then, people from other nations have adapted and assimilated kites into their cultures. 

Photo by Angela Han

Wau in Malaysia

The Malaysian kite is known as Wau and it is uniquely designed like the shape of wings. Etymologically, the word wau is derived from the Arabic letter “wau” which has the wing-shaped letter outline. However, some claimed “wau” came from exclamation of “wow” by the West people in the early days after they were amazed by these kites.

Which is the truth? It doesn’t matter. But one thing is certain. Wau is one of the traditional pastime games that is still being played in the East Coast of Malaysia, especially in Kelantan and Terengganu and the rural areas in Kedah and Perlis. 

But how did wau flying start? There were a few beliefs. The local people claimed farmers used wau to act like flying scarecrows in the field and the sound of the wau flying made good lullaby for children. The coastal people, on the other hand, said wau was used as fishing kites to catch fish.

Above all, wau flying has become increasingly popular as competitions in villages during harvest festivals. Judging will be based on the height of the wau flown, the skills of the players and the quality and length of the humming of wau in the sky.

Wau flying is normally launched by two people. One person will hold it against the wind and the other will handle the wau using the string that tied to the wau. The players will try to bring down their rivals’ wau by cutting the string of their waus. Most of these strings are made from ground glass, making it easy to cut.

Making of Wau

I remember I used to enjoy making wau. It was very simple using only rice paper, bamboo splits as frames and strings. The best part was paper cutting of intricate motifs like flower shapes and then glued onto the paper layer by layer.

But today, try ask any children if they have made a wau. Chances are, they may give you a blank stare. Nevertheless, wau-making still remains as a cottage industry and it takes a lot of skills and patience to create them, from selection of materials to the final decoration.

Currently, wau comes in all shapes and sizes and some even use LED lights to give it a contemporary look. The most popular wau is Wau Bulan (Moon Kite). It is shaped like a crescent and is considered as a symbol or icon of Malaysia. In fact, Wau Bulan is incorporated as part of Malaysia Airlines logo design. Other waus include Wau Kucing (Cat Kite), Wau Merak (Peacock Kite) and Wau Daun (Leaf Kite). 

Believe it or not, I still keep my wau although the colour has faded.

Text by Francis Yip

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