Traditional Khmer kite flying festival returns in Svay Rieng

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Khmer Kite Flying Festival will be celebrated by kite flyers hailing from all over the Kingdom competing in Svay Rieng province on Friday. Heng Chivoan

Now Cambodia has entered December, the coldest month of the year. The cool and windy weather is the perfect time for flying kites, an ancient Khmer tradition that many in the Kingdom are striving to keep alive.

Kites have a long tradition in Khmer folklore and have always represented a symbol of freedom. In one tale, a Khmer man who was imprisoned by a Chinese king secretly created a kite that made a peculiar sound when he flew it from the window of the tower in which he was being held. Legend has it that the sound frightened the king, who promptly released the man.

Keeping this tradition alive today is the Khmer Kite Flying Festival. In its 22nd year, the festival will be celebrated by kite flyers hailing from Cambodia’s 24 different provinces [and Phnom Penh city] competing at Svay Rieng province’s Svay Rieng High School on Friday.

Cambodia’s kite flying tradition greatly suffered during the turmoil of the Khmer Rouge regime, but it was revived when the first festival was held in 1994. In 1999, authorities made it an annual event.

According to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the competition will be divided into kite flyers from the city, provincial departments, and the general public.

The ministry’s deputy director of culture and development Roeurng Sareth – a Kleng Ek kite artisan himself – said a “winner will be selected from two competitions based on different creative categories of Kleng Ek or Kleng Pnorng”.

Kleng Ek is a traditional Khmer style of kite that can produce seven different tones out of a musical bow. It is more than a metre long and a metre wide, and in the modern era they have been decorated with different pictures honouring the provinces and cities that it represents.

The first competition will focus upon the musical sound the kite produces, its beauty and how smoothly it manoeuvres. The second competition will focus more heavily on the technique used to make the kite, its design, and how well it flies.

In past years, the festival was held mostly in the capital. But in recent years, the celebration has been taken nationwide to different cities and provinces.

“It is the policy of the ministry to take this festival and present it in different places across the Kingdom. The priority provinces are those who located at the borders. For example last year, the 21st Khmer Kite Flying Festival was held in Kep. The previous years were in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces,” said Sareth.

He added that “the competition is for amateurs and not open to previous winners.” So far the ministry has entrants representing 19 provincial and city departments, as well 20 people from the general public.

Sareth continued: “The winners from both competitions will be ranked first, second and third. We hope that the Khmer Kite Flying Festival this year will have representatives from all provinces of Cambodia, as well as more representatives from the countryside and members of the public.

“When kites fly in the sky, it shows the many colours and happiness of the Cambodian people.”