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History of Khmer Kites


planet. kite. matrix.

  by Mr. Sim Sarak and Mrs.Cheang Yarin



1. Before Nokor Phnom or Pre-Funan era
(400 years before Christ)

The original name of "Khleng Ek" was "Khleng Pnorng" invented by Khmer ancestors by around 400 BC. In the old time the Khmers like flying their kites in the harvest season. Before Nokor Phnom era, the Khmer believed in "Neakta"(an animistic spirit or deity ) and this belief led to the celebrations of "Fete of Neakta" at the beginning of the rainy season in order to invoke the spirits to procure rains for farming. During the harvest season, the Khmers performed the festival of kiteflying to express their gratitude to their ancestor spirits for ensuring sufficient rains for farmers and a prosperity for all in general. In the ancient time, the locals used straight hard bamboo for making kite skeletons (spars) and weaved tree-leaves for covering their kite bodies.
The kite-flying ceremonies linked with the agricultural practice.

2. Nokor Phnom or Funan era
(early 1st century to 6th century)

During the first centuries of the Christ era, the state of Nokor Phnom (Funan) was influenced by Indian civilization, especially relegion, literature and arts. The favour of the cult of kite-flying flying by the locals became dominant form of worship in the past and then became of their faith in Neakta and Hindu to express their gratitude to their ancestor spirits and "Preah Peay" (Divinity of Wind) for securing a satisfactory harvest.
By that time the agricultural sector saw a very remarkable development thanks to the country's creative water policy. People knew how to dig canals to water their land or to divert the tide or to desalinate their land. Their canals were navigable from one region to another. One Chinese source claims that the farmers of Funan "sow for one year and harvest for three".
Because the society by that time adopted matriarchy, their kite was considered head or leader or queen. Therefore some of the locals also called Khleng Pnorng as "Khleng Mer-Kon" (Mother-Baby kite).

3. Chenla era
(7th - 8th centuries)

During this era, the country enjoyed a successful policy of water, thus leading to emerging cities along the river. The agriculture sector experienced with a fine prospect and the cult of kite-flying became more systematic than the one under Nokor Phnom era.

Due to a political instability toward early 8th century, the country was split into two: "Land Chenla" and "Water Chenla". The country fell into the hands of "Java" of Sailendras dynasty.
The locals suffered much from the invasion while the kite-flying entertainment was disappeared.

4. Angkor era

Angkor era was the most glorious days of the Khmer society after the country was liberated from Java in 802 by a Great Khmer King, Jayavarman II. His people enjoyed real peace and blended well in participating in Buddhist and Hindu ritual ceremonies. The mass population joined in the construction of numerous bridges and roads and many wonderful and attractive temples . The glory took root of the irrigation policy encouraging the building of big reservoirs to ensure enough water for farming.
Generally speaking, three or four crops a year could be counted on, according to the account of Mr. Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat, who was on his mission to Angkor city between 1296-1297.
Thanks to this agricultural thrust, the practice of kite-flying became an annually important event. The relation between Hindu faith and farming allowed the Khmer kings to celebrate the royal ploughing ceremony at the beginning of each rainy season. It aims at paying tribute to the God of Earth for her gracious favour of providing land to the farmers to cultivate their rice. At the beginning of the dry season, the festival of kite flying also share the same purpose of expressing farmers gratitude to Preah Peay (Divinity of Wind) for bringing no rain but good weather to ripen crops. Through stone inscription dated AD 972, we came to know that "Khleng" was used to be a sacred object during Angkor epoch.
However, this glorious moment was fading away and replacing by bloodshed after successive Siam invasions of Angkor, the most important occurring in 1431. The Khmers were bitterly suffered and forced to abandon Angkor in 1432. King Ponhea Yat and his people were migrating southward to the vicinity of Phnom Penh, the current capital of Cambodia.
Khmer families were swept away from their villages and the country's civilization was decline. Together with the disappearance of some cultural elements, "Khleng" value had been distorted that it was a vicious object. Subsequently, the royal kite-flying ceremony was no longer popular.

5. Under the reign of King Satha 1

Only until this moment, the Khmers resumed their practice of kite-flying. According to the account of a Portuguese visitor, Mr. Quiroga de San Antonio, who came to Cambodia in 1590, "the Khmers flew their kites by using Babos (a kind of tree) as skeletons and paper to cover the kite body and the kites aired attractive musical sounds when they were flying into the sky", he wrote.

However, there was no records that the king celebrated the kite flying ceremony eventhough the kite was revived.

6. Under the reign of King Srei Suriyopor

During his reign, it was reported that the king celebrated this festival every year but was based on Buddhist cult.

7. Under the reign of King Ang Duong

King Ang Duoung was one of the Khmer king full of gracious virtues and committed himself to Buddhism. He paid attention to promoting peace in the country and raising living conditions of his countrymen. He assigned his institutions and government to build a road leading from Oudong Meanchey, Royal Palace, to Kampot province to reach the seaport and another road leading from the royal capital to Kampong Luong, an important river port in Kandal province. He was a king friendly to the environment. He issued a royal instruction to protect the country's natural resources and not to hunt wild animals and not to fish by deploying "pruol" (tirellis) across canals and rivers. Concerning the conservation and development of the tradition and culture, king Ang Duong built numerous schools attached to pagodas throughout the country and also encouraged poets and writers to show their works. He was outstanding himself as a poet and writer.
Following a Buddhist ritual ceremony, the king ordered to hold the royal festival of kite-flying annually without fail.
At the beginning of this festival, Buddhist monks were invited to cite protective prayers at all five ceremonial halls, each decorated with one kite and many lanterns. This festival was usually held between the 12th and 15th day of waxing moon of Maksir in the royal palace of Uddong Meanchey. It was held to dedicate to the "Preah Chula Muni Chetdei", and pray for good weather and good harvest of crops and for a prosperity for the whole kingdom. After the king's death in 1859, there were no royal observations of such kite-flying ceremonies by his successors.
However the kite-flying entertainment had been popular among the Khmers during harvest season until 1970.

8. During the period of Sangkum Reas Niyum

In 1863_that was four years after king Ang Duong died Cambodia became a French colony. Since then kite-flying habit became a casual entertainment only because of the threat of poverty and the lack of freedom of expression. However, elderly people and monks still managed to play their role of conservation of the national culture and the intangible culture of kite flying inclusive.
On 9th November 1953, Cambodia won independence back from France thanks to the royal crusade headed by Preah Bat Norodom Sihanouk ( former King of Cambodia). Until 1970 the country was cherished a development in all economic sub-sectors. The country was worldwide recognized as a peaceful oasis. The agriculture sector took leading with the annual export of rice up to 500,000 tonnes while the population lived happily and with full of honour. With the agricultural progress the Khmers were liking to enjoy themselves to fly assorted kinds of kites in the open field after their harvest. During night time, farmers flew their Khleng Pnorng and Khleng Kaum (lantern kites) in the open field and returned home to listen different tones of music aired by their respective kites. At home, they were chating with each other within their families and friends while appeasing their stomaches by eating baked potatoes or glutenous rice baked in bamboo tubes. During daytime, children, boys and girls, like flying Khleng Kandong (kite without tail) or Khleng Kantaung (pouch kite or Khleng Prabao (pocket kite) and Khleng Kloh (parasol kite) at will and at whim.
Unfortunately for the Cambodian people, their country was in turmoil from the successive wars and civil strife of the 1970s. This dark period had caused hunger, misery, sufferings and killing to Cambodian people.
Khmer culture was on the brink of extinction and the exercise of kite flying must certainly die down automatically.

9. Khleng Ek

Until 1992 a handful of elderly persons, who still remembered the skills of making Khleng Ek and love this segment of intangible culture, resumed flying their kites with caution in the open field. They were cautious because they were aware that landmines possibly still remained here and there.
H.E.Mr. Nouth Narang, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, granted a positive answer to Mr.Sim Sarak's request on 31 December 1994 for organizing the festival of kite-flying for the first time in Phnom Penh with the participation of 27 kite lovers from nine provinces.
Khleng Pnorng or Khleng Ek was revived once again and such a festival is organized annually since 1999 until present day. Khleng Ek gives not only a colour back to the Khmer culture but also conveys its symbolic identity of peace and happiness to young Cambodians and their friends across the world as well.
Living under the same sky and with the globalization of humanity, Khleng Ek of the Khmers has more and more chances since 1994 to expose itself in 17 times to the international kite festivals, including those held in France, Italy, United Kingdom, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The revival of "Khleng Ek" explains that our motherland of Cambodia is living at peace and tastes a happiness.

10. Special Characteristic of "Khleng Ek"

a) Khleng Ek is equipped with Ek, a kind of musical instrument which can air many melodic tones when it flies higher into the sky;
b) kite-flying is an entertainment by members of the
local community;
c) whenever the local inhabitants could find time
to fly their kites, one could read a significant message that the community is of freedom and the country enjoys peace;
d) Khleng Ek represents a mother or a leader of the
country in the Cambodian context;

All these characteristics already reflected in a code conducts written in 17th century by a famous poet, a prince whose name was Preah Reach Samphear.

A section of his poem read as follows:

The kite flies higher because of the wind,
The chief highly honours because of the
innovative citizens,
The fortunes are saved by a good wife,
The prosperous house is because of a faithful wife.

Phnom Penh, August 1, 2004



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