TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, October 24, 2008

Flying Messages to the Dead by Erin Stoy and John Barrie

Kite Flying in Guatemala Honors the Dead

Communication and contact with ancestors is an important part of life for people in communities throughout the world, who often put aside a time each year to commemorate and honor this connection. In Guatemala, as in much of Latin America, this commemoration takes place on the first and second days of November, with the first (El Día de Los Muertos or ‘Day of the Dead’) being the focal point. Among many activities that take place across the country, one of the most striking can be found in the town of Santiago Sacatepéquez, situated at a distance of 25km from Antigua.

A Gigantic Circular Kite with its Barrileteros

An amazing spectacle appears in the first days of November: Gigantic circular kites up to 15m (50 ft) in diameter, bearing designs of breathtaking intricacy and color, are exhibited by their proud creators. Other kites of up to 5m (16ft) in diameter fly high above the crowds. The giant kites are constructed over a period of three months by groups of barrileteros (kite makers), who compete on November 1st for prizes in different categories. The prizes received are modest, but the honor and respect gained by winning are great.

The practice of building giant kites in Santiago Sacatepéquez is now in its 109th year, and -- while its origins are somewhat hazy – many people there view the tradition as symbolizing the communication between this earthly realm and the elevated sphere of the dead. Another popular view is that the flapping of the kites’ tails in the air scares away evil spirits, giving good spirits the freedom to enjoy the day with their still-living relatives.

Guatemalan Kites Communicate with the Dead
and Scare Away Evil Spirits

The great majority of those involved with building and flying kites in Santiago are Kaqchiquel-speaking indigenas (indigenous people), and many traditional Mayan spiritual ceremonies take place around the creation of the kites each year. The process of creating, showing, and flying kites in Santiago has become an integral part of the identity of the indigenous people of the town, something that is rightly regarded with enormous pride. The residents of Santiago are happy to share this tradition with outsiders, both Guatemalan and from further afield, and every year on November 1st the town is filled with visitors eager to witness the spectacle for themselves. Visitors are also welcome to attend the wider range of events leading up to November 1st. The people of Santiago Sacatepéquez invite you to witness their colorful festivities first-hand!

Erin Stoy, John Barrie and Little Azucena in Guatemala

Erin Stoy, a regular contributor of Fiber Focus, owns La Chapina Huipil Crafts. She is an American whoʼs lived in Guatemala for over a year and a half, caring for the daughter she and her husband are in the process of adopting. During her time in Guatemala,she has developed a passion for Mayan textiles. She has been selling arts and crafts she makes from used huipiles (traditional, hand-woven Guatemalan blouses) since October 2007. Her blog is http://huipil-crafts.blogspot.com/ and her Etsy shop, which is stocked full of treasures, is http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5857359. Visit her!

1 comment:

  1. I love the circular kites. Fun to learn about this custom.


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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