Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Thu 1 Nov 2012 18:54
Los Barilletes Gigantes of Sumpango
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We jumped up this morning and joined a mini-bus leaving Antigua at seven thirty to travel the half an hour to Sumpango. I crossed the road to take a shot of our first kite of the day, our driver got a parking spot near a steep path up to the village, along the fence were many traditional kites for sale and some modern ones too.
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We had no idea what to expect and our first glimpse was a few kites at the far end of the football pitch, the many toilets suggested this was a well organised event with many spectators expected. We were pleased to be here so early to enjoy the whole day at what was to be one of the most amazing occurrences in Guatemala unfold.

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Walking toward the kites already in place, we began to appreciate their sheer size, but up close they are truly massive


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Bear’s favourite

On November the first, visitors travel to Sumpango or Santiago, Sacatepequez to stand in awe of Los Barilletes Gigantes, the giant kites made specifically for the Day of the Dead in these two Kaqchikel Mayan Villages. As large as sixty feet, the kites are decorated in figures, landscapes and messages, resembling enormous murals or mandalas. From a distance it’s easy to think that these kites are giant paintings, made or plastic or nylon. In fact, they are collages on a fantastic scale, every image, indeed every part of the kite is made from layers of hand-cut papel de china, semi transparent, coloured tissue paper often used to line gift boxes. This slight medium has been used for over seventy years and perhaps represents the nature of life itself – magnificent and fragile.
The Day of the Dead is the culmination of between six and eleven months of work for los barilleteros (the kite makers). The kite festival on November the first, is the first time the barilletos see the results of their labour when all the sections of the kites are glued together with a backing of black tissue and mounted on a web of bamboo.

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We stood and watched as quick fingers wired the bamboo frame together at the start of the process. Next one group of lads lifted the frame as another group unrolled the kite.


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Kite and frame safely in place – meanwhile another part of the group was digging the hole for the support post.


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Up went the post, not far short of a full telegraph pole - no shouting or panic – once in place much back-filling and tamping.
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Finally we saw the kite raised and tied in place, these bigger kites are just displayed not flown.
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All watched by the enthusiastic and good natured crowd, more arriving by the minute 
In Sumpango there are over seventy five groups of kite makers, over six hundred barilleteros – most of whom are single young men and teenagers. They come from all walks of life: farmers, students, electricians, architects and even lawyers. They work from seven in the evening to one or two in the morning during the week and most of the weekend beginning in July and finishing today. Barilleteros with eight to ten years experience co-ordinate the making, teaching the younger ones the methods, traditions and culture of their unique ‘hobby’.

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Kites measuring eighteen feet or less are flown, sometimes needing eight or more men to hold the line as these colourful giants takes to the air, or in many cases hit the ground on their maiden flight. Some live to try again, some suffer serious damage and faces show abject disappointment. Some float gracefully down and the crowd catches them quite beautifully and they return to their launch pad over many heads. Others crash and Health ‘n Safety in many countries would cringe at some of what we witnessed at a respectful distance. Each launch the crowd cheered and clapped, each descent was accompanied by woooo’s and arrrrrrr’s.
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Many times we watched take off, land in the crowd and return for another try 
The “smaller” flying kites are traditional eight-sided Guatemalan kites, the octagon making a unique rounded as opposed to a diamond shape. This octagon is thought to represent the Maya belief in the four directions: North, South, East and West, with four additional points to form a corona, the crown of the sun. Fringed paper is fixed to four sides. The sound of the wind rustling this fringe is believed to keep away bad spirits. Prayers and messages to the ancestors are traditionally placed on the string of the kite and then are moved by the wind up the string. When the message joins the main body of the kite it has been received and read by the loved ones gone before.
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Many kites are far from traditional in shape, since the peace treaty of 1996 and led by a group of highly creative barilleteros who call themselves “Happy Boys”, these behemoths have become increasingly innovative in form and design - often the result of builders, designers and architects.
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