The True Origin of Kites

It’s incredible what we can find out about history through prehistoric drawings found on rocks and in caves. Sulawesi, one of the islands in Indonesia, has many fascinating paintings; some that are more than 40,000 years old. One particular drawing, found in a cave on Muna Island, shows a painting that is highly possible to be a man flying a kite. La Hada, the cave keeper, found the drawing in 1996. It was further recognized when a guy from Germany, called Wolfgang Bieck, came to Indonesia in 1997. He was told by Suarnadi Makuta, the leader of ‘Muna Traditional Kite Club’ that there was a cave painting of a kite on Muna Island. That is when Wolfgang became more intrigued about the true origin of the kite, as for years China had claimed its origin. So he traveled back to Indonesia a few years later with his wife Mong Hie. They ventured to Muna Island, which is just off the Southwest of Sulawesi, to see the first and only prehistoric cave painting of a kite. Wolfgang and Mong Hie took the photos displayed in this article, which don’t only show the painting but also the beautiful landscapes and scenery on Muna Island.

Muna is a beautiful island full of mountains with over grown tropical plants and coral rocks. Wolfgang and his wife described it as the end of the world, a world that dipped ‘behind civilization without any noise from engines combined with a strange silence without birdsongs.’ They were taken around the island by La Rena, the son of the cave-keeper La Hada, and they trekked through remote regions of karst-ruins-landscape. Wolfgang stated that it was ‘an unforgettable, strenuous and delightful adventure.’

It is a three to four kilometer trek to the cave itself, which lies at the foot of one of the mountains. It involves walking down very steep coral rocks and down into a hole, which is approximately 250m high over today’s sea-level. Wolfgang said it reminded them of ‘their geological genesis with its stalactites, stalagmites and fossils over many millions of years.’ This is where Wolfgang saw the painting. He said it was one of the highlights in his life, as the painting shows a man standing in a dynamic posture holding a leaf kite, which is still flown on Muna island today.

The culture of this little island revolves around kites. You will see children all over the green valleys flying them high in the sky. It is natural proof that the kite culture still lives on here, and not only on Muna Island but all around Sulawesi. In the villages and down little city streets you will see children holding tin cans with string leading up into the sky. At the end of the string is a small piece of plastic attached to a stick of wood. These are their kites. The kites are so simple and the children love to fly them. They even fly with the lightest of winds. It is a pleasant sight just to see children having fun without technology distracting them.

You can also see the international kite festival in Jakarta and Makassar every year. There are a variety of kites in all shapes and sizes. It’s fascinating to see the fighter kites, which are made to the same size as a full grown man. We can see from the prehistoric painting that kites have been made man-sized for years, going back to the ancient times.

However, this cave on Muna Island holds more of a story than just the painting. This cave is known for its magical strength. The King of Muna used to go there for his meditations. Suarnadi Makuta also told Wolfgang that the cave faces the east where the sun rises, which also hands down religious meaning of the kite. He said it symbolizes connections between the earth and the sun and between the world of the living and the dead. He stated on one hand they symbolize ‘a protecting strength’ and on the other hand a ‘transition to the world after the death.’

Muna Island is just one small place in Indonesia yet it has fascinating history and stunning nature. We are keen to show others the true spirit of Indonesia and this is a good place to start.


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