Chilean Kites: Battles and Collateral Damage

It’s September, the month of patriotism, cueca, and kites.  And who can resist the perfect opportunity to make and fly a kite?  This girl right here.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but Chilean kites are a different breed.

Let’s talk about the materials, for starters.  When I think of making a kite, I hope to make something that will last from between an hour to a couple of years.  It should last longer than it takes me to make it.  So I hope to use somewhat durable material.  Here’s what’s on Chile’s list:

  • Tissue paper: Only the flimsiest possible paper you can buy.  Sure, it’s pretty.  When it doesn’t run the risk of being torn to shreds by barbed wire.
  • Bamboo sticks: Did I say sticks?  I meant twigs.  And wait until you see how they bend these suckers.
  • Glue:  Ok, reasonable.
  • White sewing thread:  What?  You’re going to fly a kite with something that breaks with a pound of force or so?  How is this a good idea?

The kites are square.  Alright, I guess geometrically, this is ok.  And I guess “volantín” does not translate to “kite” mathematically, anyway.  But it’s not as culturally natural for me.  That’s fine.

But why all this flimsiness?

Kites are machines of war here in Chile.  Children excitedly gather to watch battles between kites, waiting to see which kite will successfully cut the thread of its enemy.  As an extension of these battles, kids often search for defeated kites.

In order to battle effectively, your kite needs to be light, agile, and maneuverable, but not necessarily stable or durable.

Some kids want to cut other kids’ kites so much that they use something called hilo curado, which means “cured thread” in the same sense that you would cure meat or leather (but in Chilean Spanish, it can also be interpreted as “drunk thread,” and that’s how I like to think of it).  This is made by pulverizing glass, mixing it with glue, and then feeding the kite string through the mix.  This hilo curado is not only capable of cutting kite strings, but also of cutting skin, muscle, and can actually kill a person.  It is now illegal, but that doesn’t stop people from using it.

The cutting power of hilo curado

It is especially dangerous when people are running or biking, for example, and they don’t see the thread.  They can sustain serious injuries, and one motorcyclist died in 2003 after an hilo curado sliced open his throat.  More disturbingly, from 2011 to 2012 the number of injuries from hilo curado doubled.

Well, to get on with my kite experience…

I decided to make life special for Edwin by suggesting that we make kites together.  After a couple hours of buying materials, decorating the kites, and almost dying of frustration, I was ready to try these things out, but not at all enthusiastic.

It was a beautiful feeling to fly our kites for some ten or thirty minutes before mine snapped in two and Edwin’s was dragged through a river and ripped to shreds on barbed wire.  So is life when you are a Chilean flag.

Shredded kite in barbed wire


Join in the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s