Kites over Sumpango, Sacatepéquez

¡Da-le hi-lo, da-le hi-lo!” (Give it more string!) The voices of happy children resound in the hills of Sumpango on November 1 as they fly their kites at the annual Kite Festival. Together with nearby Santiago Sacatepéquez this is the kite flyers’ paradise with thousands of kites in the air every year.


The festival gathers a huge crowd who comes to watch the 13-16m wide kites with beautiful decorations and see which will fly the longest and highest. Every year the festival committee decides on a theme that each team may elaborate on, usually a celebration of nature and man, but in recent years often mixed with women’s lib. or with reference to the suppression of the Mayan peoples, especially during the civil war from 1960 to 1996. But since the festival has a world reputation, there are also kites built by people from other countries (in 2007 Argentina and The Netherlands).


The streets leading up to the big festival square are lined with vendors of practically everything one can think of in terms of food and drink, paintings, clothes, razzle-dazzle entertainment gadgets, and, of course, kites.  

In the festival grounds the big kites are on display. They are all lightweight made of tissue paper stretched on a frame of canes (in accordance with the ancient tradition some of the canes have been cut on a special day). Teams of voluntary builders then worked on them six hours a day for up to three months. For the kites mean something: as a tradition, as a political statement, and as a way to celebrate the connection between heaven and earth on this day before the Day of the Dead when people go to the cemeteries to meet with their forefathers and eat, drink, and talk about them, quite the contrary to the mourning usually expressed at funerals. 


As a result the tombs are cleaned and redecorated (painted and adorned with piña (pine needles - the traditional Mayan sign of welcome and respect) flowers, and fruits to be ready for the big family excursion to the cemetery, an excursion that is really a picnic. The traditional meal is the “fiambre” (a Spanish dish from Extremadura, some experts say). Some families bring mariachis (bands of musicians) and celebrate the dead, some also in the night between November 1st and 2nd.

A delicious dish of fiambre 

Modern Maya family handles beer, baby, cell phone and fiambre 

In the Mayan cosmovisión the tree of life connects the heavens and the earth including mountains and caves, and kite flying is thus the perfect way to keep up the bond.

November 2007, Erik Moldrup