Essay About Wau

Wau Bulan

The Moon Kite Of Malaysia

Wau Bulan is the name given to the ornate Malaysian Moon Kite. We were fortunate to see the real thing at a kite festival, in our home city of Adelaide, South Australia.

A Wau we saw at our local kite festival

It's almost funny to compare our MBK Roller designs with the magnificent Wau! They do bear a small resemblance to the Wau Bulan in that they have a large upper sail and a smaller lower sail. So far, there are 3 separate Roller designs to try, including the 1.2 meter (4 feet) span version in those downloadable books over on the right...

Our Dowel Roller is just so plain to look at, in comparison. At least it is a very reliable flier, which satisfies me personally.

Now, getting back to the festival... The organizers had invited a Malaysian kite master and his wife to the event. They brought with them a couple of large and beautiful Wau kites.

In addition, the couple brought a number of smaller non-flying kites. These were available for sale as ornaments.

A word about the names.. 'Wau', pronounced 'Wow', is an Arabic letter that looks something like the kite's shape. Also, the crescent shape of the rear sail led to the name 'Moon kite' in English. Oh, one more thing - 'Wow!' does pop into the heads of English-speaking people when they see one of these impressive kites for the first time. It did for me!

After a bit of research, it's clear that the kites we saw were indeed the famous Wau Bulan. I can't remember hearing any hummers though. Perhaps it would have been drowned out by the Kite Festival sound system anyway!

Apparently, most provinces in Malaysia have a variation on the Wau. For example, the Wau Kuching or Cat Kite and the Wau Merak or Peacock Kite. The Bulan version is the most popular however.

I was surprised at the efficiency of the Wau Bulan, since it managed to hold higher line angles than most other festival kites in the sky! That includes large Deltas which are known for their high flying angle.

We saw the Wau get upset by a patch of rough air, which caused it to gently spear into the dunes at one stage. The kite was undamaged, and was soon re-launched.

This Flash Wing Malaysian bird kite from Amazon is nothing like a traditional kite in terms of construction techniques or materials. But it tries to re-create the look of some Malaysian designs and probably appeals to people looking for something different!

The Wau Bulan - Some Details

As for most traditional kites around the world, the framework is made from split bamboo. Intricate floral patterns, which you can see in our photos, are cut from colored paper and pasted onto the tissue sails. Some makers prefer glossy reflective light paper for the sails instead of plainer-looking tissue.

As a final touch, paper tassels dangle from the wing tips. One of our photos show a tassle hanging from the nose as well. On some designs, these tassels can be quite bulky.

The entire process, from selection of materials through to final decoration takes quite some skill and patience, not surprisingly!

Size-wise, the kites are quite large, with the usual wing-span being 2.5 meters (9 feet). In some examples, the nose-to-tail measurement is around 3.5 meters (12 feet). The ones we saw were a little shorter than this. While not flying, both the Wau kites were stuck side-by-side and upright in a convenient sand-dune.

The Wau we saw flying had just a simple single-point bridle, as can be seen in the photos. No prizes for guessing which country has that flag, by the way!

I'd hate to have to make one of these in a hurry ;-)

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The kite master advertising his country of origin

Wau Kites

Ornate And Intricate Creations

We once saw a Wau kite at a local kite festival, and it was amazing to see the decoration close-up. Not to mention the impressive flying characteristics of this kite, and another similar example which was also brought along.

This page is a quick look at the five main types of Wau kites from Malaysia. More info than pictures actually, but there's a link further down which takes you to a ton of great images!

Some Background

Apparently the decoration on early kites was influenced by Malay wood carvings. In fact, the kites themselves are said to have been developed by wood carvers who also came up with the method of decoration. In a somewhat unique process, designs are traced onto paper or tissue before being carefully cut out. The piece with the hole in it is then pasted onto the kite! After many such pieces of different colors are applied, intricate patterns emerge. Shiny foil paper is commonly used, to get the vibrant and complex effect.

The photo down there on the right, with the flag trailing, is of the kite we saw at the Adelaide Kite Festival.

Trailing a Malaysian flag

In the center of most of these kites is a large flowery symbol, called the Ibu or Mother of all Life. If it's not there, the kite isn't considered 'traditional'. Also, 'traditional' designs feature a vine coming out of a vase or flower pot at the base of the kite. Leaves and flowers must be included.

One type of Wau which has its origins in neighboring Indonesia is painted rather than stuck with tissue and foil. More on that one further down...

See that long horizontal stick near the nose of the kite up there? That is a bow from which is strung a tape or line which vibrates in the wind. A hummer. Originally, these kites were flown with very long hummers. Farmers were in the habit of putting up a kite or 2 to fly all night while they stayed in a shack amongst their rice paddies. Sometimes for days at a time, so they had plenty of time for kite-making!

Besides helping the farmer to doze off at night, the sound of the hummer was believed to frighten away evil spirits. Some even used the patterns of sound to forecast the following day's weather!

This Flash Wing Malaysian bird kite from Amazon is nothing like a traditional kite in terms of construction techniques or materials. But it tries to re-create the look of some Malaysian designs and probably appeals to people looking for something different!

The 5 Types Of Wau

Wau Bulan

Also known as the Moon Kite since the crescent-shaped lower sail looks a little like a moon in the sky. It comes from the state of Kelantan. It also has the status of being one of Malaysia's national symbols. As such, it featured on the reverse side of the Malaysian fifty-cent coin in 1989.

This type has curved leading and trailing edges, coming to a pointed tip on each side. On some examples, there are blank spaces on either side which are called the 'eyes'. According to folklore, these help guide the kite in flight!

The Wau Bulan is bigger than other traditional Malaysian kites. Typical examples are 2.5 meters (8 feet) wide and 3.5 meters (11 feet) tall. The two we saw were certainly around this size.

Wau Jala Budi

Also known as the Woman Kite, although considerable imagination is required to see why, from it's shape!

The tail of this kite is similar to the budi leaf which is found in Kedah. 'Jala' means 'net' and refers to the tail structure.

Wau Kuching

This means Cat Kite. When viewed from the back, there is apparently a similarity to a sitting cat and hence the name.

In keeping with this, some of these have their hummers tuned to screech and yowl like a cat in the dead of night! One of these days I need to add sound files to this website, so I can illustrate stuff like this...

Wau Barat

Or, the Leaf Kite. This design is similar to the Bulan version, but is wider and does not generally have a hummer. Being painted rather than stuck with colored paper, the artists tend to be more creative and less bound to traditional guidelines with their designs. Additionally, artists who use Batik techniques are often used to do the decoration.

Interestingly, there must be some weight savings here, since these kites are able to stay up in lighter winds than the other designs. I guess the weight of all those layers of glue or paste add up! Since the winds are often lightest early in the day, this design is also called the Early Morning Kite or just Morning Kite.

Wau Merak

The Peacock Kite has a tail rather than a lower sail. Seeing a picture of one of these reminded me of the tail of a wedge-tailed eagle. This kite is local to the Johor province of Malaysia. Funnily enough, it's not readily accepted into official competitions outside Johor. That's because its origins actually go back to Sulawesi, Indonesia, where it is flown mainly by the Bugis people.

This variation has a hummer like most of the others, but it's something special! Seven different sounds can be made, and it used to be flown at night to accentuate the effect of beautiful noises from above. Does it use multiple strings, tuned to different pitches? I don't know...

Now, I know you are hanging out to see some pictures of these incredibly visual kites, so here is a link that I think you will enjoy!

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