It is not certain as to where the first kites came from, but it is said that they were first known to the people of the South Sea Islands. They used to use it to fish, attaching bait to the tail of the kite and a web to catch the fish. Even today, some natives of the Soloman Islands in the Pacific Ocean use kites as s fishing aid.
In the Polynesian Islands, kites were associated with gods. A kite represented the god Tane, as well as the god Rongo who was the patron saint of the arts, kites, and kite flying. Then once again, the knowledge spread.
The Maori are a people who lived in what is now known as New Zealand. Their word for bird is ‘manu’ and it is the shape of a bird that they made their kites. It was believed that birds could carry messages between humans and gods. Sometimes, the kites represented the gods themselves. The Maori god Rehua is depicted as a bird, and was thought to be the ancestor of all kites. As kite flying was considered a sacred ritual, it was often accompanied by a type of chant called the turu manu. Here is a translation of a turu manu.
My bird, by power of charm ascending,
In the glance of an eye, like the sparrow hawk,
By this charm shall my bird arise,
My bird bestride the heavens.
Beyond the swirling waters,
Like the stars Atutahi and Rehua,
and there spread out thy wings,
To the very clouds. Truly so.
The Maori also used kites for divination and for funerary purposes.
China is another widely accepted place as the birth-place of kites. One story is of a Chinese general, Huan Theng who, in the year 202 BCE, got the idea for a particular military strategy watching the way his hat flew from his head. Placing thin pieces of bamboo that hummed and shrieked in the wind, the General flew a large number of them over an enemy encampment one night, causing them to believe that they were plagued by evil spirits out to destroy them, and so, the army ran away. Both the Chinese and the Japanese learned to use kites for raising soldiers into the air as spies of snipers. Some old Japanese and Chinese prints show warriors flying over their enemies’ territory.
There is also a story from Japan about a famous robber named Kakinoki Kinsuke, who was supposed to have used a person-lifting kite to raise himself up to the roof of a castle where the were statues of dolphins made of gold. He was able to steal some of the scales from the dolphins and hid them. He did not escape the authorities, though, and came to a rather fatal end by execution.
As time went on, kites were incorporated into local customs in Asia. In Korea, it is a tradition to write the names and birth dates of male children on the kites and then to fly them. The line is then cut to ensure a good year by taking all the bad spirits with it.
In Thailand, each monarch had his or her own kite which was flown continuously during the winter months by imperial monks and priests. They were also flown during the monsoon season by the people of Thailand to send their prayers to the gods. In Japan, windsocks are used in the shape of a carp, a symbol of strength of will and fortitude. These windsocks are flown on May 5th, Children’s Day, as an inspiration to the children.