Sunday, 28 December 2008

Ibrahaim The Kite King

Ibrahaim was the kite king of Orchard Road some fifty years ago. He owned a small salibat stall; a more primitive version of Kopitiam stalls found around Singapore today.

He was well known to the children of Kramat Lane for his prowess with kites, even though he was then in his early thirties and they were in the main, under ten. Kramat Lane as it was then, with its open canal-sized drains, no longer exists. These deadly ditches have long since been covered over and hotels have taken the place of factories and shop houses.

Kite flying was and remains very popular in Singapore and in a weekend evening of Marine Parade you can often see kite contests underway. And I do mean 'contests' as kite flying here has a competitive edge to it.

References to
Malay kite flying were recorded early in the 16th century with the very earliest using a skin of leaves, reminiscent of the early Maori kite's use of plant materials. 'A study in Polynesian Tradition' 1931, by Nora K. Chadwick suggests that kites were long used in the Malay archipelago to catch fish. There are other references to kites being used by fishermen in the Malay-Polynesian archipelago, a system used to this day.

The aim of kite fighting is to severe the string one's opponent through the use of a carefully prepared
abrasive string.

In the '50's children used to carefully save blown filament light bulbs, They would surreptitiously 'borrow' their mothers pestal and mortar and grind the glass bulbs into an abrasive dust. The metal filament itself was removed from the mix.

A block of the red builders glue made from cow skins would be heated up in old and cleaned tin cans and the powdered glass would be added.

One of the most important attributes was to secure an extremely long and unbroken reel of cotton as any knots and joins in the reel were a potential weakness.

The cotton was pulled through the glue and glass mixture and then strung between trees or poles to dry. There were often many cut hands during this preparatory process but the end result was a strong cutting string to which the kite was attached.

Kite fighting and
tactics to defeat an opponent remain a serious business as the number of Singaporean blog and web sites testify. There is even an active association to promote the sport.

Clearly and unlike in the West, the expression "Go Fly A Kite' has a more positive meaning.

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