Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Camp Asan is a popular place for kite flying due to the absence of trees and poles

The early months of the year bring to our islands strong trade winds. Not only do they make life more comfortable with the soothing breezes and less sticky humidity, the trade winds also make for great kite flying.


We're not totally certain where and when kites were invented.

Some think it was in China. At least that's where the oldest written records of kite making are found. China also had great materials ideal for kite flying. Light-weight paper and silk fabric, and bamboo for the frame.

But it's also possible that kites originated in island Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia). There is an old kite-flying tradition in Polynesia as well. How all of these traditions are connected (or not) is not certain.

And so we have to allow for the possibility that our ancestors flew kites. They aren't mentioned in the early European descriptions of our ancestors' life and activities, but that doesn't mean they weren't around. It just means that our ancestors' kites weren't included in these descriptions, if they existed at all.


Chamorro has two words for "kite," and maybe they describe two different kinds of kites.

PAPALOTE is borrowed from the Mexican variety of Spanish. In Spain itself, the usual words for kite are cometa (comet), or cometa de papel (paper comet), and cachirulo. But in Mexico, the usual word is papalote. In some regions of Mexico, they may have another word for kite, too.

Our use of a Mexican term suggests again the great Mexican influence on Chamorro language and culture, due to the Mexican lay missionaries and soldiers brought to the Marianas in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and which is seen in other vocabulary and in our food (corn, achote, tortillas).

Papalote comes from the Nahuatl word papalotl, which means "butterfly." Nahuatl was the language spoken by a large group of indigenous, Native Americans who lived in Mexico (and other countries). Other Native American peoples, with other languages, also lived in Mexico before the Spanish arrival. Many of these languages are still spoken, including Nahuatl.

When Chamorros do DNA tests and Native American shows up in their genes, this is why!

It could be that, if kite flying was not done in our islands before European contact, then it was brought over from Mexico, and so the Mexican word was adopted. All one needed to make a kite could be found in our islands. Paper might be harder to come by, but kites can be made using wide leaves, such as lemmai (breadfruit). String was made from different fibers. Sticky rice acts as a glue. We have no lack of sticks.


The second word in Chamorro is måru.

It's a wonderful mystery where that word comes from. Isn't it nice that we cannot answer all questions? Life's more interesting that way. I cannot seem to find a connection between that word and Spanish, a Filipino language, Japanese and so on.

Påle' Román, the Spanish Capuchin missionary who mastered the Chamorro language, says that papalote maro means a kite without a tail.

Others say måru means a box kite.

I think, over time, måru came to mean any kite at all, at least with some people.

No tail? Papalote maro.

Furthermore, Påle' Román says that maro or marro refers to the ancient clothing of the pre-Spanish Chamorro people. That's all he says about the word. What he says begs more questions than answers them. The word may refer to ancient Chamorro clothing, but is it a Chamorro word or a borrowed word? He doesn't say. What clothing? As far as we know, our ancestors wore very little. They wore some things; hats, little aprons, grass skirts, battle vests, lots of jewelry and other things. But in this tropical heat and humidity, it isn't surprising that they didn't cover their entire bodies. So what exactly were these "ancient clothing" called maro?

Does the kite called måro and the ancient clothing called maro have any connection? Who knows?


If the kite has a tail, Påle' Román says the Chamorros call that papalote korason. "Heart kite." Why? He doesn't say.


In the 1960s, I remember we'd get copies of the Guam Daily News, light weight sticks, scotch tape, glue or even sticky rice, and string, and make our own kites to fly. They didn't cost any money. We used what was lying around the house.


The Guam Museum is taking advantage of the season's breezy winds to conduct a kite-making activity for their Ha'ånen Familia series. You can see the information in this poster.

1 comment:

  1. My Dad told me about making kites when he was a kid on Guam in the 1930s and 1940s. It wasn't like the typical rhumbus shape but more like a cross and they used to put a small stone or rock at the top to make it more maneuverable. He said they would have 'dogfights' with it too and try to clip each others kite tail.