The Giant Kite Festival of Sumpango, Guatemala

At 6 AM, the Minerva bus station in Xela Guatemala is surprisingly alive.

“¿Adónde vas?” an ayudante asks.

“Sumpango por la barri….bali…” I begin to stutter.

“Ah, La Feria de Barriletas Gigantes” he responds.

“Si.”

It’s a 3-hour ride from Xela to Sumpango, the town where the festival takes place. Total cost: 30 Quetzales (~$4 USD)

All Saints Day

All Saints Day is a time for releasing the Souls of the Dead.

To do so, local families gather at Sumpango’s cemetery to beautify the tombstones of beloved relatives with bright flowers and sweet incense.

SumpangoCemetaryTourists and locals weave in and out of the cobblestone roads that surround the graves as vendors sell ice cream and candy. In this mesh of activity, many are paying solemn respect to departed elders.

SumpangoCemetaryPeopleAs the rituals of remembrance cease, thousands upon thousands walk up a steep hill to an open plateau in the mountains where the kites will be set up and flown.

Setting Up Kite

Festival of Giant Kites

SumpangoKites7The Festival of Giant Kites takes place on November 1st, aka All Saint’s Day. It has been on or around this date for hundreds of years.

According to Atlas Obscura the kites, which traditionally take 40 days to build, are made of bamboo, lemon peels, yucca flower, and the maguey plant. This has been updated with the times and now, very often, conveniences like Elmer’s glue and tissue paper are used.

The skeletal backbones are tied into polygons that can stretch up to 20 meters in diameter, displaying elaborate designs that burst with vibrant colors and strong messages.

Sumpango KitesThe kites, meticulously crafted over the preceding months, dance through the sky for a few brief moments before crashing down to earth — sometimes hitting unaware guests and causing stretchers to be rushed through the crowd.

Flying KiteThe kites are brittle, like the bones of the dead. There is something deeply appealing about it, something that reminds one of Navajo paintings and Tibetan sand-art, creations that are wiped away moments after completion.

Life is impermanent I guess.

But like the bamboo skeletons that support these colorful creations, something last. Some structure stays together even after the tissue paper fades. Maybe that’s what today is about. Today we remember that part of the dead which, paradoxically, stays alive.

Flying Kite Sumpango