Day of the Dead and Kite Festival in Guatemala
01 November 2017 | what a wonderful Guatemalan fiesta to experience
this is why we travel - to experience unique events like this
IMAGE – collage kites
The Day of the Dead is a celebration that takes place on 1st November each year when Guatemalans remember their dead loved ones. They believe that the souls of all people that have passed away return to earth on this day to be with their families.
The Kite Festival, held in the village of Sumpango about 1 hours drive from Antiqua is also an annual event part of the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.
The Sumpango Kite Festival is much more than just a few people flying kites in a field. It is a very important date in the diary for tens of thousands of Guatemalans. Many friends who have visited Guatemala encouraged us to attend – and WOW we got a chance to experience this truly amazing event first hand.
The day commences with a traditional Mass service, and from there the families make visit to the village cemetery. Some merely lay flowers on the mausoleums and say a prayer for the souls of their dearly departed. Some however, take it to another level. They arrive dressed in their best clothes, with a picnic, and spend the whole day and night 'visiting' their deceased loved ones. Tradition says that a plate of food must also be served to the one who you are visiting. As night approaches, it turns into a big party, where the living celebrate with the dead. Whilst this tradition may seem weird to some other cultures, the idea behind it is actually quite uplifting.
On arrival in Sumpango, we headed straight for the church, it was full to overflowing. Mass was just finishing – wo we followed the families towards the nearby cemetery. As we passed through the cemetery, the care and attention that was being paid to tending to the graves was heart warming. Children were flying kites off the mausoleums whilst others were covering mounds with long grasses and flowers. There was a lot of pride in what they were doing. It was fascinating to watch, but we didn't stay long as we felt we were intruding.
So, how does the Kite Festival in Sumpango tie into the Day of the Dead celebrations? Legend has it that the festival was born many years ago when the residents of Sumpango sought the help of a Witch Doctor to rid them of annoying and bothersome spirits. A sort of latter day Ghostbuster. The Witch Doctor suggested they get big pieces of paper and let them fly in the wind and make lots of noise to scare off the unwanted spirits. Eventually, somebody figured that kites are a more effective spirit-scaring device, and that's how the tradition was born.
Every year at Sumpango people gather to show off their kites in a large field above the town and the cemetery. What makes it unique is the size of the kites. Some are huge! The Kites or 'Barilletes Gigantes' are constructed with tissue paper, tape and bamboo struts. They range in size from 2 metres to 12 metres in height and are truly amazing. Some of the bamboo struts holding them together are thicker than a human arm!
Many community groups take up to seven months making When it came to flying the kites, it took a group of between 4 and six people to hold on to the line attached to the kite. These people had to run backwards and forwards through the huge crowds, to allow the kites to catch the wind, gain momentum and fly. On more than one occasion, a kite would fly briefly then come plummeting down on the heads of unsuspecting spectators. This would cause much delight to some, and no doubt injuries to others, and all would be met with 'Oohs' and 'Aahs' from the crowd.
The kite flying is taken very seriously, as there is big prize money for those winning the various categories for each size of kite– ie best design, longest flight, highest flight etc.
There was an all ladies team who proved to be a big hit. Their kite was a very pretty blue one, and the ladies flying the kite got lots of applause from the crowd.
We got to see the 2,4 and 6 metre kites fly, but sadly had to leave before the 8 metre ones went up. We understood that they don't fly the really big kites. They are merely judged on their appearance.
There were reportedly 125,000 people at the event this year.
On 1st November each year we will always remember this fantastic Kite Festival.
SOULS OF THE DEPARTED PARADE
Later that evening and back in Antigua, we came across hundreds of men dressed in black suits. In the street outside the hotel we were greeted by large clouds of incense and yet more people dressed in black. It was obvious that they were part of a parade, so we went up to the balcony on the first floor of the hotel to watch the procession unfold.
We later learned that it was the annual Antigua procession commemorating the SOULS OF THE DEPARTED. The local Roman Catholic Church created the float with their normally church bound statue of the lifeless body of Jesus being mourned by the Virgin Mary and Angel Gabriel. Dirge-playing marching bands and robed marchers followed the float through the cobblestone streets of the town.
The parade honours the spirits of the ancestors, those who suffered and died, and those who carry great burdens. So, that explained why there were so many men dressed in black! The float was enormous, with over 100 men carrying it.