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News > Culture

Guatemala Celebrates Day of the Dead with Mayan Kite Festival

  • Measuring up to 36 meters, the giant kites fill the sky with a vibrant array of colors.

    Measuring up to 36 meters, the giant kites fill the sky with a vibrant array of colors. | Photo: Facebook: Barriletes Gigantes de Santiago Sacatepequez Guatemala

Published 2 November 2017

During the Giant Kite festival, Guatemalans of all ages assemble their colorful kites from fabric or paper and fasten them to a bamboo frame.

Guatemala approaches Day of the Dead with a unique celebration, honoring its dead with a traditional kite-flying ceremony.

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As the morning of Nov. 2 dawns, Guatemalan families travel to the cemeteries in Santiago and Sumpango, in the Sacatepequez region, arms filled with orange flowers, the flowers of the dead, before turning their attention to the sky.

Measuring up to 36 meters, the giant kites fill the sky in a vibrant array of colors, serving as a mediator for the spirits of deceased friends and family who, according to legend, are plagued by evil spirits that descend on the cemeteries every Nov. 1.

Preparation for the 118th Giant Kite festival, a tradition carried down from Mayan culture, begins around two weeks prior, with Guatemalans of all ages assembling their unique designs from fabric or paper and fastened to a bamboo frame.

However, the intricate designs of many of the kites require a year of planning, so often the close of one festival only inspires its artists with dreams for next year's masterpiece.

Some kite designers take the opportunity to incorporate themes based on current social movements, calling for an end to violence or corruption.

"No more deaths of innocent lives in Guatemala," "Children of the ancestral culture," "Respect life is weaving peace," and "We all deserve the same respect," are a few of the messages taking flight at this year's festival.

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Elsewhere in Latin America, a Colombian artist introduced a new way to honor the dead. Oscar de Julian, has been busy this year, with more than 500 commissions to create his one of a kind sculpture which he forms using the cremated remains of loved ones.

"I am proud to say that I am the first in the history of the world that works with the cremated ashes of the deceased,” De Julian told El Pais.

The Colombian sculptor first began his unique art pieces 28 years ago following the death of his son, stumbling on the idea when studying the use of cow bones to whiten porcelain pastes. He explained that the process is a similar one, but refrained from revealing the full extent of his work.

"Once a girl who wanted to be a dancer died in an accident. And I created Laurita a little girl in full dance to fulfill her dream,” the artist said, adding that when his time comes, he has asked his wife to use his ashes to create a sculpture of a lion and a bullfighter.

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