Sunday, March 9, 2014

San Vicente IS Series: Master Kite Maker - Bansiong Repulleza

Bird Kite - La Golondrina. 
A Tribute to the late Manong Bansiong Repulleza, a native of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. 

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday
Kites always fascinate me, thanks to Manong Bansiong, nephew of Basang my auntie-yaya. He made the most beautiful and the biggest kite in town. Remote and small a town San Vicente is, we had the reputation in the neighboring towns for our best kites, best pieces of furniture and wooden saints.

Manong Bansiong made different kites: sinang gola, agila, kayyang, golondrina – in the likes of bull, bird with outstretched wings, maiden in colorful, flowing dress, and many other designs. His kites were known for their strength, stability, beauty, and agility. In competitions he always brought home the bacon, so to speak.

“Can you make me a La Golondrina?” I found myself asking Manong Bansiong one afternoon.

Detail of mural by the author

La Golondrina or the swallow has slender streamlined body, and long pointed wings, which allow great maneuverability and endurance, as well as easy gliding. Her body shape allows efficient flight. Her wings have nine primary feathers each, while the tail has twelve feathers and may be deeply forked, somewhat indented. A long tail increases maneuverability, and serves as adornment. 

As a child, I love to watch swallows in flight. And there is something special about them because I discovered their nesting ground in Caniao, the source of our faucet water. Caniao is a spring at the edge of Cordillera facing the South China Sea, some 20 kilometers away. The swallows roost on a very big tree and one particular bird came close and posed to us picnickers. She seemed unafraid and even sang a beautiful melody. I stalked to have a good look at her, but on sensing my closeness, she took off and soared like a kite in the wind.

Actually La Golondrina is a difficult design of a kite to make. But Manang Basiong was a real expert. He won’t back out at any kind of kite especially if it is for a contest. He always wanted his kites to win.

“When will be the contest?” He asked in our dialect.

With that statement and a kindly smile I knew Manong Bansiong would make my La Golondrina. “Yehay!” I could not help keep it a secret and soon everyone knew it and anticipated the big event.

The day of the contest came. There were many kites from our town and nearby towns. Vigan, the capital of the province had the most entries and the biggest kites at that. There were designs of airplanes, eagles and dragons, huge and colorful, and dominated the sky. But my confidence did not sag.

Then our turn came. La Golondrina appeared unique. She was not really very big. All eyes were on her. I asked my brother Eugene to help me carry her across the field while Manong Bansiong held the string at the other end.

“Farther … some more,” he signaled. “Stop.” He paused and whistled a few notes. It is a technique in kite flying. Release the kite at the moment a strong breeze comes. We waited for the precious wind.

Then it came. It was a gust of wind that came all the way from the North. It is called Siberian High, the wind that brings in the chills in October lasting throughout the Christmas Season. It is the wind of Amihan, the season we harvest our rice crop, when the grains turn to gold in the sun. It is the season farmers build haystacks (mandala) that look like giant mushrooms dotting the landscape. But to us kids, amihan is the season of kite flying. It is a season of games and laughter in the field.

“Steady now,” Manong Bansiong shouted, and Eugene and I raised La Golondrina and waited for the signal. “Now!”

She took off strong and soared above our heads, above the nearby trees, above the church steeple. Our town mates and my classmates rallied. They followed her ascent, and clapped, coaching to the top of their voices. “Up, up. Go up some more! More! More!” She mingled with the other kites, bowing here and there, sometimes flying close to the dragon or eagle, and to the airplane kites in some kind of greeting.

Manong Bansiong let the string glide on his hand, making a crispy whistling sound as our kite continued to rise. Now it was higher than any other kite. It appeared as if it were the smallest of them all, and one won’t recognize her if he did not see her first on the ground. Beyond lay the blue Cordillera the home of this beautiful bird. I could see Caniao in the back of my mind. She hovered steadily like a duchess in the sky. I wondered at how she looked at us down below. I just imagined we were also just specks on the ground, and if my T-shirt were not red, she would not be able to distinguish me from the spectators.

Then the unexpected happened. The string snapped! La Golondrina was adrift. She was flying free, and she was not coming down. Instead, she went farther up, riding on the wind current. Everyone was silent. All eyes were focused on the ill-fated kite. Soon it was but a dot in the sky. No one could tell what was going to happen.

Manong Bansiong rolled the remaining string back into its cage. “She didn’t get much string.” He muttered. My first impulse was to run to where she would most likely land. “No,” he said, catching me on the shoulder. Many had joined the chase.

I remained dumbfounded, agape at the wide, wide sky. Time stood still. There was a deafening silence. Nothing seemed to move. Not even the kites.

La Golondrina was swallowed up by a dark cloud and the cloud was heading for the mountains, as it often does, momentarily becoming part of its top like a veil or a blanket. During Amihan the cloud is thin and high because the wind is cool and dry. It is time for birds in the North to go down South, and return in the dry season. But for birds of La Golondrina’s kind, it is time to go home to nest and rear their young.

With that thought, I said, “She’s going home.” Manong Bansiong nodded in submission to the fate of his masterpiece. Eugene had just come back panting, brushing away weeds and dusts. He had given up the chase together with our town mates. Everyone talked about how they crossed the fields, climbed over fences, forge streams and even climbed trees to get better view of the route of the lost kite.

But no one knew where La Golondrina had landed.

We soon forgot all about the contest as we sadly prepared to go home. The plaza was empty now. It was already dark.

That night I dreamt I found La Golondrina in Caniao, hanging on a branch where I once saw her as a bird. How different she was from the once beautiful La Golondrina. But at least she had reached home at last.
Nesting swallow on a tree trunk 

Manong Bansiong did not make kites anymore since then. But because of him I became a kite maker, too.

But time has changed. Kite flying has become an endangered art. Kids are more interested with other playthings. They have remote controlled toys and other electronic gadgets. They would rather stay indoors in front of the TV and the Computer. And they seem to be more serious in their studies than we were then. They seldom go out to the fields. Rivers and forests are full of danger. No, their parents won’t allow them to go to these places. Many of them have moved to the city, and flying kites in open spaces is very dangerous.
It consoles me to see a kite flying around, whether it is made of simple T-frame or plastic. Or one made in China. How different kites are today from the kites we had before.

When I reached the age Manong Bansiong was as kite maker, I also found joy in making kites for children. I am not as good as my mentor though. When Leo Carlo, my youngest son, took part in kite flying at the University of Santo Tomas, I helped him re-create La Golondrina. It was turning back the hands of time. He carried our kite across the football field with Marlo, his brother, and I, at the other end, held the string. We waited for the old friendly wind.

Leo Carlo and team display winning bird kite, UST.

Then it came, it came all the way from the North, and La Golondrina rode on it, flew above our heads, above the trees, above the grandstand and the chapel and the tall buildings, and up into the blue sky.

La Golondrina is the grandest kite of all. ~

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