Before our world was flooded with audiovisual entertainment, the Kleng Ek (traditional musical kite) was a very popular form of traditional recreation among Cambodians, especially during the French colonial period. However, this kite has faded from our memory in this digital age, as people turn to technology to easily access pop culture from all over the world.
Living about 30 kilometers from Kampong Thom town, Nop Nen, 70, said he was taught to fly the Kleng Ek when he was 11 years old. He recalled that at that time there was one kite maker in each village, whereas now he is the only one in all of Kampong Thom province.
“With recorded music, our villagers would always gather in the rice field and fly kites every night. We could chat about life after working hard all day, while listening to the sound of the kite. We always competed between villages to see whose kite could produce the best sound,” Mr Nen said.
“There are seven notes made by the kite, and people enjoy them. But before I can get the kite to make all these sounds, I have to test it by flying it many times. If it doesn’t improve, I have to thin the ‘tongue’ until I’m satisfied with it,” he said.
He added that before flying the kite, he watches the leaves of the coconut trees to see which way the wind is blowing, so he can ensure the kite flies in the right direction and comes up with beautiful sounds. However, to make sure the sound is good the kite must be well made.
“We need only bamboo for the struts, palm leaf for the tail and fabric. Before, fabric was really rare, so we took monks’ robes to make kites. And the highest I have flown them is 1,000 meters. This way the sound carries to all the villages. The higher you fly it the farther the sound travels.”
He added that while people like the sound, they believe it will bring them bad luck if the kite falls on the roof of their house. But he thinks this is just superstition.
“Before flying a kite, my father normally said a prayer that his kite would fly well, and sometimes for rain. But to me, I always pray for good luck for my family,” Mr Nen said.
Mr Nen wants to share his kite-making knowledge with the younger generation. However, no one has expressed interest in learning so far. He said people think it is not important anymore, yet to him it is still special.
Mr Nen twice won first place in a kite flying competition and came fourth on one occasion. Besides making kites, he can also make and play the Chapey Dong Veng. He hopes some people will remain interested and try to keep all these arts alive.