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Kites and Jesus? Researcher Harvey doesn’t believe the hype

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Eugene O’Connor making kites in 2018 (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

As Bermuda folklore tells it, flying kites on Good Friday became popular here after a minister flew one to illustrate how Jesus rose from the dead.

Eugene Harvey doesn’t believe it. The 63-year-old has spent years making, flying and researching the history of kites.

“I have gone back as far as I can in the digitised Royal Gazette newspapers. I can’t find any reference to ministers involved in kite flying,” he said.

Twenty years ago he began looking specifically for references to the Bermuda tradition. Although he found plenty of stories about kite competitions in newspaper articles from the 1950s to the 1970s, information about the origin of kite flying was scarce.

“This was the peak of kite flying in Bermuda,” said Mr Harvey, who works as drafter in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Kite enthusiast Eugene Harvey (Photograph supplied)

His plan is to write a book using information gleaned from his travels to kite festivals around the world and speaking to other kite enthusiasts.

One of the things he learnt is that kite flying at this time of year is also common in the Caribbean although done on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday.

“I have been to six different islands in the Caribbean and they all flew kites at Easter,” he said.

On a visit with a friend in the Bahamas he was surprised when his host showed him a bunch of kites he was working on.

“I was blown away,” Mr Harvey said. “They were just like what we make in Bermuda.”

Information on the origin of the tradition seems to be just as lacking in the Caribbean. But in Guyana, one theory is that Chinese immigrants brought it to the islands between the 1860s and 1870s.

“There are a lot of people who descend from the Caribbean in Bermuda,” Mr Harvey said. “Maybe they brought the tradition here. Or maybe we took it down there. That is yet to be determined.”

His first kite never got off the ground.

It was one his uncle had made using sticks from old floorboards.

“The sticks were too heavy,” said Mr Harvey who learnt how to do it himself around the age of 11 while a student at Ord Road School in Paget.

He had to put several writing projects – including a dictionary of Bermuda slang – on hold last year we he suffered a stroke. He hopes to start his book on Bermuda kite history, shortly.

His research has identified some interesting kite-making characters in Bermuda’s history.

Vincent Tuzo (File photograph)

One of them is Vincent Tuzo, known as the “Kite King”. In 1972 he broke a Guinness World Record for the longest continuous kite flying with a time of 49 hours and 40 minutes. The next year he broke his own record by flying a kite for 61 hours and 21 minutes.

Mr Tuzo began making kites at the age of five and started winning competitions in his teens. In 1996 he received the Queen’s Badge of Honour and in 2008, the Bermuda Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Another local kite expert is Eugene O’Connor, who published an instructional guide, The Art of Kite Making, in 2018 and sold hundreds of kites he’d made with his brother Calvin and other family members in the 1960s.

Eugene O’Connor with kites he had for sale in the 1960s (File photograph)

Mr Harvey also learnt about Janie Louise Mitchell who made kites for children in her Elliott Street, Hamilton neighbourhood in the 1940s.

Janie Louise Mitchell working on kites in the 1940s (File photograph)

Her grandson, Howard Mitchell, told The Royal Gazette how “she made everything herself”.

“She even made her own glue. She would sell them, but never made any money out of it. She just took it up naturally from when she was younger. She saw other people doing it and so forth. I guess it kept her busy. And she made children happy.”

He said tearful children would often come to the door reporting they had lost their kite and his grandmother “would give them another”.

Bedridden Winston Curtis in the 1950s with his winning kites (File photograph)

Taxi driver Winston Curtis started making kites in 1952 while bedridden because of illness even though he was too weak to fly them.

After he won a kite design competition he told a reporter with The Royal Gazette: “Laying here, everything comes in your mind.”

His son Varnel Curtis recalls his father as being extremely creative.

“He was first class,” the 74-year-old said. “He made sure everything was neat and clean and the paper was tight.”

Vincent Tuzo showing off his combined kite in the 1950s (File photograph)

He remembered how his father made a hummer kite with four pockets one year and put parachutes in them.

The wind would push the little parachutes out of the pockets when the kite came down out of the air.

“It was very neat,” Mr Curtis said. “Once they came out you had to go look for them and put the kite up again. He just loved making kites.”

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Published April 14, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated April 16, 2022 at 7:41 am)

Kites and Jesus? Researcher Harvey doesn’t believe the hype

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