The Ranald MacDonald Japanese Rokkaku style kite made its’s aerial maiden voyage October 7 and 8, 2017 at Long Beach, Washington State during the One Sky One World International Kite Fly for Peace (held annually, around the globe on the second Sunday of October). See DroneCam Video on Youtube.
Japanese kites in Rokkaku (六角) style are six-sided and were made using traditional methods with bamboo spars and handmade (washi) paper. They were often painted with the colorful faces of historical Samurai heroes or mythological characters. Our historical hero Ranald MacDonald was born in Astoria, Oregon in 1824, the son of Hudson’s Bay Fur Trader Archibald McDonald and a Native American woman named Koale’xoa also known as Princess Raven, the daughter of Chinook Chief Comcomly.
Ranald was educated in Hudson’s Bay Company schools and at a young age left his bank clerk job to go to sea on a whaling ship where he made arrangements with the captain for a daring plan to enter isolationist Japan as an intentional castaway in 1848. He was captured by Samurai at Rishiri Island off the northwest coast of Hokkaido and sent to Nagasaki where his abilities were recognized and he became the first native English speaking teacher of English in Japan. After MacDonald left Japan in 1849 his students (who had studied Dutch and were employed as interpreters) became known for their successful English interpreting during Commodore Perry’s Mission to Japan in 1853-54. That diplomatic mission resulted in the Treaty of Kanagawa that opened Japan to the west.
MacDonald’s life of adventure continued in other parts of the world until his death in north central Washington State in 1894. His autobiography was posthumously published by the Eastern Washington State Historical Society in 1923, edited by William S. Lewis and Naojiro Murakami, with the lengthy title, Ranald MacDonald: The Narrative of his early life on the Columbia under the Hudson’s Bay Company’s regime; of his experiences in the Pacific Whale Fishery; and of his great Adventure to Japan; with a sketch of his later life on the Western Frontier, 1824-1894. A reprint by the Oregon Historical Society in 1993 was published with the support of Friends of MacDonald and Epson Portland Inc. As we now approach 125 years after the death of Ranald MacDonald in 1894 there are books in Japanese and English about his life including Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan by Frederik Schodt and Ranald MacDonald:Pacific Rim Adventurer by JoAnn Roe and a children’s book, Unsung Hero Ranald MacDonald Story by Atsumi Tsukimori and illustrated by Mariko King.
The organization Friends of MacDonald founded in Astoria, Oregon in 1988 looks forward to its 30th Anniversary in 2018, a time when the Ranald MacDonald Rokkaku Kite will be flown in memory of Astoria’s adventurer and to celebrate the 30 years of Friends of MacDonald.
The portrait kite is based on a design created for the program held in 1974 by the Astoria Library in celebration of the 150th birthday of Ranald MacDonald organized by then Library Director Bruce Berney. The portrait of Ranald MacDonald shown on the 1974 program is also posted online in The Oregon Encyclopedia
Former Friends of MacDonald Chairman Jim Mockford selected the design and commissioned the Ranald MacDonald Japanese Sankaku style kite to be built by Kite Maker Ron Bohart who completed the kite in September 2017.
Mockford announced the Ranald MacDonald Rokkaku Kite in conjunction with the Astoria Library’s 50th Anniversary on October 8, 2017 and to prepare for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Friends of MacDonald in 2018. The kite made an appearance at the Astoria Library’s anniversary celebration at which Bruce Berney was honored for his service of 30 years as the library director and the library kicked off its New Library Capital Campaign as well as recognized its history in the collection of Astoriana history including books and materials related to Ranald MacDonald that in 2017 were named the Bruce Berney Archives.
More stories about Friends of MacDonald will appear on this blog in the future including a bit about the founding members such as Mas Tomita, Bruce Berney and others but until then and always check out the Friends of MacDonald web site for news, newsletters, and interesting stories.
Jim met Ron Bohart at the 2017 Weifang International Kite Festival in China where a number of portrait kites were flown by delegates from different countries. Jim was inspired by the portrait kites as a method to promote the Ranald MacDonald story at kite festivals and historical and educational events.