March 4, 2009
Five years ago (2008) I believed that fighting fish
would slow down and faded away from the time rush society. But my thought seem
far away from what it is happening. The fighting fish society is growing up,
either domesticated or international arena, even more active than I can think of. The fighting ring packed by the players everyday. The professional
breeders are adding more tanks. In Sunday
market or Jaturjak market in Bangkok coloration both long fin and short fin were
replaced by the fierce fighting fish. Fighting fish is no more Asian
domesticated hobby but widespread to North America and Europe.
86 years old man players told me that in the past or
twenty years ago (2008) fighting fish very active in summer to rainy season and
slow down in winter. The players simply play the game according to its natural
winter is a time for fighting fish take rest, female can not wandering on the
cold water to find the male and in fact male can not build the nest in the
almost dry mud. Fighting fish is in the weakest state. In this situation to be survived is even hardest. However the
captive bred fighter still continue developed along with the usage of human
society. The fighting fish is purposive bred creature, in which it is already
setup the goal in advance by the breeder. The reputable breeder is trying to
achieve the goal, that is to produce the tough fighter to serve a very high
demand market to an entire year. Fighting fish is now twelve month full function active.
For me fighting fish involving to human action as
a game is, truly human/animal close
relationship. There are three forms of human/animal relationships.
First, subject/object relation: Human treat animal
as food this is the primitive relationship developing from hunting to farming.
In this relationship human view animal purely object that human act towards
animal in one way relation.
Second, friendly relationship: this human/animal
relationship is rather dramatic, that human realized an existence of animal
and welcome on co-living with that animal as a friend. Human place animal
full functioning in society, animal as an existing member in the society
such as cat, dog or may involving in economical production such as buffalo and
cow as a farming labor. As a master human breed animal according to theirs’
purpose, that they may improve its physical size or even lame them such as gold
fish. For me this
relationship is only semi-two way relationship. The development of an animal is
only under human context not an animal potential context.
Third, co-working relationship: human/animal
relationship is using animal as entertainment, sport or even working side by
side with human such as racing horse, working dog and here is fighting fish.
This relationship is rather complex and requires human involving very close
co-operation with animal. Human must know what can be done and what should not.
Because they are working together, this relationship can happen only when both
feel appreciate to each other. An objective of development is try to promote and
improve more and more on body and mind of an animal into a highest potential
degree. From the pale grayish red and shy habit in the wild, Betta is
developed to deep
color with display full muscle and ready accompany with human in his every day social life. For
me this relationship is more complicated and closer than the first two
human/animal relation mentioned above. It is a real interactive
relationship that higher than merely a house pet.
The following are the entertainment that Thai man
makes use of animals for fighting, only few of them still on developing,
some disappeared or lame. Not all are developed to the third kind relationship,
Beetle (Xylotrupes Gideon) Northern of Thailand playing in the end of rainy
- Fighting chicken as old as fighting
fish and very popular in every part of the country. We have popular phrases
“fighting chicken, fighting fish”.
- Bull fighting very popular in southern
- Fighting cricket very popular 40 years
ago but remain very few in the very limited group of people, now cricket become
delicious eatable insect from farming product.
On the fish fighting, there were many kinds of
fishes used to fight. I have been witness myself when I was a child:
Halfbeak or Wrestling Halfbeak (Dermogenys pusillus siamensis Fowler,
1934). Forty years ago the fighting of halfbeak fish was popular and
took almost half of the fighting fish game. Last time I have seen the
halfbeak fish as a fighting fish was 10 years ago. Now it is one item of
export ornamental fish. However nowadays, there are very limited group of people
- Climbing perch (Anabas testudineus) I myself
have been fighting this fish a few times and feel no fun. Because the size
was too large when compared to the jar. It was a real cruel deadly fight.
Now climbing peach is fully bred for eatable fish for both consuming in
country and for export.
- BLUE PANCHAX (Aplocheilus panchax) I have
not seen this fish fighting but I have often heard people talk about it when
I was young.
Plakat is a most popular to selected for a game.
It is lively and lovely colorful attraction, very friendly to human when take
away from the tank and keeping
in the bowl only a few hours. Plakat is true carnivore type, easy to feed
only a necessity amount. It can also have live food and artificial feed. We can feed it with small insect such as mosquito, ant,
termite and all kind of worm, shrimp meat, shell meat, pork, beef or Betta
pellet also able to supply. Whereas the other three kinds of fishes live in the
deep tidy water very hard to collect, have dull color, wilder and less adaptive
to human, consume a lot of space and hard to breed.
Fighting fish is more than a social
entertainment game. But it is a part of South East Asia cultural development
in which it can briefly describe in the following:
- Fighting fish is one of basic element
in Thais’ rice grower culture. The
development of fighting wild fighting fish to the complex captive fighting
fish goes along with the development of farmer social development. Even today people
who play the fighting fish are not the rice grower anymore. But the root of
agricultural spirit is still there, keeping fighting fish is an expression
of its symbol.
- Fighting fish is in fact a robe tie
traditional social value to be solid Thais culture, bundle and strengthen Thai’s
basic social institutes together not to flow away to the foreign cultures.
It represents existing of Thais tradition in the midst of Western technology
storm. Those who play fighting fish are social conservative; believe in
spiritual scarce and mystic entities. Fighting fish play a role as
cumulative repeating culture and transfer to the next young generation.
- Fighting fish breeder place is acting as a local
aquarium pet shop in the time of systematic full management
aquarium pet shop not introduced to Thais community. When I was young I simply walk into a small community
and ask people for the fighting fish breeder place and I never disappointed
an answer. I have asked many men an age older than 40 years old most of them
has a few experiences on fighting fish for more or less. In the present time
with the help of transportation, digital technology and commercial interest
fighting fish has expand from the breeder place to every market, in monthly
magazine and international mail order. This means that farmer also has his
influence power to play in an international affair.
- Thais and other Asian countries consider
the physical fighting as an art and physical therapy, fighting is not simply an action of winning,
for example Kung Fu fighting for Chinese and Kick boxing for Thais. When
considered fighting Plakat as an art, the conception of design is come in.
That is why Plakat Thai has difference structure form type as I have
http://www.plakatthai.com/introduction.html in which other
ornamental fish has only one form type and also the fighting style is the
main interested in his breeding project,
http://www.plakatthai.com/kombat.html. The breeding design of the
breeder come to the point of, one fighter can represent an entire batch. The
breeder can achieved a uniqueness of both physical and mental design.
Fighting fish is no more the primitive entertainment game but sophisticated and
complicated that both breeder and fighter involved.
The hardest part on study the historical event is
the lack of primary source either direct or indirect documentation. Most of the
historical documents are devoted to the Aristocratic society and the written history of
farmer society seems to be nonexistence. Man tends to write his own story.
At that time only high class person was educated. Fighting fish is belonging to the lowest class in the same historical society, call farmer that
un-educated, can not read/write. So they can not write their own literature. We
have proverb “landlord play fighting cock, slave play fighting fish”. (There are
many historical script and pictures on fighting cock). The farmer has only his
mouth to convey his intelligence. The only way to study
fighting fish history is to study its environment and other social object that
infer to it existence. The only valuable sources are verbal history that passing
from one man to another man. And most of all valuable evidence sources are the
fighting fish itself which is the witness of absolute invention of farmer, the production of the fighting fish history.
ancient Plakat Thai
Plakat is a symbol of South East Asian rice grower society. The old
Thai lifestyle is the water front living society. The western first came to
Thailand name Bangkok as “East Venice”. The river, cannels are the main traffic
routes can be seen everywhere. Water is so importance to every segment of Thais
An ancient long fin strain
draw by Thai aritist (1931)
Before King Rama V the Great (1853 - 1910)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chulalongkorn,
the Thais social structure is repeated society that is Ayuthaya era
(1350-1767) and the beginning of Rattanakosin era (1782 - 1853) Thais living
style is not difference much. The great impact influence to the great change in
Thai society comes from the political intruding of the Western countries in Rama
V regime. There are two great events
that affected very much to the Thai society, one is abolished slavery (1905),
second, an open country policy. These two great events are supported to one
another, an abolished slavery free people that bind them in one place to spread
over the country. They are the farmer and they play fighting fish. To open the
country to accept modern technology and formal education are boosting the
fighting fish society more acceptable, more complicated and more professional.
However we need to know that fighting fish already popular before King Rama V.
Because the fighting fish that Theodore canto received from the King Rama III is
long fin. That means fighting fish already being a full complex captive fish
long time ago. A long fin fighter not only shows the long period of development
of Plakat Thai. But it also shows how the sophistication on the breeding
invention of Thai farmer, the breeder.
Long fin fighting fish from Tropical fish
book printed in 1954(Tropical fish, Lucile Quarry Mann, Sentinel Books
Publishing, Inc. New York, 1954, p. 38
long fin fighting fish draw by Thai artist (Loung Masayachitrakarn),
and a picture of fighting fish from the western side. The similarity of
these two pictures is, both are the veil tail and has big body trunk but the fins
not so long as we can see the veil tail today. Both pictures can represent how the
long fin look like when it is in the beginning of development.
From the picture and my memory when I was 5 years
old (45 years ago), I am sure that the body size of fighting fish at that time
was bigger but the fin was shorter when compared to the long fin of this day (2008), may be that time the fin is not
The unique form of co-working relationship is
that, animal is moves along with the breeders/players. The process of expansion
is simply following to the social infrastructure. Cannel and boat is the most
convenience route for transportation in which the players moving from one place
to another place. At that time the settlements of people are on the both sides
of the cannel and river.
Old Thais water front life. The
boat cabin was used as a floating house and long distance sail that the breeder
can keep the fighter and also doing his business for several months.
House and people on the Thonburi
My friend in the fighting ring who lives in Thonburi cannel
side told me that
his grand-grand father was a merchandiser seal his boat from Thonburi (now united
with Bangkok) to Nakornsawan and Pichit by Chaophaya river to buy and sell goods
and to play fighting fish as well. He had kept and trained the fighting fish in
the boat and it ready to fight when he reached the destination. The period of
journey takes 3 months living and keeping fighting fish on the house boat. To
keeping and training the fighting fish on boat was one of the main factors of
transformation the wild Betta to be the real tamed captive fighter that the
player can carry his fighter in the small container to fight every where.
railway alongside the road in Bangkok
The challenges for fighting were among the local
group and outsider that visited from time to time. An encounter from outside
challenger was the crucial factor of developing fighter bloodlines. It was happen
the same way when Thai fighter encounters the Malaysian fighter in the year 1987
or may be before. The development of fighting fish is always goes along with
and in the fighting ring.
The changing social structure to modern Thai
society in the reign of King Rama V had the great impact to the fighting fish
society. The construction of road and railway connecting people and fighting
fish from the cannel spread to the mainland.
House on the wet
land lifted from the ground, please observe a pot on the balcony
is same as Uncle's Peng pot showing below
using for training the fighter by uncle Peng
People have more choice on using the mode of living
and traveling. An
available space to breeding and distributing the fighters were expanded. The
breeder that used to kept and bred the fighters on the wet land under the house
which the space was very limited and packed by the neighbors’ house, some year
the water rose high and all the fighters gone to the river; were moved to the
more save and treatment controllable area. The new commercial system introduced
by western capitalism paves the way to breeding the fighter to be more
purposive. The full function in breeding fighter has spread to all over the
country. The boom of modern commercial and exportable fishes made the large
numbers of fighters was able to sell in the volume quantity not only for the
personal and private group used as has been done before.
I think, that time fighting fish can be seen
everywhere on the corner of the street. A group of people sits around an
earthenware jar cheering, shouting playing fighting fish call for the interested
to the foreign visitor. For the western foreigner I think conditioning and
training the fighter to fight was complicated and hard to practice. Or may be
for them using the pet to fight was hard to think of. An impression on the
fighting fish was just a first glance on its colorful beauty. Of course in that
period of time the beauty aquarium fish that able to keep in such a small bowl
was almost impossible but an interactive display colorful of the fighter should
shock them. An amazing of this little beauty creature can go beyond an insult
attitude towards local poor people. It was unavoidable for them to keep the
splendid fighter for their private decorative show fish and sent some to their
native country as a living jewel in the water.
Fighting fish was not domestic fish anymore. As
Dr. Smith said “It does not appear to have been indigenous to any other country,
but it is now to be found around the world because of its attractiveness,
hardiness, and adaptability to small aquariums…which makes the fighting fish one
of the most beautiful of all fresh-water fishes”.
Betting on fish
This picture show the people watching
fighting fish in an earthenware pot in Thai word call
” Mor”. So fighting fish call “Plakat Mor” or fighting fish in earthenware pot.
The two men touch theirs’ hand showing the challenged bets were accepted. One
can notice also from the cloth they were dressing that they belonging to the
peasant society. Most of the peasant class were uneducated they can not read and
write. This is one of the most difficult tasks in writing fighting fish history.
Thai proverb “land lord play fighting cock, slave play fighting fish”
(ขุนนางเล่นไก่ ขี้ข้าเล่นปลา”), gave very clear picture of who play the fighter.
An illustration of Thai community beside
“Chao Praya River
In October 9, 2007 I am very lucky to have a chance
Peng” the 86 years old active man, one of the oldest professional Plakat
breeder/player in Thailand. He is the father of one of the best trainer fighting
fish in Bangkok who acting as a supporter to the hard core player, no doubt, his
father has transfer all knowledge to his son, and the grand father did to his
father. He lives in sub district call “Raj Burana”, one of the oldest Thai
communities beside the “Chao Praya River” Thonburi province. Not only the
Plakat Thai uncle Peng active. He also well known on wrestling halfbeak, one of
the fighting fish game very popular in the past.
An interview has explored me the picture of
ancient Plakat Thai society. He has collected many valuable items of Plakat
Thai equipment such as the more than 100 years old square glass bottle, the
tricky matching glass and many original ancient earthenware jar and also
halfbeak fighting fish equipment. All these equipment are belonging to his
father and he is keeping all of them for memory to his father and his pride.
Interview information can lead back more than 120 years ago. That time his
father was 40 years old and now he is 86 years old.
Uncle Peng a 86 years
Most of the equipments are belonging to his father
age or about 120 years ago (1887), the Theodore canto date, who received the
fighting fish from King Rama III and introduce this splendid fish to the western
world. He said that he follow his father “uncle Sawang”, to the fighting ring
when he was 10 years old that time his father is around 40 years. Now his age is
86(2007), He insist that these equipment age are 200 years which is in the
regime of King Rama I, the founder of Chakri Dynasty (now Rama IV), since his
grand father also play the fighting fish. So the full development of complex
captive fighting fish should at least lead back to Ayuthaya period or over 200
years. Using the glass to match the fighter is showing how sophisticated on
keeping and training the fighting fish at that time. It also shows that fighting
fish at that time is not a short time play for fun but it is very serious
matter. Knowing at that time glass is very expensive only rich people can have.
Using glass keeping the fighting fish must be very special. This traditional
square glass should used on the training session that the breeder want to
provoking his fighter to an extreme aggressive. An invention of using glass
raising the fighter to be more and more aggressive is a key factor that make the
fighting fish more challenge and more popular. The glass becomes essential
equipment of raising and training an aggressive fighter. The clear views of
glass show the fighter behavior in every manner. Player can observe and knowing
his fighter readiness. Using glass on pairing the parents stock is also very
effective on the production of the eggs and the breeder knows the readiness of
the breeding pair.
This traditional square glass
(upper picture) age around 200 years, uncle Peng said that his father bought
from Chinese merchant, this is destroy my hypothesis on the usage of
square glass just 50 -70 years ago. (Thailand can produce glass just recent year
1955). The below traditional jar is the present factory product and still widely
using in keeping and in fighting arenas. One can see that structurally
both do not difference much. The traditional jar is very practically strong in
the fighting fish society and use every fighting rings in country.
I hope by color, shape and mouth of the
bottle an archeologist can specified the definite age and origin of the bottle
hair tonic glass
matching glass deduction lens
age of this “Mor” should be over 120 years.
The oval form is support to use swirling water training technic
carries the square glass jar with the fighter inside to match with other
breeder. To carry the big expensive glass jar like that may uncomfortable. But I
think at that time there is no choice on available variety of the glass jar. The variety
glass come later as many old players told me that in the beginning he carry
the fighter in the traditional square glass jar and he just change to small hair tonic
glass bottle from Japan later when it sold in Thailand. An optional choice
of shifting from big jar to small glass bottle convey very significance meaning on
promoting the game. People can carry more fighters to fight and easy to handle
to the long distance place or ease to transfer from one player to another player.
The color painted around the bottle and keep sight only one side of the glass
give the chance of player to create the trickery glass that make the viewer look
the fish smaller than its actual size. The hair tonic short glass shows only one
side create many problems and annoying very much on matching. Because it compel
the player to see only deduction lens side, in which it shows the fighter much
smaller than its actual size.
So the match glass has shifted again to the
visible all side round the liquor thin glass that matcher can view any side
of the fighter. Still the professional player produce the deduction lens
to match each other. I guess this glass using in around 1972 and faded in the
years 2005, since the problem of deduction lens is not seriously solved.
The fighting fish is no more a simple game. It
show the long passage of human/animal relationship cooperated to win the game.
That the straight forward game is not enough for winning the game and it
required more in human brain to support his fighter. It is a complicated game
required a lot of tricks, systematic training the fighter etc.. It shows the the
long moving from bare simple to many actions involvement.
There are two concepts should be discussed here.
One is an application using glass keeping the fighter boosted the fighting fish
much more popular over other pet. An attractive colorful actively show around
the transparency glass amaze to many people, westerner included, I think this
should encourage the breeder develop the fighter branching to the showing fin form
fish. Secondly, the breeder can make use of earthenware jar and glass jar in the very
fit manner. If earthenware jar means the conservative mind that he keeping the
fighter at home the glass should also means the progressive thinking of the breeder that
take the fighter outside home to observe, absorb to the outer world. The fighting fish can
be both conservative and progressive in one hand and another hand. This
adaptability should be the key success in the development of the fighting fish
in the modern world where as wrestling halfbeak
still using coconut shell to show of itself.
An old pot used condition the fighter and the
wooden sheet plate on the wet ground
past, the broken big earthenware jar, in Thai term "Tum" using
raising the fighter
Uncle Peng still keep everything as same as his
father lives. He told me that to keep everything as it is just to remind his
father. For me everything in his house is a valuable living museum that I recall
to and remind me when I was young. The house is lifted up by the very old wooden
foundation as can be seen the riverside house. The old earthenware jar,
conditioning the fighter with dry Indian almond leaf and rice cut grass (Leersia hexandra
SW) sit on the wet ground around the house . Many of old breeders I have been interviewed
told me that the rice cut grass can
make fighter teeth as sharp as rice cut grass.
The wooden sheet plate lay on the wet ground
is exactly the same picture as I have seen when I was 7 years old (1965).
One of the picture most impressed me is the broken
big earthenware jar that lean on the wet ground under the banana tree. This can
represent the vessel using to breed the fighting fish in the past. The vessel
may contain water not more than 500 liters that can keep one batch of fighter
not more than 100 fighters, in which considered very small compared to what the
breeder using today (2,000 liters). Both wooden sheet plate and broken big
earthenware jar confirmed what I have been discussed that, in the past fighting
fish bred for personal use and shared among the close friend. The house
surrounding is allow only one or two visitor that seems knowing the breeder
to be continue