Ive always questioned myself while
tracking the development of Plakat Thai. How did a fish living in the wild become captive
fighting fish? As the reader already knows, the physical structure and color of
Betta splendens caught in the wild are entirely
different from captive Betta splendens. The wild
caught Betta possesses unique colors and structure form. All males and females have the
same color patterns. The male has bright glossy scales, and the fin color is uniquely
shiny when flaring or dancing. The crystal shine of the scales is a communication signal
for the fish in the muddy and brackish water. On the other hand, the color of captive
Betta splendens are darker and more metallic
because they are kept in clear water. However, they are all derived from the same
ancestors but their outer appearances are entirely different.
There is another Siamese Fighting Fish strain that
exists between the wild caught Betta and the captive-bred species called hybrid-fighting
fish. In Thai we call them: Pla Sung Ka See (Sung Ka See means
galvanized iron sheets) or in short Pla Sung. I have heard the name Pla
Sung ever since I became familiar with fighting fish as a child. As time has passed
by since then, the meaning of Pla Sung is still vague and difficult to determine its real
definition. I have discussed the meaning of Pla Sung Ka See many times with my
friends at the fighting ring. Some gave very interesting definitions for Pla Sung Ka
See. They said Pla Sung Ka See is a fighting fish strain with teeth as
sharp as galvanized iron sheets. Dr. Yon Musik, Vice Professor of the Department of
Fisheries at the University of Agriculture defines the meaning of Pla Sung Ka
See in his article The Legend of Plakat Thai as being a fighter with
scales as tough as galvanized iron sheets!!
Pla Sang or hybrid strains
play a very significant role in the development of Plakat Thai. In the past, the tale of
the hybrid fighter has been told many times, but it did not focus deep enough to make the
picture of development of the Plakat Thai complete. Its something like watching a
magician throw a colorful ball from the right hand to the left hand. He shows the ball in
the left hand and then magically it appears in the right hand. We saw the ball in the
right and left hands but we didnt actually SEE the ball going from one to the other.
The wild caught Betta is in the left hand and the captive bred Betta
is in the right hand.
The movement of the ball is the hybrid strain. This article wants to catch the ball in mid
air and show its relationship between the left and right hand. The hybrid fighter plays an
important role as a bridge for the Betta crossing from the wild to the human community,
walking along with human civilization.
Brief Story of the Development of Plakat Thai
There were three phases in the
development of Plakat Thai. The first phase was getting acquainted with the fighting-fish
(fighting wild caught Bettas). The second phase was getting acquainted with breeding wild
caught Bettas and also hybrid Betta strains. The third and final phase was gaining
knowledge about how to breed the perfect captive bred Betta or modern Plakat Thai. All
three phases are presented in the chart below.
Phase: The Knowing of Fighting-Fish
1. Wild Caught
During my survey of the emergence of playing fish
fighting games in Thailand, I found that the game arises and pervades throughout every
part of the country. We can track the past by verbal interviews given by young ancestors
of todays breeders around 200 years ago, at the establishment of the present capital
of Thailand, Rattanakosin. This means that Thai people were playing fish fighting games
even before that year. We have to take into consideration the social and political
environment at this time of war and rich natural resources. The players caught their
Bettas in the rice field to fight the fish amongst their group. Without knowing the
difference between the species, or how to breed the fish to fight (as we know today, in
the south the domestic fighter is Betta imbellis,
in the central part Betta splendens, and in the
northeast Betta smaragdina). There are two steps
in learning how to fight the wild caught Betta. The first step is for the players to learn
how to distinguish the Betta from other fish, between Bettas for enjoyment and other fish
for food. The farmer observed the way they flare and fight with each other while working
in the rice field. If the reader has already read The Story of Betta smaragdina one may see in the pictures that the
Betta simply builds his bubblenest just beside
the rice field pathway. The boys caught them there and kept them in the earthenware jars.
In that period of time, all vessels and containers were made from clay we called them
earthenware jars or Morh. The farmers may have let the fish fight on their
rest after lunch and then released the fish back to the rice field after the fight ended.
Some children kept the fish in earthenware jars as their pets. In the beginning fish
fighting took place among friends in the same
village. By challenging and making a few bets, fish fighting immediately became widely
favorable and was accepted from village to village.
The second step in fish fighting was
challenges between villages and between different regions. Fish fighting became more
popular as soon as winning and losing were a factor. The process of the game produces an
expert breeder and a champion fighter. The thoughts of how to breed the fighter to beat
another fighter may have come about from this step. However, as a whole I dont think
that the players seriously tried to find a way to control the breeding of fighters. They
just knew where to find the best fighters. They also may have freed the winning fighters
to a private place, making sure to go back and get the next generation of winners to
Phase: Getting Acquainted with Breeding
Wild Caught Betta and Hybrids
2. Selective Wild Caught
The residence of the best fighters became a bank of
selective fish fighting strains for the farmers. People would name the places where the
best fighters could be found. Many players would seek out these places to catch or
sometimes request to buy the fighters from the landowners. The implied idea of winning the
game was considered an important factor to the development of fish fighting. In this phase
of selective wild caught the players would release the winning males and females in a
particular place and then return the next year to retrieve the new fighters. The color of
the fish was the only way he was able to tell the difference in fighting styles. This
method of breeding selective wild caught still works even today.
3. Captive Wild Caught
The screen behind fighting the fish caught from the wild as described above is
based under the circumstances that fish fighting was just a fun game, not even a hobby.
However, the fun game has its own development path. When the players took the game
seriously, acquiring the winners and the search for excellence along with pride and money
all became dynamic forces to develop better fighters. The fighting fish caught in the wild
will breed with uncertain results, even the fighters caught from the selective place are
not reliable enough. The game had developed itself to be tougher and more serious when
more bets were called for. When the player wants to control the winning results, he has to
control the quality of his fighters. That is, he has to control the breeding pair and the
breeding environment. So the breeder started to breed the fighters in the dig pool, which
in turn became the captive breeding strains. This basic systematic thinking may be
considered to be the first step in the emergence of modern Siamese fighting-fish or Plakat
Thai, that moving from the wild to the human community.. The ideas behind captive breeding
are to have good quality fighters, and enough quantity to sell and share the fish amongst
a group of friends with availability at anytime. Since fish fighting was active throughout the entire year, I think this would be
the prime period of trading fighting fish and learning to mass breed as the demand
increased. In this stage the task at hand is how do we breed the captive bred to look like
the wild caught fighters? Because we are fighting captive bred against wild caught fish.
The captive breeding and environment control had to be done very secretly and also imitate
a breeding environment similar to the Betta habitat. The sole purpose of this was to
deceive and defeat the opponent. It becomes a competition in two directions, one is
the actual fish fighting game and the other is the human competition. The fish fighting
competition is left alone to the fighters, but I am more interested in the human
competition. The process of one breeder finding a way to breed fighters to defeat another
breeder, now the real development of Siamese fighting-fish has begun.
In the beginning, the breeder just wanted to breed
fighters that look like wild caught fighters but still possess better physical strength
and more stamina to beat opponent fighters. In that time I dont think anyone could
imagine the bold short fin fighter yet (the present most aggressive short fin selective
fighting fish). The aggressive selective fighting fish came after breeding many
generations of wild caught fighters until it could no longer preserve its original color
and structure form. The long line of captive bred generations made the fighters bigger,
the colors darker, and also the fighters became acquainted with human contact and friendly
habits. Under the humans breeding hands, great changes continually developed in the
fighter until the strain can no longer reverse back to its original form. The wild
caught fighter is no longer able to win the captive fighters in every aspect of the fight.
That is to say, fish fighting has completely divided into two groups. The wild caught or Plakat Pah also the hybrids or Pla sung group, and captive fighter group or Plakat Morh.
These groups are still practiced in many fish fighting rings outside Bangkok. This great
change not only affected the way of fish fighting in the ring, but also had great impact
on the world of Siamese fighting-fish as an aquarium pet.
The hybrid fighter is the product of an intervention in
the breeding phase of wild caught to the perfect captive-bred fighter. I use the term
perfect captive breeding for fish that comes from a pair captive-bred parents.
The search for excellence in parent stock is the most challenging aspect to the breeder,
when the breeder is trying to beat opponent fighters. Importation and exchange of the best
fighters from the South, Northeast, or central areas was often done without knowledge of
the differences between the fish. The most active breeding took place in Bangkok and the
suburbs, because fish fighting in Bangkok was more challenging, had bigger bets, and a
more complicated society.
The hybrid has a reverse breeding strategy, the breeder
wants to produce a fighter that looks very close to wild caught but also capture the inner
spirit of the captive fighter. However, they still only fight for a short period of time,
about 30 minutes. The wild caught may fight even shorter periods of time, or not want to
fight at all. The hybrid fighting fish has developed itself to become very unique and
presents another step in the breeding process.
The hybrid fighters can be seen in every part of the
country where fish fighting is actively practiced. The breeder will use domestic fighting
fish to cross breed with superior fish fighting species. For example: The Northeast of
Thailand may import the best possible Betta
splendens to breed with their best domestic fighting fish,
Betta smaragdina. The South has
Betta imbellis to cross breed with
Betta splendens. It can be concluded that the first
selective Betta for fighting was Betta splendens
in the central part of Thailand. It could be somewhere in Ayuthaya the ancient capital of
Thailand, Padrew or presently called Cha Chueng Sao province or possibly Mahachai or Sa
Mut Sa Khon province.
There are two types of hybrids, wild caught hybrids and
captive-bred hybrids. From my experience wild caught hybrids are more acceptable among the
players, because the breeder just leaves them in the natural environment and lets nature
cultivate them to be good fighters. The breeder just frees the good parents stocks to the
specific area and let them reproduced by theirs own natural way. some breeders just
release the fry to a specific area and let them reproduce their own natural way.
Phase: Perfect Captive Breeding
5. Perfect Captive
The term perfect captive breeding means that the fighting fish batch was
reproduced from selective parents raised in a tank. The fish gradually develops its habit
to get acquainted with the human routine. The perfect captive fighter is now known as the
short fin fighter that is sold in the pet shops. The perfect captive breeding is an
absolute of breeding wild caught Betta. The people at the fighting ring are no longer able
to accept the wild caught captive-bred fighting fish as the real wild caught fighter. They
were no longer able to match the fish because of the difference in size, physical
structure, color pattern, and fighting style. I think that in this stage the wild caught
captive bred could no longer be kept a secret. The fish fighting ring was now divided into
two groups. One group was the wild caught fighting fish (which also included hybrids). The
breeding competition of this group was how to produce a fighter that looks like the wild
caught, but fights faster and has more stamina. The second group is the perfect
captive-bred fighter in which the breeder develops fighting skill and physical structure
based on his imagination. So a variety of physical structures has now been introduced into
the fighting ring. As I have described in my homepage Types of Plakat Thai, I have divided Plakat Thai into three different structure forms; Channa Striata
Bloch form; Anabas Testudineus form and Chitala Ornata form. According to me the long fin
fighting fish is the fourth stage in the development of Plakat Thai. The beauty of the
fighting fish was welcomed as a pet in the household. The concept of breeding fighting
fish branched in one more direction that concentrated on beauty alone. From that day on
the long fin Plakat Thai has flown its beautiful fins into commercial wealth around the
6. Mahachai Fighter
A good paradigm of hybrid wild caught breeding
techniques is presented just 20 kilometers from Bangkok. The Samutsakhon province or the
local name Mahachai is the brother province of Bangkok and is also connected to the sea.
Five hundred years ago Mahachai was called Tha Cheen meaning Chinese sea trade
port. I believe that the Chinese merchants carried Plakat Thai from this port to Malaysia,
Singapore, and Vietnam or even Indonesia. Geographically, Mahachai is a mangrove forest,
which is much different than the rice paddies most wild caught Bettas are found in. The
water in the mangrove forest is brackish and full of dust, so the fish use their bright
scales to communicate with each other. The Mahachai hybrid strain has unique color
patterns and crystal bright scales, such a splendid and charming fish.
The uniqueness of the color pattern of Mahachai fighter
brought about two new ideas about the fish. First, people thought that the Mahachai
was a new Betta species that had just been discovered, local people said that they have
seen this fish since they were young. The appearance of Mahachai fighter is entirely
different from Betta imbellis, Betta smaragdina, and
even Betta splendens. Secondly, the thought that
maybe Mahachai fighter is a hybrid fighting fish, since people say they cross breed wild
caught with Betta splendens over a hundred years
ago and breeders simply freed the best parent fighters into specific areas as I have
described above. From my investigation and by interviewing the breeders in Mahachai, I
hold the thought that Mahachai Betta is a hybrid fighter. As long as there is no
scientific proof to prove otherwise I will hold my opinion that Mahachai is a domestic
hybrid Betta type.
When I first saw Mahachai fighting fish
3 years ago in a fish fighting ring in Baan Paw (a town in Mahachai), I simply
thought that they were wild caught Betta smaragdina
or a hybrid of Betta smaragdina. I even
expressed my ignorance at the Betta seminar in February of 2000 at the University of
Agriculture, I said that the fish fighting ring in Baan Paw was using hybrid
Betta smaragdina to fight in the ring. In that
period of time I was trying to find the route of traffic that brought
Betta smaragdina into the middle part of the
country. I was even confused when the breeders told me that they caught wild Betta to
breed with the captive Betta splendens and then
free the fry to their original home. This breeding method has been going on for an
extremely long time now. Some breeders said that they have sent many hybrid fighters to
fight in the Northeast and won many matches. This means that there is not much difference
between Mahachai hybrids and hybrid fighting fish in the Northeast, so the players
arent afraid to match these fish to fight each other. There are some breeding terms
that Mahachai breeders use that implicate the Mahachai fighter as being the hybrid type.
||= Fighters caught in the swamp areas.
||= Reproduction of fighters to look like the real wild caught fighter.
||= Reproduction of fighters from cross breeds.
||= Reproduction of fighters from fry that were freed in the swamp area.
||= eproduction of the captive fighters.
The following are pictures of the wild
caught Mahachai fighter in its natural habitat. The man shown in the picture is the
breeder that told me his family had been breeding this fighting fish for over 100 years.
His breeding method is simply to free the parent stock to a specified area and let them
pair in their own natural way. The breeder frees the female Plakat Morh or short fin
Betta splendens to develop the fighting strength of
the domestic fighters. As we walk, he can point out to me where the best fighting strains
are located and what areas contain general fighters. But what the actual Betta species of
the domestic fighter is, I do not know. It may be a new Betta species waiting for a
scientist to discover, and investigate it. Or it might be a domestic Betta species aroused
from cross breeding by the local people that have freed the various fighters (wild caught
Betta splendens, Betta imbellis, and
Betta smaragdina) to the flood areas for over one
hundred years. Those fighters interbreed and produce new Betta strains that are unique and
different from their ancestors. But most of all they are still the hybrid type.
Today hybrid fighter games are still played only in the
rainy season, it seems that fighting the hybrid types has faded out in the central part
and southern areas of Thailand. While in the Northeast it is still very active. On the
other hand, the perfect captive Siamese fighting-fish extends its area to cover the hybrid
fighting fish arena also. I can also observe that using certain types of fighting fish
related to the economical thoughts of the player. The more modernization and capitalism
consciousness that comes into the people, the more serious they get when winning and
playing tricks in the game is concerned. The more seriousness in winning that is involved,
then more serious breeding comes about.
Today, hybrid breeding plays an important role in the
modern show Betta. The crossbreeding between perfect captive Betta splendens and wild caught species like
Betta imbellis or
Betta smaragdina reproduces many amazing new Betta
strains. The extended solid colors and crystal bright scales have been developed from
hybrid and wild caught stock. One can see that the hybrid has contributed much to the
modern world of Bettas. I am sure that the new trend in breeding shows in the future will
concentrate on the crystal like scales and also the half moon form.