Introduction:

 A story of fish fighting in the southern part of Thailand is the most exciting and the most active in Thailand.  From my interview to the breeders and suppliers all agreed that, 80 percent of fighting fish bred in Thailand sent to this region. They said that if south players stop to play the fighting fish, theirs’ breeding business may come to an end. Giving the rough picture that, there are 14 provinces in the south region. Each province has around 200 players we will have 2,800 players. And if each player uses 50 fighters a month, the demand for top fighters is 140,000 fighters that breeders support to the south players per month. If we multiply by 12 months it will be 1,680,000 fighters that south players consume the fighting fish every year (an actual number should higher than this).

Each province approximately has 10 fighting rings. There are four main provinces breed fighters supply to south players, Nakornpathom, Nakornsawan, Petchaburi and Padrew.

 

Because of fighting fish in the south so popular, the local Government legalized the fighting fish ring by issue the fish fighting license to the person who applies for it. The license has to renew every year and government get paid by tax. The ring is legally open 7 days and active entire year. It may slightly slow down a few months in winter (November – February), traditionally players turn to play fighting cock.

 

The southern part of Thailand is the hottest battle field of fish fighting; the players also play an important role as a connecting bridge exchanging fighters stock between Thai and Malaysian breeders. Many players in south import the fighter from Malaysia and forward the good fighters to the breeders in central part of Thailand and vice versa, from Thailand to Malaysia.

 

The factors of popularity:

There are many factors contributing to the popularity of fighting fish in Southern of Thailand.

  • The meeting point of toughest fighter; the south of Thailand is located between Malaysia and central part of Thailand. Both regions produce the top quality fighters. The south players are the meeting point of top breeders from Thailand and Malaysia. In the old day there were many Malaysian and Thai players carrying the fighting fish crossing the border to fight in another country.

  • The rich of natural resource, all provinces of south of Thailand facing to the sea, Gulf of Thailand and Andaman. The areas are very famous on natural sea side resources. Many players have very solid financial support from tourism business, rubber tree and mining.

  • Agricultural base and traditional way of life, most of the players own the rubber tree plantation and follow theirs’ traditional way of life. They have a lot of free time in the day and people in the village know each other well. They play the wild Imbellis when they were young.

  • The habit of favor to challenging and gambling, the southern men slightly are more aggressive on challenging than other region of Thai people. The fighting bull, fighting cock and bird competitions is even more popular in the south.

  • The unique family character of south young man is; they are homeward bound. Most of the young people prefer to go back home to follow theirs’ family business scheme after graduated from the University. So the linkage of local culture and friendship are not broken. They can learn and drive the traditional social practice from the older generation which nail them to the homeland.

  • The climate is very suitable for keeping the fighting fish; the region is tropical rain fall on the entire year.  The tropical rain climate with high temperatures and high humidity throughout the year. Daytime temperatures around 25C - 30C all year round. There is no winter season in South of Thailand. These supportive climate factors are very good for keeping the fighting fish.

 Fish fighting practice in the Southern of Thailand:

The major income of the players in south of Thailand is from the rubber tree which passed from theirs’ ancestor to theirs’ parents and to themselves. They can collect money from the rubber tree everyday as long as the rubber trees are there. They started to collect the rubber in the very early morning 3 AM and finished theirs’ diary job in the late morning, 8 AM. So they are free on the day time.

 

The fighting ring started late at 10.00 AM in one of the player house who registered with the local government showing the license on the entrance gate.  It can be even in the shade of rubber tree. The player comes to the ring one by one by motorbike or pickup car with the fighters in the round whisky bottle in his old cloth bag. The ring was crowded with players after an hour. The busy matches started after a few minutes when the players show off theirs’ fighters. 

 

There are four kinds of fish fighting in the south of Thailand, wild Imbellis, hybrid Imbellis , Green Cheek (Complex hybrid) and captive bred fighter.

 

The ring provided three rows of table, one table for the group of wild Imbellis fighter. One table is for hybrid green cheek and one table is for the captive fighting fish.  In the present day, the captive fighter table seems to be busier and more challenging than the traditional fighting fish, Imbellis fighter and green cheek fighter. Using the gambling sense, they said that the captive fighter can fight longer so they can play the bet longer.

 

Fighting wild Imbellis:

A story of fighting wild Imbellis in Thailand began the same way happened in other fighting fish in Indonesia, Betta Smaragdina in the north east of Thailand. The stories were told undated and no record, that the farmer observed the wild Betta fighting in the rice field; that the younger learned from the elder. So he took some of them home, jarred each of them in the glass jar and watching its aggressiveness to the Betta nearby jar. He let the wild Betta fought in the earthen jar as he saw in the rice field.  It happened even more impressive than he saw the fish fighting in the open air rice field. Both displayed more aggressive the colors ever darker, they fought even longer period of time. The challenge started from the small money or anything they had in hand. The loser searched the new fighter and challenged to the winner. From one small group spread to the other groups, bigger and bigger, became a cumulative social practice and culture. It is accepted as a challenging hobby for a man in the south region.

 

The time to play the fighting fish is on rainy season that wild fighting fish easy to find. In the dry season player does turn to play fighting cock. After fought a fighter was freed back to its habitat, just a backyard of his house, waiting for the next year match.

 

While captive fighting fish are pervading to every part of fighting fish arena. The fighting wild Imbellis still is taking its place around 20 percent.  Because, it is very easy to find for free in the rubber tree plantation area. The wild Imbellis is easy to match, for they have the same structure. The fighting period takes around 30 minutes and the bet is not much even a boy can have a fun with it. These preserved the charms to keep the group of people in favor wild Imbellis.

 

However, please note that right now the players do not use the real wild caught Imbellis any more.  The players simply free the good captive fighter to the wild Imbellis habitat and collect them back to fight in the next year.  He chooses only the fighter look closest to the wild Imbellis to fight in the wild Imbellis fighting ring. This is the reason why wild Imbellis fighter and hybrid Imbellis fighter are merged into the same fighting ring and using the same regulation. The only thing a player has to do is try to find the best match on size and compared the color pattern that look closest to the real wild Imbellis.

 

Imbellis fighter still is not a fully captive bred fighter. It is still preserved instinct shy fighter and very sensitive to any changing environment. The matching carefully made under the shelter with no strong daylight attached.  Because of Imbellis so sensitive to any changed. To introduce the match must do very carefully. When size matched and the bet is agreed the owner of the fighter pour half of water off from his bottle, then he pours the water along with a fighter to another fighter bottle, then the fight beginsImbellis players do sit away from the fighting bottle. The players are challenged with low noise (similar to fighting Imbellis in Medan, Indonesia). The fighting time takes around half an hour and one of them run away.

 

Hybrid Imbellis:

A story of hybrid Imbellis began around 1980 or 35 years ago (2015), may be earlier. Its hidden intention was to fight with the wild caught Imbellis. Its idea was derived from fighting Imbellis climbed to its peak. When the wild Imbellis player challenge more bet that imply win or lose was a serious matter. He had confident on his fighter had a high percentage of winning over his opponent fighter, why?  The weak point of real wild Imbellis is the fighter can not stand to fight longer than 30 minutes or by average is around 10 – 20 minutes. The winning factor is just to find the toughest fighter that can stand to fight longer.  The captive fighters in Bangkok were well known on tough structure and stamina habit. For they were intended selected by the professional players over hundred years. The problem was the fighting fish from Bangkok has very big structure, extremely dark and more variety colors, while wild Imbellis fighter is very small, has very slim structure, has only one color pattern and there are 2 patches on the fighter’s cheek that make its differences from the captive fighter from Bangkok.

 

The trick breeder did introduce the Bangkok fighter to the Imbellis fighter stock. And he sent the hybrid fry back to the preparation pond that setup an environment like the real wild Imbellis’ habitat, the same way the breeders in North East of Thailand do with the Smaragdina fighter. The breeder harvests the fighter from the setup natural environment pond after a year. Then he chose only the one look closest to the wild Imbellis to fight with real wild Imbellis. This process was repeated again and again year after year until the hybrid fighter look like or even the same to wild Imbellis. The breeder claim that his fighter was real wild Imbellis caught from the rice field.  The fighting period of hybrid Imbellis is 2 hours but the size and fighting styles  almost the same of captive fighter.

 

Hybrid Green Cheek:

The hybrid green cheek showed up around 20 years ago (2014) and presenting very well on the challenging habit and the trick player of south players. It is another step of developing hybrid fighters that cross bred with the variety of Betta species. An outcome of cross bred sent off the new strain fighter that neither looks like Imbellis nor look fully captive fighter. It looks likely between wild and captive fighting fish. It has green patches on its cover gills. The color looks crystal waxen bright like wild Betta, while the structure looks like captive fighter. The green patches on the cover gills can see only in the wild Betta, such as Betta Mahachai, Betta Imbellis, Betta Smaragdina but not captive fighter which has black cover gill and a small red strip on its gills edge. Not knowing where the green color on the cover gills cross bred from, the local player calls it “green Cheek fighter”.  In the beginning, a player tries to match the green cheek fighter with the hybrid Imbellis, but since it structure was unmatchable with the hybrid Imbellis that try to imitate the wild Imbellis. They neither fought with the hybrid Imbellis nor the captive fighter. So they grouped themselves and challenging among themselves. Some player even challenges his green cheek with the captive fighter.  Since he knows that his green cheek fighter was actually the full captive fighter. It was simply externally looking like the hybrid green cheek.

 

In the beginning, the green cheek fighter was the reproduction cross bred of the captive fighter with the various wild Betta species (Betta Mahachai, Betta Imbellis or Betta Smaragdina). Unlike the hybrid Imbellis, the green cheek fighter is fully tank raised. The selections of green cheek parents stock were repeated again and again. It will be called green cheek fighter as long as it has a green color on its cheek. Knowing that in the past the local breeders did not know the difference of the wild Betta. They had never recorded in theirs’ breeding routine. What the breeders care for were, they tried to breed the fighter superior in the ring. Many of them imported from Nakornpathom and Padrew province that the breeders in these areas did better job and can serve the fighter stock in the large numbers.

 

There are around 10 percent of green cheek fighters active in the fish fighting field.

 

Captive fighting fish:

The story of captive fighting fish in the South of Thailand began around 1995 or 20 years ago (2015). It came along with the green cheek fighter and maintains 80 percent of popularity to all provinces in southern of Thailand.  In the beginning, when the computer technology was not much reach to local south people. The tough fighters from the central of Thailand were imported by fishermen and train conductors; they were often traveled round trip. These fighters mostly came from the provinces around Bangkok such as Padrew, Nakornpathom and Petchaburi. In the present day with the help of digital technology and various modes of transportation, the players and the breeders can have direct talk and the breeders can send the fighters to the players just over night.  The players have more choices and the game is growing more and more challenging.

 

Through the south players consume captive fighters more than 80 percent of the fighting fish bred in Thailand. But there are very few local breeders and they do only 10 to 20 tanks  for personal used or just shared among their group. The main reason is the live food for the fry very hard to find and its availability is very limited. The survival fry are around 100 fish, considered very low rate compared to the breeder in Nakornpathom breeder can make 200 – 500 fighters in one tank batch. Each breeder owns 100 – 500 tanks that offering more choice of selection. Another reason is the south player too busy on his rubber tree job. His routine job is same as the breeder collecting water flea and feed the fighter in the very early morning. It is very hard for the south breeder to do both jobs at the same time. He thinks that it is easier to buy fighter to play than to breed. Since he has more choice and can quit anytime when he does not want.

 

Captive fighter and green cheek fighter using the same regulation and matching practice.  One of the most critical factors of winning the game is the player has experienced in matching. Before 2014, unlike Bangkok players whose used flat whiskey bottle that can directly compare the whole body structure of the fighter. The south players used round long neck whiskey bottle, capped with the thick paper to preventing from poisoning, match the fighters.  The oval curve and the reflection of the glass could mislead the player’s eyes if he has not enough experiences on matching.  So the players spend time on carefully match. Some players go outside the roof to access more light for making sure the size of fighters was suited to fight.

 

However, follow to Padrew and Bangkok ring in early 2014; in 2015 all fighting rings in Thailand including the ring in south apply the digital weight to find good match. This can solve all problems on sight matching and welcome to the newcomer to join the tough game.  All matching glass either flat or round bottle was banished.

 

Conclusion:

The story of fighting fish in the Southern of Thailand can divided into two phases. The first phase is the fighting wild Imbellis fighter. For fighting the wild Imbellis, the story begins in the unknown period of time. It is in the farmer society, there is no record on the starting date of the game. We can see the connection line on playing wild fighting fish in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia is the regional common hobby. The playing of wild fighting fish has been spread over these countries in the very old day (even before called countries), by passing from one generation to the next generation.  The first phase is the firm layer welcome to the next phase. The second phase was recent year of the fighting captive fighter imported from the central, when the game was climbing up to more serious and more challenging.

 

The study of fish fighting in the south of Thailand reflects explicitly two pictures on contributing to the story of fish fighting in Thailand as a whole:

 

One, it reconfirmed on the playing of fighting fish was a common hobby of the people in South East Asia in the very old day. It might co-exist with the settlement of farmer society thousand years ago. Farmers used available domestic wild Betta to fight for their entertainment, wild Betta Splendens and Betta Mahachai in central part, Betta Smaragdina in northeast and Betta Imbellis in South of Thailand. I think at first each local player got experience on the fish fighting by themselves, but not introduced from the outside.  However, it gets popular and spread over the region should come from the continuous challenging from one village to another village.

 

Two, it reconfirmed that the breeders in the central part of Thailand succeed in forming the prototype of Betta fighter. The fighters were sent off to cross bred with other domestic fighters Imbellis fighter in Southern of Thailand and Smaragdina fighter in the north east of Thailand. It is the first development germ of all fancy short fins and long fins show Betta. The first exciting appearance of short fin solid waxen green and solid waxen blue in 2002 and exploded to the various unique solid multiple waxen color were also derived from the "green cheek fighter", the gambling breeder.  

 

Acknowledgement:

There are many breeders, players who support me on collecting data and cooperation on informal interviews and observations. Without them this article would not presenting on this website. I am really thankful and appreciate for their help.

 

Mr. Taworn Chouyrueng 43 years old (2014), the hard core player in Trang city district, Trang province. He took care of me and drove me around in Trang province and shows me many fighting rings during my two times visited southern of Thailand 19 – 25 December 2013 and 7 - 11 Oct 2014. As a local and hard core player he is also an essential source in this research. He clarified me the knot of the vague story. He also jumped into flooded area, full of wild plants and dirty mud to catch the wild Imbellis that not possible for me to do it.

 

Mr. Sagha Sakdavut 66 years old (2013), breeder and fighting ring license holder in Na-yhong district, Trang province. He had supplied me a lot of useful information on green cheek fighter and the practice in the south fighting ring.

 

Uncle Sorn, 84 years old (2013) (left, passed away), breeder and player of Imbellis fighter in the Thung-shong district Nakornsrithamarat province.  He gave me a very clear picture of the beginning of wild catch Imbellis that he observed the Imbellis fighting behavior in the muddy flooded area, and he collected them to play when he was young.

 

Mr. Sawang Omroy (Pee Dang) (right) 55 years old who took care of me, he is the good source information during my informal interview in Thung-shong district  Nakornsrithamarat province 19 – 24 December 2013. He went to catch the good stock of wild hybrid Imbellis he freed in the flooded land area.

 

Mr. Pornchai 47 years old (2013) the real player of wild Imbellis in Thung-shong district Nakornsrithamarat province.

 

Mr. Tawee Pipatkul (Put Lorlek) 62 years old (2014) the famous Thai kick boxing and the licensed of wild Imbellis fighting ring in Pa-rearn district, Trang province.

 

The group of players that allow me to took pictures and participate the exciting fighting ring and gave me a lot of information in an informal interview that showing the very clear fighting ring atmosphere.

 

December 28, 2015

You come I'm so please, I'm regret when you leave.

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