The purpose of this article is to
raise a challenge, and question the origin of Betta
splendens. I will try and set up the various possible hypotheses so that it opens a
path for others to do research and discover on their own. What makes Betta splendens development distinct from the
development of other fish?
First, the Betta splendens development was the
outcome of the first Thais aquarium fish.
natives intellect; no modern genetic technology is relevant.
Second, Betta splendens developed from a human social interaction
process; it is the success of exchanging knowledge between the Thai peasant
classes, the traditional knowledge exchange.
One can claim that fish fighting
was recognized over 600 years ago in the Sukothai Empire, the first capital
The ancient breeders, or
rather the farmers, learned by means
of observation; they then tested their hypothesis, and then finalized the
hypothesis by fighting their fish with a challenger.
They formed a group known as a
breeding and fish-fighting club.
They were transmitting their Betta
knowledge by means of close verbal communication.
By telling his techniques to
his most trusted friend, it ensures that he has someone to carry on his
Betta keeping and rearing techniques.
In order to keep his techniques sacred,
he must be very disciplined do not tell these secrets to anyone, these are the
best secrets to make your fish superior to any challenger (this tradition still goes on today).
By using this technique
of passing knowledge, it
made the Thais Betta development very unique.
At the same time it also
becomes a repetitive breeding practice, or in other words, there is no progress in
You can see this becomes
obvious when you look at the advanced
development of the long fin Betta in America versus the development of the long
fin in Thailand.
Today the most serious fighting fish
breeders are still in the peasant class of Thai society. My duty is to make their voice
echo and exhibit their wealth of information, so that their intellectual treasures and
knowledge are streamlined into Thai history and now the NET.
In Thailand when speaking about the
Plakat, there are two distinguishing types of Plakat Thai. One is the short fin and the
other the long fin. Both types were developed from the wild caught Betta. They are captive
Betta splendens Wild caught Betta that 40 years ago were available in almost
all areas of flooded land
and the ditches in the rice
How did the long fin Betta come to
be? There is no question about the short fin types. If you observe the wild Bettas colors and
patterns, the difference is only in their size. No doubt the Thai breeders only
made them bigger and most important, more aggressive. However, the proverb you
cant always get what you want always holds true and is applicable here. Where
did we lose the way between the development of the long fin and the short fin fighters?
The wild Betta has a very good balance of shape and form, from the mouth to the end of the
fins, the neon bright scales and fins, and the most impressive style of flaring and
dancing; no other captive splendens match its
form and function. OK lets make it short, the difference between the wild Betta and
captive short fin Betta splendens is only in
their size. But what about the long fin Betta splendens? It is like another
altogether. Although scientists have declared that it is the same species as the short fin
Betta. I have never seen a long fin Betta that came from a batch of short fins. I always
question the breeders I knew, about the origin of the long fin Betta as much as possible.
Nobody knows no matter how many breeders I question. I always get the same answer I
have seen these two types of Betta as long as I can remember. The western aquarium texts cannot answer these questions.
Where the long fins come from I have no idea. (Christopher W. Coates. Tropical
fishes for a Private Aquarium. 1950: p.137). The
oldest breeder I have been able to interview is 80 years old, and his answer is the same.
It is now Betta mythology, and I am interested in tracking down the answer.
There are five stories to tell about the development of the long fin
ONE : Pseudo-Breeding
This technique believes that the
female Betta will absorb the color and shape of her environment and then pass those traits
on to her babies. Using the pseudo-breeding technique, lets suppose that you want
long fin yellow Bettas in your breeding stock. This technique suggests we should paint a
long fin yellow male on a piece of paper and attach it to the females bottle, no
real male Betta is necessary. About 1-2 months later, we take this female and breed her
with any color of male Betta. The outcome of the breeding is that some Bettas color and
shape will be similar to the painted Betta, some will be similar to the mother, and others
will be similar to the father etc. After
being successful in getting the first slightly long fin yellow stock. The breeder will
select a yellow long fin male to inbreed with another long fin yellow female from the same
batch. By repeatedly continuing this process the long fin Betta of desired color will
gradually be developed.
TWO : Intensive
Breeding Story :
pseudo-breeding story uses an environmental explanation to the approach. The
intensive-breeding story utilizes a sociological explanation to the approach.
There are many
scripts written in the Thai language that say the first stocks of long fin Betta splendens
existed over one hundred years ago. In western texts the first appearance of the long fin
was in San Francisco and supports the above assumption.
"In Siam the fighting fish is
bred just as are fighting cocks, and in the hundreds of years that the sport has been
carried on, special breeds have been developed. None of these "domesticated"
fighters reached us until 1928, when two shipments arrived in San Francisco from Bangkok.
These fishes, with their tremendous veil-like fins, caused a furor in the aquarium world.
One type was dark, with red fins. These "veil tails," bred together and
interbred with the wild type and with other long-tailed stock received later from Siam via
Germany,.." [Lucile Quarry Mann, Tropical fish, New York. 1954]
If we hold the Thai source, and the
above reference as being true, this would mean that the Americas in general knew the long
fin Betta at least 30 years after the fish had been successfully bred. I strongly believe
that the long fin Betta was developed from the short fin Betta, which in turn was
developed from the wild caught Betta.
Coming back to my original argument,
if the long fin Betta was the product of human intervention or human breeding. Then the
sociological explanation must be taken into consideration, more or less. Why? Because one
hundred years ago we did not breed fish for commercial purposes. We bred them for fun,
whether it was for gambling or just as a pet. (It really is different than todays
motive for breeding; commercialism and profit now motivate most breeders). Now, to come to
my point, there is no doubt that the Thai boy would keep the short fin fighter, just as
his father and his uncles did. But what about the girl?
what type of fish can she have? The short fin fighter was too cruel for her to
keep. (Do not forget that in those days only men kept the short fin fighter, usually for
fighting purposes only.) She just wanted a pet that can live with her in the hut, just
like her brothers fish. This is how the long fin Betta splendens
came to be. The girls father or uncle, who also happened to be a breeder,
intentionally bred the long fin Betta to make his girl happy. The first long fin specimen
was selected because it had distinguishing characteristics from the rest of the short fin
batch. I believe that the long fin we see today was gradually developed from one family to
another and one breeder to the next. I think the development of the long fin came about
when the proud girl took her new long fin fish to show off to her friends. Her friends
then asked their fathers and uncles, who were also fish breeders to breed the long fin
types. Now I think the reader can imagine what is going on.
The habit of breeding special fish
for their children is still practiced even today. In every breeding area, most of the
breeders will make a special batch for their children. Some will breed for special colors
and others will breed the hybrids (captive short fins crossbred with the wild types) for
their children to take and fight with their friends fish. The purpose of breeding
the hybrids is to fight them with the wild caught Betta. Wild caught Bettas do not have
the stamina for prolonged fights, whereas the hybrid types more than certainly do.
I think that in the very beginning,
they only had the long fin types in local shows, may be somewhere around or outside
Bangkok province. The formation of aquarium clubs created the commercial need for the long
fin type. The price in those days varied, and I quote: Two or three years ago,
really good specimens of aquarium raised Betta splendens were quite expensive, as
much as thirty dollars being paid for one pair. [Christopher W. Coates. Tropical
Fishes for a Private Aquarium. 1950: p.138]
Today, the Thai girls still favor the
long fin type for show, while her brothers still like to have the short fin for fighting.
THREE : Originated from
The third story uses a linguistic
approach to explaining where the long fin came from. This theory implies that the
NAME dictates the origin of the fish. This story is based solely on the NAME.
In Thailand we call long fin Betta splendens
Plakat Cheen. Plakat Cheen can be translated to Chinese
fighting-fish (Plakat = Fighting Fish Cheen = China, or
Chinese). The name implies that the long fin Betta
splendens comes from China, or at the very least it has some implication relevant to
China or Chinese breeders. I once heard someone explain that a Chinese monk, who was also
a breeder, introduced the long fin Betta to the aquarists world.
There are three implications for the
term Plakat Cheen. First, is the word Cheen, which can mean country or China. This would
mean that the long fin Betta splendens
originated in China and was brought to Thailand by traveling merchants or sailors.
Thailand and China have had a long history of merchandise trade for hundreds of years.
However, all Thai sources (both verbal and written) deny this possibility, and state that
it is simply a borrowed term.
The second is Cheen meaning Chinese
person. This could be a Chinese monk, a Chinese layman, or possibly a Chinese breeder. I
was watching television a few months ago and to my surprise, the program said that the
first person to introduce the long fin was a Chinese monk about 100 years ago. Another
Thai source said that a Chinese breeder was the first to successfully breed the long fin
Betta. Personally, I favor this explanation. It seems consistent with my thoughts in the
past. The long fin Betta was never for fighting, only for show, with a hidden commercial
motivation behind its development. Chinese breeders were very famous for discovering and
developing new fish strains. The Chinese piloted the aquarium fish trade. For example:
Koi, Gold Fish, guppies
etc. The fact remains that the Thai breeder did not sell his
short fin fighters to strangers or for shows. He was afraid people would spoil his blood
lines, either through improper keeping, rearing, or simply selling the fish to an opponent
or spy (dont forget that the quality of the fish was associated with the
breeders name, and the amount of money made). The Chinese breeders could see the
value in this flaring fish and even predict that if they could develop brighter colors and
longer fins the fish could then be a mass marketed product. When I was young I can
remember seeing long fin Bettas being sold everywhere in the pet shops. The seller was a Chinese family and
they never talked about the fishs fighting qualities. The development of the long
fin Betta is a myth because in Chinese tradition they never tell the secrets of their
family profession to outsiders.
Third, Cheen is a comparative concept
about China or Chinese, a metaphor of sorts, anything concerning China or Chinese is
called Cheen. For example: speaking loud like the Chinese, her eyes are like a Chinese
ladies eyes, or like a Chinese decorative design ... etc.
(to be continued)