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Siamese Fish Fighting

 People have and always will gamble on the strangest and most obscure things. Australians are known to bet on everything, including two flies climbing up a wall and some Brits even choose cricket of all things as their gambling object of choice! In the past we have looked at a variety of different forms of gambling; everything from cockfighting, to horse-racing, to dog fighting, to greyhound racing. It should come as no surprise then that in some parts of the world it is possible to partake in the betting of fish fighting. It may sound silly to picture a group of men huddle around a fish tank, shouting encouragement at their little shiny friends, but a recent trip to Vietnam opened our eyes to the exciting world of Siamese fish fighting. We attempted to visit a competition but were denied entry, probably due to our status as outsiders. So, we sought to learn a bit more about the practice upon returning home, and the following is what we gathered:

A Short History

The origins of fish fighting in the region can be traced to Chinese sailors who, in the mid-1800s, were enjoying the Golden Age of Chinese sea trade. In order to keep the captive sailors entertained for long periods of time, a number of interesting (and probably some not so interesting!) games were created. One of these was the practice of breeding fish and then watching them fight. The sailors eventually took the fish on shore with them and the practice spread throughout South East Asia and became a common and acceptable form of entertainment among people from these countries.

The Fish

The scientific name for the Siamese fighting fish is the Betta Splendens. Males are always used for fighting, as they possess inherent aggressive qualities and are much more suited to fighting. To demonstrate the belligerence of the fish without precipitating a fight, a mirror may be held up to a specimen who will then, not recognizing itself, react violently and turbulently. A male Betta typically grows to about 6 centimeters in length and has an average life span of 4 years. He is also vicious by nature and extremely aggressive towards other males.

The Match

At a Siamese fighting fish competition breeders, gamblers, and spectators gather around the individual tanks, talking, inspecting, and most often, joking around. When a fight is agreed upon between the owners, and the terms of the bet are determined, each of the adversaries is spooned out of its bottle in a receptacle and carefully put into a large bottle. When alone in a bottle the fighting fish is not particularly extraordinary, appearing similar to any other small fish. However, once it faces an opponent, it transforms into an impressive and beautiful creature. The gills become extended, the fins are puffed-out in show of intimidation, and the colors are wonderfully irradiated.

One common misconception about Siamese fish fighting is that the opponents always fight to the death. Although this is sometimes the case, most people compare the fights to a boxing match, in which there emerges a winner and a loser. Obviously due to the extremely vicious nature of the male Betta, fights occasionally end in the death of one combatant.

Public Opposition

There are many animal activists who are opposed to the practice of fish fighting. Many feel it is a cruel and barbaric remnant from the past, and should be banned. Those who engage in the practice feel that it is an important cultural tradition and Western critics have no business imposing their values on a custom which has been around for centuries. They also state that unlike other forms of animal fighting such as cockfighting and dog fighting, the fish do not usually fight until the death. However, during the training period they are cut off from other fish and they are aggravated in order to bring out their most aggressive qualities. This is precisely what most opponents object to, although it appears as though there is very little that can actually be done about it.


16-Oct-2007, 23:19

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