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.
The 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.
First 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 fight.
Second 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 Breeding
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.
4. The Hybrids
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.Third Phase: Perfect Captive Breeding 5. Perfect Captive Breeding
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 world.
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 Betta 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.LukBang = Fighters caught in the swamp areas. Luk Thod = Reproduction of fighters to look like the real wild caught fighter. Luk Sub = Reproduction of fighters from cross breeds. Luk Sard = Reproduction of fighters from fry that were freed in the swamp area. Luk Kratang = 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.