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History & practices of Betta keeping in Malaya (part 1)


IN MALAYA (Part 1)


The hobby of Betta keeping was popularize in Malaya by the Chinese of southern China who migrated to South East Asia at the end of the 19th century and it is now a very lucrative industry. Betta keeping had also been one of the favorite pastime for the children of the native people of Malaya in the olden days but their level of involvement is only in trapping and keeping the fish till its either dead or had jumped out from its container. The native children actually believed that the household lizard fishes the fish out of its container by wiggling its tail in the water when the fish disappeared from its container. The children will fight the fishes among themselves to find the village champion that usually is the biggest fish in their possession. Each child will fight all his fish in his collection to get his champion and after the wounds had healed, will then pit his champion against the next kid. Injured fishes are kept in a container that is well stirred with red earth to insulate the fish body with an even layer of red earth believed to quicken healing. The fights are without time limit and there is no sizing between fishes prior to fights. The start of Betta fighting season coincides with the paddy harvest and lasted around 2 months.


This pastime of the native children had diminished with the advent of agricultural chemicals and mechanized ploughing and harvesting of paddy fields a practice that wipes out Imbellis from the fields. Before the introduction of pesticides into paddy cultivation Imbellis can be found abundantly in paddy fields and the time to catch this fish is after the paddy harvest during the dry season. The water in the field then would have retreated into small pools. In these small pools one can easily catch around 50 fishes in an hour, fishes that are still in the pools will start to burrow into the mud and hibernate till the fields are flooded again after the end of the dry season. Native kids catch Imbellis with their bare hands after they have spotted the bubble nest and it is an easy task as the nest is always at the fringe of the fields with water depths of less than 3 inches and also the vegetation left in the field is minimal after the harvesting. There will always be one adult male fish under the nest.


The Malayan Chinese involvement with this fish covers the hobby, entertainment, commercial and gambling aspects. They are involved in the trapping, breeding, and training activities. All commercial Betta farms in Malaya and Singapore are Chinese owned and they breed display Splendens, fighter Splendens, fighter ‘SOM’ and fighter Imbellis. The breeding of fighters is the most profitable as the turnover is high due to the fish being discarded after fights which is not more than a month after the sale. Display fish will still be in the buyer’s collection even a year after the sale.


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