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History & practices of Betta keeping in Malaya (part 2)

HISTORY & PRACTICES OF BETTA KEEPING

IN MALAYA (Part 2)

(AUTHOR by H.K.SIM)


The Chinese of southern China have been fighting “paradise fish” long before they came to Malaya and once in Malaya they discovered that the Imbellis is very much more beautiful and aggressive compared to the paradise fish. The Chinese of Malaya and Singapore fights Imbellis all year round and their fishes are caught mostly from lakes, ponds, streams and swamps that do not dry up even in the dry season as fishes from these areas are superior. The professional catcher uses an “imbellis scoop” shaped like a seashell and made of bamboo. With one scoop you can catch several fishes, male and female, young and mature included. With the scoop there is no need to search for any bubble nests, just push the scoop to the side of pool and stomp the fishes into the scoop with your legs. The other popular way to catch Imbellis is by semi submerging cut bamboos, cans and banana leaves rolled into a conical shape in the Imbellis habitat in the early morning and collecting it in the evening. Imbellis caught this way are all mature males but the only set back is the possibility of the fish being collected by another person. Big bets are placed on the outcome of Imbellis fights and the rules governing Imbellis fights remains intact till this day and are listed as below.


Rule 1– Size of fish shall be gauge from the top view only.

Rule 2 – The fight bottle shall be the 1kg packing ‘Horlicks’ bottle.

Rule 3 – A wooden plank shall be placed to cover the top of the bottle.

Rule 4 – Should one or both fishes didn’t flare knocking on the bottle shall be done with a hair comb or pen till both fishes flares until full coloration is complete.

Rule 5 – The fight shall last a maximum of one hour only and a draw shall then be declared.

Rule 6 – Only after both fishes had hit its opponent shall the time of the fight commence.

Rule 7 – If a fish was hit and it totally withdraws without retaliating it is considered a non-fight.

Rule 8 – If a fish hits its opponent and then withdraws its opponent shall be considered the winner.


A spot under an ‘Indian almond’ tree is usually chosen to stage these sessions as these trees are very shady and it creates a cool and comfortable atmosphere. As the fish performance will be affected by traveling, sheds are built to keep the Imbellis at this place that also doubles up as fish sales outlet. The shed keeper also offers fish keeping services for a fee. The leaves from the shady tree are conveniently used to encourage the Imbellis to build its nest. It was observed by the betta keepers then that the fish form increases as the water turns yellowish and ‘Indian almond’ leaves became standard equipment for betta keeping to this day.


Only Imbellis are used in fights in Malaya and Singapore from the 19th century to the mid 20th century even though Splendens are already being kept in the beginning of the 20th century. In Penang, Imbellis fighting is a daily affair and the only break in this activity is the 4 years of Japanese occupation of Malaya. The most popular spot in Penang where rickshaw pullers stop for their afternoon break and enjoy some fish fight was directly hit by a bomb and many betta keepers perished. According to old timers, the Japanese planes mistaken the rolls of parked rickshaw as cannons of the British forces.

                                          

 

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