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Spider Fighting and Gambling in the Philippines
With the proliferation of video games and on-line gaming the quaint "blood sport" of spider (gagamba) fighting as a child's pastime is now found mostly in rural areas and in some street corners and back alleys of city slum districts. It is also a poor man's form of gambling but a far cry from the more popular "Sabong"(cockfighting) although some gambling bets could go as high as 50,000 pesos (1000 dollars) per fight.
Unlike the more organize spider fighting tournament (the Kumo Gassen) held annually in Kajiki,Kagoshima,Japan,spider fights commonly called "sabong sa kaka" in the Philippines are less elaborate.It consist of pitting two spiders of relatively the same size on opposite end of a stick from a "walis tingting"(a broom made from the miidribs of coconut leaves) The rules of the game are simple.The spider that falls off the stick three times loses the match. In another version the spider that has been bitten and incapacitated in the webbings of it's opponent loses.
A tragic spider hunt
Among her siblings, their youngest brother was my mother's favorite. She was more like a mother than an elder sister to him. My mother who was then working as a nurse in the capital city (circa 1940s) bought him a bicycle which he had been pestering her to buy. She had it sent from Manila to Baguio in time for his thirteenth birthday. On the early morning dawn the following day he rode his new bike out into the wooded park. An avid fan of spider fighting he saw a web atop the wooden post of a power line.They found his body next to the bike.He was electrocuted and fell to his death. It took a long time for my mother to get over her guilt and stop blaming herself for the death of my uncle "Sonny".
During my boyhood days I would join my friends in foraging for spiders among the bushes and trees. Some boys more daring than others would climb up the wooden post of electric power lines.Spiders found there were believe to be more ferocious.
Philippine fighting spiders are of a variety very similar to the European garden spider (Araneus Diadematus).Long-limbed and slendered-bodied are the prefered choice.Spiders with red mark on their backs are called "Pulahan".They are mostly found in Tamarind trees.There are also the black or brown"Tigre-tigre" or "Tiger" with stripes and an almost triangular body shape.The "Mantalan","Ituman" and the yellow spider found on horse-radish plants.Different fighting styles like fast moving, unpredictable body movements,quick acting venom, agressiveness and spiritedness are all taken into consideration when choosing spiders
We stabled them in empty matchboxes or in a specially constructed box which usually have separate cells to house several spiders. they are feed with insects but we avoid feeding them before a fight to make them more aggressive
Fights would be arrange after school or even during school hours if we could manage to play hooky.The fights were stage in hidden and out of the way places far from parental eyes.Gambling was always involve and most of our lunch money went into it. Some petty larceny was sometimes resorted to acquire the necessary stake money. A bill or two missing from a parent's wallet. Occasionally we were found out because of a tattletale schoolmate (usually a girl). Needless to say, a lot of us got to taste the leathery sting of a belt. :))
Heated arguments from hot heads sometimes occur because some boy felt he was cheated or welsh on a bet. Fistfights were not uncommon and going home with a bruised eye and soiled or torn school uniform resulted in the discovery of our illicit activities and the accompanying consequences. Although it never deteriorated to such tragic outcome as the news stories below:
Sept.03,2010 Negros Occidental, Philippines
"2 minors killed over spider-fighting bet"
Over an unpaid 5 peso bet (10 cents) a 15 year old stab to death a 13 year old boy. Upon learning of his son's death, the father sought out his son's killer and hacked him to death with a jungle bolo.
Sept 20,2010 Liloan town,northern Cebu,Philippines
"Man killed, one hurt over spider-fighting"
A spider fight in a local town ended in tragedy with one man killed and another wounded after an argument over a disputed bet.The suspect armed with a handgun fired point blank at the head of his opponent killing him instantly and wounded another as he fled the scene of the crime.
Taking bets before the spider fight
Spider fighting is now generally discourage since it affects the educational performance of children. It is also thought to be indirectly responsible for crop damage since spiders are useful in controlling insect pest population. Ordinance against the sport are now in effect in some cities where it is considered as a form of illegal gambling.