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Peter Ang
Photograph: Peter Ang

Interview: Meet Peter Ang, a grandmaster of fighting spiders

He shares how this kampong pastime is living on in Singapore today

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
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Not to state the obvious, but there was a time when the Internet and smartphones didn't exist. Without these ready sources of entertainment, kids in those days whiled the time away with old school games like kite flying, hopscotch, five stones and gasing. Another one that you may not have heard much about? Spider fighting. 

The hobby is exactly what it sounds like. A popular kampong game – among boys especially – it involves catching fighting spiders (in Singapore, you can find the species Thiania bhamoensis) and pitting them against each other in a contest of size, speed and aggression. 

Singapore is a lot more urbanised compared to 40 years ago, so the sport is on the decline. But there's a pocket of enthusiasts who are keeping the passion alive here and across the region. Peter Ang (57) is one such enthusiast. "We didn't have iPhones or the Internet, so we were all playing with spiders. Most people stop at a certain age, but we didn't." 

Commenting on the changes since Singapore's kampong days, Peter says, "We stayed in the kampong when we were small, so there was a lot of space and a lot of spiders. Now, it's quite hard – only certain places have spiders, like NTU and in the cemeteries." 

Nevertheless, Peter, and a group of childhood friends, enthusiastically keep up with their passion. During peak season, they go out hunting every week in the hopes of picking up prizefighting spiders. From 6.30am till sundown, you'll be able to find the group tramping at cemeteries in Jalan Bahar, Cleantech and other prime spots. Armed with a pail and small plastic containers, they inspect shady spots and leaves for the little critters. 

Peter and his friends now administrate a Facebook group that has grown to more than 1,000 members spanning Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Pre-COVID, they would travel every year to meet up with regional friends to go on spider hunts and carry out spider fights.

There's no glossing over the fact that the sport can be brutal for the spiders. While the matches are not a fight to the death, the arachnids inevitably get hurt in the brawl – Peter mentions broken legs, and if kept too long, they can become weak. And in the Philippines, the sport is looked down upon for its associations to gambling.

Peter and his group don't place bets on their fights, and it's clear that they pursue the sport out of pure love. "We just love fighting spiders. It's also some exercise, walking around the whole day. And it's not always about the fighting – sometimes we keep the spider just to have a look before letting them go." 

And on a fundamental level, it could also be about reliving the good old days. One can certainly see the appeal.  

Spider fighting 101

The spiders
Photograph: Peter Ang

The spiders

Thiana bhamoensis are iridescent spiders that come in shades of blue, yellow, orange and more. In Singapore, only male spiders are used in fights – in contrast, only female spiders are used in Hong Kong. 

For Peter, the bigger the spider the better. So, he doesn't haul home too many specimens per hunt, "Once I have the size I want, I bring that back." 

The hunt
Photograph: Peter Ang

The hunt

Peter and his friends make the effort to go hunting early in the morning, because that's when the spiders are just beginning to leave their nests in search of food. How to spot a spider hotspot? Peter shares a tip, "If the place is totally in sunlight, then the spiders won't survive. They must have some shade and little traffic, because if the leaves are dusty then the spider also won't survive."

Peter is known for being a good spider hunter. Part of his success is this, "Patience," says Peter. "If I see a spider that I want and it runs off, I won't leave until I catch it again." 

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The training
Photograph: Peter Ang

The training

Yes, these spiders train too. Peter and his friend, Matthew Ho, say that some spiders are natural fighters – they are especially territorial and aggressively chase off opponents. 

But all the spiders benefit from a little confidence-building. Peter can train his spiders for up to two hours a day in trial fights – the more the spider wins, the more confidence it gains. When a spider consistently chases off another intruder, then they know that it's ready for the big leagues. 

The fight
Photograph: Yongi Ng

The fight

Like a good ol' boxing match, the spider fights have lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight categories, topping out at 7.3mm in size. These 'ladder fights' start with 32 or 16 fights, whittling down to quarterfinals, semifinals and the grand finals. 

How it works: a dried flat-leaf is stuck to the top of a standing bottle to create a platform. This is the arena – spiders are placed on the leaf where they face off. Some fights are intense, involving Brazilian jiu-jitsu style headlocks. The first spider to run off loses. 

To find out more about the spider fighting community in Singapore, tune in to How To Be A Fringe Fan on meWATCH

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