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.