Sacred and Profane: Beetle Fighting in Northern Thailand - PhMuseum

Sacred and Profane: Beetle Fighting in Northern Thailand

Anne Kathrin Greiner

2012 - 2013

Gathered around a small metal stage, a group of men cajoles and shouts excitedly. As on many nights during the rainy season, they have gathered to witness a custom which has only recently made its comeback in Northern Thailand:

Placed on top of a hollowed out log, two shiny rhinoceros beetles are facing each other. Enticed by the scent of a female trapped inside the log and goaded by the sound of a small stick rubbing on the wooden branch, they use the horns on their foreheads to push and pull each other. At times, one combatant will manage to lift the other up into the air and, if lucky, succeed in driving it off the branch. The winner will be rewarded with sugarcane and sap but its desire to mate with the female will not be met. The duels are closely observed by each teams’ supporters, leading, by turns, to open mouths, gasping and yelling, cries of disappointment and boisterous jubilations.

Their full attention focused on the tiny creatures on the quasi-altar at the centre, illuminated only by basic lights above, the men exude a sense a solemnity and passion that I found reminiscent of religious scenes.

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