Beetle fighting and Northern Thai cosmology

“Beetle fighting and Northern Thai cosmology”

A Talk by Stéphane Rennesson

Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 7:30 pm
at the Alliance Française, Chiang Mai

422nd Meeting of the Informal Northern Thai Group
Free entrance - Conference in english


This talk is a story of a game that builds upon an uncanny cooperation between human beings and insects. Rhinoceros beetles (xylotrupes Gideon, or as they are known in Thailand: แมงกว่างชน: maeng kwaang chon) are found all over Southeast Asia. However, only in Northern Thailand does the human–insect relationship reach the refined, institutionalized level characterized by “kwaang fighting”.These competitions, which stir the passion of thousands of players each year between September and December, give original insights on the specific process through which Lanna people develop local ecological wisdom. It will be shown that it isn’t so much the coleoptera that symbolize a harmonious connection built by human populations with their natural environment. It is more a question of what happens in the intimate relationship between human beings and insects. Are the fights won because of the natural characteristics of individual beetles, or is it due to the daily training that players impose on them?

Each year each player hopes to find the “King of Kwaang”, the only one that wouldn’t need any help from its owner, easily beating its opponents thanks to its almost magical power! The talk will examine what, exactly, humans share with beetles; whether beetles can be tamed or controlled and do they have feelings, a brain or a soul? By observing technical and conceptual handling of the kwaang, we consider the claim by players to “know the deep nature of beetles” and offer an original window upon the local cosmology.