“The spiders come from different provinces―as far as Iloilo, Cebu, Masbate,” lanky 20-year old Robert says in Filipino. He sells spiders to school kids for five to fifteen pesos apiece.
“This is for amusement and for fun only,” he stresses. “But sometimes there are buyers who use these spiders for sports or combat fighting, like cockfighting,” he explains. Bets can reach thousands of pesos, he adds, while arranging the spiders inside the ‘karang’ or rectangular box partitioned one inch by one inch square to house individual spiders, with a clear glass cover.
Spider aficionados categorize spiders by their environment: house spiders, grass spiders, tree spiders, wire spiders, and the like. Summer season is the peak season to catch spiders. They can fetch from PhP 5 to PhP 250 each, depending on their size: small, large, extra-large, or oversized.
Robert explains further the art of spider combat. It depends on the agreement between the owners of the spider-fighters. There can be two out of three knockdowns from the ‘sagradas’, two to three feet of thin wooden stick, where the combatants try to knock each other down, landing on the ground or hanging in the air.
It only takes two minutes on the average to declare a winner. Sometimes the fight is over in seconds! When one spider totally wraps its foe with its silken thread it is called ‘saputan’ or ’fishball’. That’s spider combat’s jargon for the uninitiated. The victor and the vanquished are visibly clear.
Interestingly, classification by provinces puts Iloilo, Masbate, and the Southern Tagalog provinces in the top three sources of the spider fighters. “By the way, there are also imported ones from Japan and Saudi Arabia,” Robert adds.
Before combat, the fighters are measured by a stick with a paddle-like end. “We just blow gently to keep them still so we can measure them accurately; like in boxing, there are weight divisions. Here, we have length or height divisions,” Robert says. Some owners blow smoke in their spiders’ faces before the bout to make it angry, ferocious, and combat-ready, he adds.
Enthusiastic school kids are lining up at the street corner to buy Robert’s spiders, carefully putting them inside empty matchboxes. With a capital of ₱400, he hopes to take home a neat ₱800―not bad for a day’s work.
But the barangay tanod puts a damper on his brisk business, shooing him away with a rattan stick. So the Spiderman swings to another street corner, under the scorching sun.
This story appeared in Animal Scene’s April 2015 issue.