Meeting : "Beetle fighting and Northern Thai cosmology”.
Tuesday, 26 September, 2017.
A Talk by Stéphane Rennesson
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: แมงชนกวาง: 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
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?
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.
at the time.
fter a long participative fieldwork in Thailand as a boxer, a trainer and a promoter, Stéphane Rennesson
has written an in-depth ethnography of the world of Thai Boxing in its
country of origin. After that he has been working on other numerous
games that are very much structured and that meet popular success in
Thailand. He is mainly interested in competitions that require uncanny
collaborations between human and various animals such as animal fights
(beetles, cocks, fishes, buffaloes) and bird signing contests (Striated Doves
and Red Bulbuls). Working for the Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique (CNRS) since 2009, he also has taught anthropology at the
Institut d’Etudes Politique of Paris. Based now in Bangkok at the
Institut de Recherche sur l'Asie du Sud-Est Contemporaine (IRASEC)
since January 2017, he carries on a study on the recent developments of
the mythic and ritual complex around the figure of Nagas in Northeastern Thailand at the crossroad of anthropology of nature and anthropology of religion.
File for downloading or reading online - 18 pages).