Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
I want to be the very best.
The other kids have had a head start. They strut around the neighborhood with matchboxes in hand, looking for a challenge. I watched them in the sidelines, cheering and gasping as their champion spider fighters duked it out on the thin wooden stick that was the narrow battlefield. Some fights lasted minutes, others mere seconds. When one spider falls off the stick, the other is declared the winner.
Before Pokémon, way before the age of handheld gaming devices, this is what we played— Gagamba, or spider fighting. The kid who trained the best spider fighter was a local god for a solid weekend.
[Mix Villalon was away during the April Fools fun, but here she reviews a classic fighting game from her childhood.]
Spider fighting was a big deal in my old neighborhood. It was serious business. The adults who had nothing to do all day would sometimes bet on fights, lending a semi-sinister light on an otherwise casual pastime.
To get started, I had to go to kanto (literally “street corner”) and get me a prizefighter. There were many kinds of spiders to be found. They were categorized by their environment.
Spiders found in the house were gagambang bahay (“house spiders”) and were considered lame. They were sheltered and lazy, gorging themselves on houseflies, and barely moving from their corners. Not good fighters. Gagambang damo (“grass spiders”) were found in tall grass and would vary in size and agility. These were more common in rural neighborhoods. Gamambang puno (“tree spiders”) were long-legged and didn’t scare easily. Gagambang alambre (“wire spiders”) made their homes on electric cables and chicken wire. These were common in urban neighborhoods. They were a sturdy lot that clung to the stick like their lives depended on it. Gagambang talon (“jumping spiders”) were like the Magikarp of the lot because of their tendency to jump away when threatened. Not good in a game where the goal was to be the last spider on the stick.
The best of the best was the gagambang pitik (“flick spider”). They were small but packed a punch. In a heartbeat, they would fling their enemies away from them. If you found a pitik, you were as good as gold.
I found a spider but I didn’t know how good it would be in a fight. Off I went to see Ol’ Mang Kanor, the farthest thing from a professor, but a street philosopher all the same. He didn’t need to ask if I was a girl or a boy. With a leer and lascivious lip smacking, he told me I had a pitik in my hands. Time to put it to the test.
Fighting spiders were housed in empty matchboxes. If you had more than one spider, you could break off a matchstick and use it as a matchbox divider. I’ve seen kids with four spiders in a matchbox, kind of like a spider condominium. But a smaller space could weaken your spider as it wouldn’t be able to stretch its many legs. The best spider trainers would carry many matchboxes that house their spiders individually.
Outside the school grounds, there would be hustlers who sold spiders in matchboxes. They didn’t fight, they just caught spiders and sold them to kids. It cost 5 pesos for a common house spider, upwards of 20 pesos for larger tree spiders. The kids who bought their fighters get whispered about behind their backs. “He didn’t even catch that, he just bought it.”
Caring for your spider meant finding it food. We would comb the grassy areas of the neighborhood after school to look for ants and small grasshoppers. If you wanted a show, put the spider and the grasshopper under a glass cup and watch the carnage. Red ants would make the spider braver, or so I was told.
Before the fight, you could blow smoke in your spider’s face to make it angry (I grew up in a rough neighborhood where smoking started at eight years old). This made them tough and ready for a fight.
Every fight could potentially be a duel to the death. While the goal was to be the last spider on the stick, sometimes one spider would encase the other in webbing. This is super effective! When the other is completely incapacitated, the victor would sometimes eat its opponent.
There was no pansy passing out for these fighters. It’s always do or die. To the trainer who wins the round goes the pot of a handful of coins.