Kings of the Beetle
Stéphane Rennesson (EHESS-CNRS)
Emmanuel Grimaud (CNRS)
Paper short abstract:
The film depicts a competition of "Rhinoceros beetles" (kwaang) fighting in Northern Thailand, a device which ideal functioning actually rests on the upholding of the ambiguity that exemplifies best the relation of control between the human players and their beetles
Paper long abstract:
2010, 59', This ethnographic film depicts the world of Rhinoceros beetles fighting in Northern Thailand, chiefly in the province of Chiang Mai. The drama inherent to these duels of 3 inches horned beetles locally called kwaang attracts the attention of many amateurs. The short portrait of four of them enables us to elucidate the tricky rules of the game. We state that influence in a kwaang match is a process that consists in mutual adjustments by which affecting and being affected is randomly distributed between human beings and beetles. The story that is being told about that intimate cooperation, yet uncanny at first sight is supported by the epistemological requirement to link the various relevant social scales of the phenomenon: the tactile interface between the breeders-players and their creatures on the one hand, and the more obvious social effects of the fights on the other. We tried to shed the light on what one may arguably qualify the very specificity of this competitive device. Its' ideal functioning rests on the upholding of the ambiguity that characterize the relation of control between humans and beetles. Everybody agree on the fact that if the Rhinoceros beetles can't be really tamed, we can however try to enhance their fighting potentialities and to guide them by tactile means during the fight. The beetles finally prove to be profoundly ambiguous animals, at the same time remarkably obedient and nervous as they can alternatively be easily controlled and escape suddenly the fighting device elaborated by humans.