field guide to the freshwater fishes of singapore

Index of fishes
General parts of a fish
Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
  Freshwater Fishes and the Singaporean
Fish-keeping | Fishes in our culture | Fish as food | Role in the habitat

cartoon of fish warding off evilFreshwater fish also have a part to play in the cultures of the different ethnic groups in Singapore. Some Malays believe that the Climbing Perch has the supernatural power of warding off or warning against the presence of evil spirits in the house. Thus, one sometimes sees individuals of these being kept in small fish-bowls for this purpose.

A number of Malays also do not like to keep Fighting Fish (Betta splendens) in the house as they believe that the aggressive temperament of the fish will sow discord within the family.

The Common Walking Catfish (Ikan Keli) is capable of inflicting a nasty wound with its sharp pectoral spines which are suspected to be venomous. There is a Malay belief that if the brain of the "offending" fish is applied to the wound, the wound will heal without trouble. Some rasboras (Ikan Seluang) are reputed to be used for magic. If the eyes of this fish are pierced with a special needle selected from a score, and the eye of that needle is damaged, then the person responsible will have the ability to inflict blindness upon his enemies.

cartoon of fishes writing their chinese charactersThe Chinese similarly, have their own beliefs. The general Chinese geomancer (or Feng-shui master) will reveal that in order to bring good luck and prosperity to the home, it is essential to include paintings of fish in the home decor. The fishes depicted in these Chinese paintings are usually of carps or goldfish, so symbolic of the Chinese culture. That fish features so much a part of Chinese geomancy is no accident. Fish is as much a part of water (Shui), as is the bird of the wind (Feng).

The Chinese word for fish sounds very much like the word for surplus. Thus, to give fishes as gifts also carried with it the blessing of continued wealth and bounty for years to come. For the Chinese, the carp holds a revered position, being always associated with good fortune. Even in Singapore, one often sees many Chinese paintings depicting a carp (or carps) jumping over a wave. This is supposed to represent success, the fish jumping over a wave symbolising a man's ability to reach a higher, better level, or as folklore has it, the carp is ascending to the dragon's gate.

photo of a tankful of goldfishes
The keeping of Goldfish is
believed to bring good luck
A very recent phenomenon of the eighties can be seen on the same note. That is the sudden popularity of the Golden Dragon Fish. A native of Malaysia and Indonesia, this fish, in the eyes of the Chinese, has the appearance and majesty of the mythological Chinese dragon, the symbol for good luck and prosperity. The whole thing began (it is believed) with a businessman purchasing and keeping one of these fish as a pet, and striking a big fortune.

The species is available in three colour forms: the green, the gold and the red. The red form is regarded to be the best, for the colour red brings the most luck, and consequently the most expensive of the lot to purchase (it can cost as much as $3000 per fish); the golden, somewhat less auspicious, but still desired and expensive; and the unfortunate green form is sometimes considered rather unlucky. Cantonese people who habitually gamble and keep the green form in their homes are said to "shee tou meen cheang cheang" (lose till their faces turn green!). Therefore, it scores very low points on the popularity chart. Along with the golden dragon fishes, both the silver and black South American Arawanas, the various goldfish breeds and the multi-coloured koi strains are also kept for good luck. The popularity of the goldfish is partly associated with it being a "good-luck" symbol, and forms a major part of our aquarium fish industry.
Freshwater habitats
Fishes in Singapore
Amazing Fishy Facts
About the guidebook
From A Guide to Common Freshwater Fishes of Singapore by Kelvin K P Lim and Peter K L Ng
Published by the Singapore Science Centre and sponsored by BP

@Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and Singapore Science Centre