Jennifer Gampell
868/75-76 Soi Vanich 2
Songwad Road
Bangkok 10100 Thailand
Tel/Fax: (66) 02-237-3362
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October 30, 2000

Detour: Dove Tales
By Jennifer Gampell

Since dawn, the tiny contestants have been fluttering around in their dome-shaped cages, which hang from tall metal poles. A few hundred spectators, predominantly male, sit quietly along the perimeter of the grassy, treeless field in Narathiwat, a small beach town in southern Thailand 60 km from the border with Malaysia. Except for the occasional whine of a car engine or murmur of hushed conversation, the only sound comes from the cooing of hundreds of zebra doves.

At 8 a.m. the judges—one for every 30 poles—walk onto the field. Unbeknownst to the birds, the dove-singing competition has begun. During the next three hours, judges will stop several times under each cage to listen and award points for pitch and melody. Doves sing in three voices: bass, tenor/alto and soprano. Winning doves will repeat the same tripartite song—an opening wow, a few tuks and a closing gong—in key the entire morning.

Popular for more than a century in Thailand's largely Muslim south, competitive dove singing is now winging toward Bangkok. It's probably the only Thai sporting event without ear-splitting music, screaming fans and—because of its Islamic origins—gambling. Winning owners receive nothing more than a trophy or a small household appliance. Still, a genetically gifted crooner (zebra doves can be either natural-born Pavarottis or tone-deaf Bob Dylans) is worth a fortune in fame and stud fees. The most expensive bird ever was bought by a Singaporean in 1995 for $68,000. The high-flyers live in palatial, hand-crafted cages adorned with Venetian glass water bowls, ivory perches and Austrian crystal. Not bad for a 15-cm-tall beige crooner with a few black stripes.


Copyright 2002 Jennifer Gampell