The Royal cats of Siam

I was just doing a simple google search on Siamese cats when I found out that they have royal ancestry, along with the blue Korat cats – so I thought the pair of them deserve a post. Our old cat is a Siamese, which is described as the most sociable and playful of all cat breeds, so I realised that she is just about the most un-Siamese you could imagine! Must have taken after my sister, I suppose – she was the one in the family who didn’t really like Thailand.

The history of the native cats of Siam, including the Siamese and the Korat, is recorded in the “Cat-Book Poems”, which contains several illustrations, and describes seventeen cats that are considered lucky – and also some unlucky ones. The original work was rescued from the Siamese city of Ayutthaya when it was destroyed by Burmese invaders in 1767. His Majesty King Rama V commissioned a high-ranking monk, who copied some of the cat paintings on to a special papyrus called khoi paper and this smud khoi book can still be seen today in Bangkok’s National Museum. One illustration, a white-haired variety with black tail, feet and ears, resembles the modern Siamese. Another one is a blue cat, quite possibly the ancestor of the Korat.

Siamese cats

Siamese cats were highly esteemed by generations of Siamese monarchs, even to the extent that they resided in the royal palace. They were trusted to protect the palace as well as monasteries from evil spirits and were also thought to bring good fortune. They came to Europe in 1884, when the departing British Consul-General Gould was given a Siamese cat by the King as a farewell gift, considered as a great honour since the cat came from those bred in the palace by the royal family. The offsprings of this cat were exhibited at the Crystal Palace in London in 1885: these are Duen Ngai, Kalohom and Khromata themselves.

These cats were so extraordinary that they captured immediate attention. A well-known quote from that time describes the Siamese as an “unnatural nightmare of a cat”.

As they were becoming immensely popular abroad, their breeding almost ceased in Thailand. A certain Mrs. Dobrenchuk was an enthusiastic breeder; she wrote in a letter in the 1950s that her Siamese cats, received from a Lao princess, regularly cleared the back yard of cobras, the only difficulty being that they often dragged their “trophies” indoors and sometimes they were not quite dead….

The characteristic kinked tail is part of the history of the Siamese as indicated by the following legends:

Once there was a Siamese Princess who was frightened of losing her rings while she bathed in a stream. Looking around for somewhere convenient to place her jewelry, she noticed that her favorite cat had crooked his tail for her. Ever since that time all Siamese cats have been born with a tiny kink at the end of their tails to hold the Princess’ rings.

According to a different legend, a young cat took his wife into the jungle to search for a royal goblet that was missing from one of the Siamese temples. When finding the treasure, they decided that the female should remain in the jungle to guard it while the male went back to the city to inform the priest. So the little cat took up her position among the leaves, her tail twisted around the stem of the goblet to make quite sure that no one would try to take it away. Four nights later her husband returned to find he was the father of five sweet little kittens. But she had not forgotten her earlier trust: she had been so conscientious that a permanent kink had developed in the end of her tail. What was more, all five kittens had a similar kink in their tails!

Korat cats

The Korat cat is seen as a good luck cat, because it has the colour of rainclouds, silver sheen as money, and eyes the colour of young rice – everything refers to wealth.

The gift of a pair of cats to the bride ensures a fortunate marriage. The Thais call the cat si-sawat. Si means colour. Sawat has several meanings, including good fortune or prosperity. It also means a mixed colour of grey and light green. Also, the seed of the look sawat, a non-edible fruit that grows wild in Thailand is of this colour.

The earliest reference to Korat cats is in the above-mentioned “Cat-Book Poems”.

“Ma-Laid is of an even colour,
her coat is like the flower of pampass grass, smooth and neat,
her hairs like the colour of a cloud,
her eyes shine like dewdrops on a lotus leaf.”

((Maybe I should reincarnate as a cat if I want such compliments on my eyes from a man?!))

You can take a look at the poems on the 17 “lucky cats” and the illustrations right here. (The link seems to be down now, but was ok earlier today.)

18 responses to “The Royal cats of Siam

  1. Brandon and I are not ready for kids, but we’re ready for cats. If we could afford a Siamese, I can call my parents, “Guess what, mom and dad? Your grandkittens are Thai!”

    Heheeheee. 😉

  2. Sounds like that could be a cool Thai Movie/Sit com/Soap opera…chai mai? 😉

    W.

  3. ok, let’s strike a deal Oakley: I reincarnate as a stray Siamese in California, you guys take me, but on condition that your husband must write and regularly recite poems about how beautiful my eyes are. agreed? :-)))))

  4. Thanks for this record!

    Betti’s re-incarnation comment got be chuckling and then I ended up in uncontrollable laughter when I read ” Guess what, mom and dad!…”

    Hahahahahaha!

  5. LOL – Absolutely, Wit.

    Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl gets hit by a truck and dies. Girl comes back as a cat, following boy everywhere. Boy takes the cat/girl home. Boy mourns for a while then takes up a new love. Cat/girl turns evil cat from hell. Boy throws out cat/girl. Cat/girl’s heart is broken so she throws herself in front of a truck. Girl wakes up in the ICU with boy on her side. It was only a dream.

    Go ahead, Stevesuphan. Pitch that to your TV buddies. :)

  6. I like the story already…

  7. LOL I love it.

    Though thanks Oakley for a right good laugh to go with my Cheerios this morning now I have to clean sprayed milk and cereal off my monitor *bleh*

    W.

  8. why evil cat from hell? why not a little heartbroken cat not quite ready yet to extinguish all the attachments to emotions, for example, to the desire to be taken care of and to be loved? if you need an evil character for your plot, couldn’t it be a neighbour, like a young naughty boy always trying to play tricks with the cat or something?
    well, just a suggestion…. :-)
    55555

  9. I sang that song from ‘Lady and the Tramp’

    “We are Siameeiz if you pleeiz (du-du-du-dum)
    We are Siameeiz if you don’t please (du-du-du-dum)
    We are former residents of Siam
    There are no finer cats than we am
    We are Siamese with very dainty claws
    Please observing paws containing dainty claws
    Now we lookin’ over our new domicile
    If we like we stay for maybe quite a while”

  10. Those cat poems actually are ancient records for cat breeding. Different kinds of marks for different kinds of luck. These marked cats became royal, I would speculate, to augment the royalty’s good fortune, similar to the concept of white elephants.

    Did you know about the role of these cats as part of the rain calling ceremony? Sometimes that happens during the rocket festivals of some Northeastern Provinces. They rarely perform the ceremony nowadays. Well, I guess its not so necessary since the King can now actually seed clouds to make rain fall.

  11. Great pictures!! The Siamese cats in that picture look much cuter than the cats bred in the U.S. these days.

    Two more Thai cats are worth mentioning.

    Supalak (copper cat) is another surviving breed. In the west this cat is known as “Burmese” even though it appears as the third cat in the Thai cat poems.

    Khao Manee (or Khao Palord) is perhaps the real royal cat. This white breed is shown in a picture sitting next to King Rama V. Some people believe the so-called Siamese cat is actually a temple cat while the real royal cat is Khao Manee.

  12. have just visited a royal cat farm in the outskirt of Bangkok. Nearly all the cats on display were white cats with eyes of two different colors…really amazing!! I think these are “Khao Manee” as mentioned above by a visitor? There were other Thai cats on display as well, and one that really caught my eyes was a black cat with big yellow eyes, very much like a panther. So essentially there are 5 surviving breeds, Wichienmat, Korat,Khao Manee, Supalak, and this all black cat whose name escaped my memory again. It wasn’t just another black cat, but was a very distinctive black cat with a spellbinding look in its large yellow eyes. Maybe I will have to make another trip to the farm soon because those cats mesmerized me and beckon my return.

  13. For VK,

    Cats like in the picture are bred in the U.S. today. US breeders use the term Old Style Siamese, Traditional Siamese, and Classic Siamese. A new group of Europian breeders also use Thai Cat.

  14. Hi! I dreamt for owning a korat siamese cat since 2000. May I know where can I get it?

  15. Ahim
    What do you mean by a korat Siamese cat? Korats are blue – Siamese are pointed.
    Where are you located? This would help find a Korat breeder near you…

  16. dkkorat, in the year 2000, I saw a table calender of Thai Airways international , and on the month of June it featured a photo of “Korat Siamese Cat”, with greyish hair and yellowish eyes.

    I am from Brunei.

  17. Ahim,
    Yes, I know that picture:-)
    If you contact me personally, I might be able to help you find one;-)

  18. Dont forget the Khao Manee and the Suphalak :-)