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 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!
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.)