Siamese Cat Legends
Siamese Cats: Legends and Reality (2004) is a book developed from its predecessor The Legend of Siamese Cats (1998) containing studies of pre-modern Thai manuscripts on cats collectively called the Tamra Maew. Since those publications, I've been accreting more material on the Thai cats, some trivial, and some profound. Rather than let it all rot in my archive, I felt it was better to share here on the Internet. However, those wishing to learn about the Tamra Maew and the genetics of Thai cats are still recommended to buy the book, and some items here inescapably assume prior knowledge of it. Phrases referring to a topic covered more extensively in the book are marked with an asterisk(*).
- Martin Clutterbuck
John Neely, producer of the segment on Cats 101 for Animal Planet on the Discovery Channel, was the catalyst for a major re-ignition of my interest in the Thai cats. In three whirlwind days, we covered the major bases of the Thai feline world, starting with a rain ceremony in Phimai and the cats of Kamnan Preecha Pukkabut in Ampawa. This was followed by Wat Thong Noppakhun, with its murals and cat colony. Next up was Soi Cats and Dogs (SCAD) and their mission with street cats. We ended at the house of Somkiat Ornvimol, TV documentarian and academic who helped me previously with a foreword.
A fundamental insight from SCAD director Wendy Edney was that owing to the taboo on euthanizing stray cats here, the street population of cats in Bangkok is estimated at around 1 million, extrapolated from careful counts in smaller areas. As will be discovered, the semi-albino genes are relatively abundant in the street population, which leads to the corollary that any fears of the Thai types becoming extinct are quite unfounded.
In Phimai, Chuchai Wisetjindawat had organized a live rain ceremony with a Korat cat: somewhat truncated and out of season, but about the most authentic one could ever hope to see. Chuchai has been a constant source of other titbits of information concerning Korat cats over the years, as a result of his Korat Cat Conservation Club, conceived with offical backing. We covered the same territory again a few months later with Eva Krynda, a Korat enthusiast from Australia, and her friends Kate and Elaine. This trip yielded yet deeper insights into the silvery grey cat of the Northeast.
Back in the environs of Bangkok, stronger connections were made with Kamnan Preecha Pukkabut's Thai Cat Centre in Amphawa, Samut Songkhram, at the time of writing still the most serious breeding effort with Wichienmas and Suppalak cats in Thailand. Like Chuchai, Kamnan Preecha's operation has the blessings of the local authority. In his case, as a supplemental attraction to the floating market of Ampawa, still a hugely popular tourist stop.
Even more interesting were the revelations from Wat Thong Noppakhun in Klong San, part of Bangkok's historical Left Bank. Previously, this temple had been significant as the owner of cat murals in its Observance Hall (Ubosatha), but following a tip from the temple's abbot, we discovered a feline paradise in monk's house number 8, presided over by 91-year old Phra Khru Wiboon Yanakij.
Addressed as Luang Pu, (Holy Grandfather), he is no less than a living link to the tradition of Somdej Phra Puttajan in nearby Wat Anongkharam, the first editor of the Tamra Maew and whose cremation volume saw it committed to print for the first time.
"Luang Pu" has fostered a colony of exquisitely beautiful Thai cats, a living and breathing example of what "breeding" means when the Tamra Maew is the only text available.
Explanations of terminology
"Thai cat" in these pages refers to both cats represented in the Tamra Maew and the general population of cats in Thailand, most of which have the attributes of smallness, litheness, sociability, short hair, and some colour lighter than black.
"Wichienmas" and "Supphalak" refer to expression of the Siamese and Burmese semi-albino genes respectively in an average Thai cat body shape, as depicted in the Tamra Maew.
"Siamese" and "Copper" (rather than "Burmese") are my English sounding translations of these. Copper translates the alternate Thai name for this breed, "Thong Daeng".
"Korat", "Dork Lao" and "Si Sawat" all refer to the dilute grey cat depicted in the Tamra Maew. Conservatism in the Korat fancy has resulted in foreign born "Korat" cats not being much different from their Thai forebears.
Korat is the informal name of both a city and its province in the northeast of Thailand correctly called Nakhon Ratchasima. Phimai is an administrative subdivision of this province (both a town and its surrounding district), about 50km north-east from Nakhon Ratchasima city.
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All text and photos © Martin Clutterbuck 2012-3, unless otherwise indicated.
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