IANTHE CORMAK'S ESSAY
(dedicated to the memory of Khunying Abhibal Rajamaitri)

 

DEDICATION

This work is dedicated to the memory of Khunying Abhibal Rajamaitri whose picture appears opposite (n.d.r.: picture missing). She's holding her Blue-Pointed Siamese male Mahajaya Nai Mokara [Mr. January]. I knew him in the period 1973-1977 shortly after the Khunying's death, and he showed clearly the Thai [Siamese] image of the Siamese Cat.
Had I not been privileged to have met the Khunying I would have loved my cats as much but never been imbued with the love of the breed that she instilled in all those who heard what she had to tell them about the cats of Thailand.
I hope for her sake and for the sake of the contribution she has made to the Korat in the Western World that the the cat she loved so much remains forever the little, silver--blue cat I fell in love with in Thailand.

A BRIEF ESSAY ON THE KORAT CAT

Go to Bangkok, to the National Museum. In the Fine Arts Room you may see the Smud Khoi, the Thai Book of the Cat. These pictures and poems describe cats of different types and colours and are copies of other and older pictures, which date from throughout the Ayutthaya period of Thai history (1350 - 1767), and show that the Thai cats as we know them in the 1990's have changed little if at all in all their recorded history - some 600 years or more. (Given the age of these early manuscripts it is reasonable to suppose that the cats in these pictures which we can easily recognize, the Wichiaadmard, the Supalak or Thong Daeng and the Mailaid or Doklao, to be even older to merit inclusion at that early date.) Wichianmaad? The Siamese. Thong Daeng? The Thai Copper; surely the forerunner of the Brown Burmese and still bred in Thailand today. And Doklao? A Thai name for the cat we call Korat.

Small, silvery little cat with eyes too big for its face and a nature too loving to be resisted. To me the Korat is special because all Korats are special; to the Cat Fancy in general it has other properties which make it, if not special, then at least different from other cats. The heart-shaped face, the heart-shaped head, the wonderful, luminous eyes of intense green, the neat compact body, firm and elegant, having neither the long, lean shape of the Western Siamese nor the more stocky and comfortable form of the European domestic cat. Female Korats are unusually dainty, the males heavier, more compact and sturdier. Slim legs, delicate paws, gently tapering tail; the word that springs to mind is restraint - nothing here is exaggerated, all is balanced and proportioned. Except those eves; huge and gentle and knowing; 600 years of wisdom in their depths, and their coat, soft and silky, smooth and sleek and silver. The texture of silk, Thai silk, and the colour, (described rather prosaically by a Thai as being exactly the colour of cigarette ash), a warm, soft, grey, each hair being tipped with white causing the silvery sheen that gives the coat its wonderful depth of colour. A glossy, sleek cat who is more highly prized in its homeland if the intensity of the tipping over the shorter hairs of the legs and paws makes them progressively lighter, described by the Thais as 'dancing - or playing - with their feet in the clouds'

The modern Thai name for the Korat - SiSawat describes the colour of the cat. It translates as 'greyish-blue' arid it therefore follows that a cat that is not this colour cannot be SiSawat, cannot be a Karat,

The name Korat now used in the Western world for the SiSawat was given to the cat early this century, most probably by King Chulalongkorn,(1868-1910) King Rama V of Siam. The stories vary but all agree the question was, 'Where is that cat from?, and the answer, 'From Karat' and the name has been used alongside SiSawat ever since.

Korat, or Nakhorn Ratchasima, is a province of north eastern Thailand, an area found in the ear of the Elephant's Head d that is the map of Thailand. A land of huge granite outcrops, it is said that the colour of the Korat's coat helped to camouflage them against the granite and thus from danger. Korats are also found down the Elephant's Trunk as far south as Songklah and I have seen them in the village Temples of Northern Thailand. The Korat therefore is a cat of Siam, a truly Thai cat.

There are many myths and charming stories about them some true, some, one hopes are true, all enhance the mystique of these beautiful animals with their uncompromising gaze and independent but loving attitude.

The Thais have always held their cats in high regard. They are not worshipped and revered as cats were in ancient Egypt - but loved and cherished as the creatures of great beauty and comfort that they are. Also as the bringers of good luck and prosperity.

The Thong Daeng or Copper cats bring good fortune and the colour of the cat indicates golden riches. The Korat - the Good Luck Cat of Thailand - being grey, brings silver. One of each of these cats presented to a bridal couple would be given to ensure the marriage is blessed with good luck, happiness and prosperity. The Korat is also the cat the farmers choose to embody their superstitions for good luck since the eyes are the colour of young rice and the coat that of a rain cloud. A ceremony is still held by the north eastern farmers to bring rain. A Korat is paraded round the village streets and water is sprinkled over him to ensure their paddies are filled with water and the rice crop will be good.

It is always said that the villagers use their Korats as 'watchdogs' , allowing them to roam the villages at night when they will give warning of the approach of strangers. Certainly my own cats, if they think there is an intruder in the house at night will all growl, really growl, at the sound of footsteps or other noise. Whether they would attack a stranger has never been put to the test but knowing them, it seems unlikely. The Korat is a cat who will alert one to a problem, then sit back and watch, with great interest and lots of useful tips, suggestions and the occasional helping paw, while it is dealt with by the human half of the partnership.

As he sits on the window sill staring unblinkingly at nothing in particular, is your Korat in fact dreaming heroic, ancestral dreams of battles fought and won? For it is said that the Thais would ride into battle, their Korat on their shoulder and that these cats would attack the enemy -- mine can't ever see off a double-glazing salesman, much less a fully-armoured, elephant-riding, Burmese warrior, indeed, would rather leave the room than involve themselves in a gently acerbic discussion \with the dog over a in missing lamb chop, (although that could be guilt!)

The Korat today is bred to the exact 'Standard' laid down in the Smud Khoi and the accompanying Cat Book Poems, When one considers the many changes in the appearance of most domestic animals since the 14th century; the vast and varied changes in the canine, and feline, worlds brought about by careful and selective breeding; the changes in farm animals to meet the demands of 'market forces' (to the point where it has become necessary to make animals that used to be found on farms throughout the U.K. the subject of special breeding programs so that they don't die out), it is indeed a rare and wonderful thing to find the Thai breeds of cat should appear today as they were described over 600 years ago.

The Korats have made their way from Thailand and into the homes and hearts of many breeders throughout the \world. The first recorded 'sighting' of a Korat may have been at a cat show held in England in I 896, when a blue cat was entered in the Siamese section. The judge disqualified it because it was not seal-pointed, (all Siamese cats in the U.K. were at that time), despite the poor owner's protestations that he had brought the cat from Siam and that there were many more like it there.

Although there is some evidence that some were exported by people returning from Thailand to their home countries during the first half of this century, the first 'official Korats went to the States in 1959. These cats, Nara and Dara, were the first of a still growing number of 'The Cats with the Thai Passport' who have been imported by Korat lovers all over the world. The 'Thai Passport"? All registered Korats must be able to trace their pedigrees back to Thailand - any cat that cannot, cannot be a Korat, since Thailand is the home of the Korat.

 

Ianthe Cormak
Nimnuan Cattery - UK