THE SMUD KHOI
Pictures and slides from the National Library of Bangkok and the Smud Khoi kindly provided by Mrs. Daphne Negus
(Click on each picture to enlarge)
A MANY SPLENDORED CELEBRATION
(article written by Daphne Negus)
With the opening up of travel and communications, and the expanding interest into the origin of felis catus, we now know that we can refer to a 'Siamese cat' and mean one that is silver blue (the Korat, or Si-Sawat) brown (the Copper or Thong-Daeng), or, as a precious recent discovery will show, any number of combinations of cat coats.
Because of the Western world, it is an established favorite, 'Siamese cat' will conjure up the vision of the light colored cat with the fabulous blue eyes, flaunting a magnificent matched set of ears and tail, face mask and high boots, in an ever-growing range of dilutes and combinations, breathtaking and fanciful. The Original 'Siamese Cat' was Seal Pointed, as presented in the ancient CAT BOOK POEMS (Tamra Maew) (circa 1350-1767), the SMUD KHOI OF CATS (circa 1868-1910) and a possibly more recent book known as THE BOOK OF THE CAT (Characteristics of Siamese cats). Howere in none of these is the Seal Pointed cat given top billing. Other cats appear to have been more popular judging by the number of times they were depicted in the ancient books; in the more recent books, the Seal Pointed appears 7th & 8th, whereas the Copper is shown 2nd and 3rd and the Korat is 3rd and 5th in each book respectively.
Cats are no more an object of nationwide adoration in Thailand than in any other country. There, as elsewhere, a roomful of people will contain some who are sensitive to the needs of animals - or none, as I discovered when I visited Bangkok in the Fall of 1968 in search of Korats. My adventures netted nine - an auspicious number. Cats appear frequently in Thai art. An unknown cat lover - perhaps more than one, judging by differences in styles - has left such a treasury of delight, only recently "discovered".
I was told there was "a book about cats" in Bangkok's National Library. When I went to see it, the doorman said there was no such book. I went next door to the National Museum and photographed "The Smud Khoi of Cats" hanging in a high glass case alongside "The Smud Khoi of Anatomy".
Khoi is a special kind of handmade paper. A book (sah-moot) of those days was folded, not bound. A high ranking priest, Somdej Phra Buddhacharn Buddhasarmahathera, painted the Cat Ms. when commissioned to do so by King Rama V, Somdey Phra Paramindr Maha Chulakorn adored animals. He is credited with having named the Korat cat. He held a full State funeral when a favorite cat died and many personages - willingly or not - found it prudent to be among the mourners, in full regalia and with suitable pomp and sympathy.
The Priest's paintings are said (by the Fine Arts Department of the Thai Ministry of Education Archeology Department) to be copies of the CAT-BOOK POEMS, probably the oldest known manuscript devoted to cats. Reportedly kept under lock and key (the Library custodian I saw apparently didn't even know they existed) these old manuscripts are known to have originated in the years when the capital of Thailand (which was Siam until June 24, 1939) was Ayudhya, to the north of the present day capital, Bangkok.
Ayudhya was Siam's capital for 417 years (three dynasties and 33 kings) and was finally a glorious, opulent city of more than a million persons.This rich center of palaces, temples, and libraries was razed to the ground by the Burmese on April 7, 1767. Nearly all books and records were burned. However, a few treasures were brought south to safety, among them books about cats, dogs and birds, and, although the identity of the artists who created these books will never be known, their work remains to give us knowledge and pleasure in the joy of their observations afforded them, in color and verse.
We share after possibly 600 years their fascination in watching cats at play, posing prettily on furniture, and eating from footed dishes. Nowadays, many feel it is easier and healthier for a cat to eat off a raised dish than to have to hunch to floor level to eat. And a black cat with white feet, white muzzle and white 'shirt front' is just as loved today as it was 600 or so years ago.
Although I had missed seeing the manuscripts in 1968, I cherished the dream that somehow...dearest hope: a return visit.... I would bring them to the attention of cat fanciers everywhere. At long last, in October, 1976, at a cat show in Austin, Texas where I was showing two of my Korats, my dream started to come true! A petite, dark haired young woman, Mrs. Burma Hyde of San Antonio, introduced herself and showed me her collection of color photos of cats, and one or two dogs, whose antiquity was borne out not only in the styles of drawing and writing but in the obvious age of the paper used. Mrs. Hyde's visit to the National Library had been infinitely more productive than mine! Mrs. Hyde promised me a set of copies of her valuable pictures. Eighteen months later, they arrived, in slide form, and many of them are a part of this Celebration of Siamese Cats.
Meanwhile, I had been corresponding with Professor Robert M. Fagen (now of the University of Pennsylvania) who is deeply interested in research into the origin of the cat. Having learned from me of the existance of the paintings, he of course went to the National Library and wrote me he had seen cat, dog and fowl manuscripts. "...I did not really concentrate on anything but the cat books. Thanks to the staff of the Manuscripts Section I was permitted to examine 15 separate old manuscripts. All were folded, accordian-style, and both sided of the paper were used. Nine of the 15 had cat pictures, 4 didn't, and 2 others probably did, but I seem not to have recorded this fact in my haste to take notes on the others". I can only imagine how thrilled Professor Fagen must have been to see and actually handle these precious, fragile pages!
Also on view in the National Library is a book, bound in modern day style, showing many of the cats from the two former books. A review of varieties being bred in today's Rabbit, Cavy and Mouse Fanciers will reveal patterns similar to those achieved in centuries old Siam. What a challenge to present day Cat Fanciers!I have had a copy of this book since 1966. It was brought to me by a friend who picked it up in Thailand. There being no copyright in Thailand, the book of color plates was included in the gift book given to mourners at the cremation ceremonies of a priest who, as a Thai remarked to me, was "known in his life to be an arduous cat lover". Included in the gift book is the proper incantation to be used in a rain-making ceremony using a cat.
The Bad Luck cats in this book are shown in attitudes of emaciation and illness, aborting, cannibalising. The first cat is white with a yellowish cast to its body, red-eyed and holding itself as if it hurts. The translation of the verse, at present not available, would explain.
Mrs. Daphne Negus
Si Sawat Cattery - USA
Some pictures from the original manuscripts
(Click on each picture to enlarge)
ALL THE 17 "GOOD LUCK" CATS FROM THAILAND ARE DISPLAYED HERE
with translations of the verses by Ianthe Cormak and footnotes by the translator and Mrs. Daphne Negus
VIEW THE 6 "BAD LUCK" CATS BY CLICKING HERE
with translation of the verses by Martin Clutterbuck from "The legend of the Siamese Cats"