THE KORAT - THE GOOD LUCK CAT OF SIAM
Written by Daphne Negus
for the Spanish Magazine "El mundo del Gato" - n. 32, June-July '98
(Cover picture: Jadeye's Urvasi Silver Lady - Bred by Donatella Mastrangelo - Photo: Bob Schwartz)
Thanks to Camilla Baird for her help in typing the article...
One of the cats of Siam, the Korat, a silver blue, luminous green-eyed, loving, cat was so named by a king of Siam, HM King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1869-1910). Known in its native country as the Si-Sawat cat because of its colouring, bound in Thai catlore to be silver blue from birth until death a cat of any other colour is not nor can ever be a Korat. This cat is named for the Look Sawat the seed or nut of an inedible, ornamental fruit (similar to a horse chestnut seed in type, not in colour). "Si" is Thai for colour. "Sawat" means a mingling of grey and light green: grey, or blue as we prefer to call it, for the coat and green for the eyes. Hence the Korat was, is and will be the same Si (colour) of the Sawat seed and no other combination of colour is a Korat.
The Korat is documented as far back in cat records in Siam (which became Thailand in 1939) as 1350 AD in the "Cat Book Poems", which comprises a series of paintings accompanied by verses extolling the beauties and virtues of nineteen cats whose ownership brings good luck, and others whose very presence bodes ill.
We know from the "Cat Book Poems" (circa 1350-1767), now preserved in the National Library, in Bangkok, and the "Smud Khoi of Cats" (circa 1900) in the National Museum, that generations of artists copied the same cats over the centuries. These manuscripts show how greatly skills in drawing and painting have developed since the times when paper, known as Khoi paper, was laboriously made by hand. Too, in the 14th century, few but the clergy experienced the need to read and write and only a tiny number of monks ever enjoyed access to such recreations as depicting animals and birds, a pastime which in later centuries indulged the elegant whims and talents of more and more artists. Nowadays, modern versions proliferate in varying styles which yet show the same cats. Ever constant and prominent is our silver blue Korat.
Owner: Elfi Kleive (NO)
Korat cats were of course found in many other provinces in Siam, including four southern provinces once part of Siam which had been sliced off by British colonial powers, next to Malaya, in the late 1800's. In the jungles of the Malay Peninsula a blue cat was known to have lived wild, no doubt the provider to the traditional Sealpoint of the gene for blue. Nowadays the Korat is recognised as the forerunner of the Bluepoint.
I first knew about the "Cat Book Poems" of good and bad luck cats in 1968. I was given a contemporarily published book containing the pictures and verses, and other catlore, entitled "Characteristics of Siamese Cats". From then on I pursued other versions of this collection of Thai cat pictures. Eventually I was instrumental in introducing this exciting discovery to cat fanciers of the western world in seminars, books and magazines.
The cats from the "Cat Book Poems" most fostered by western fanciers are the Copper (Thong-Daeng) or Burmese, the Si-Sawat or Korat, and the Vichien Maad, or Seal Point Siamese. They are listed in that order according to their presentation in the "Smud Khoi of Cats" - commissioned by Rama V around 1900. Smud means book, and khoi is the paper. Books were made to fall like the picture postcard compendia tourists buy today. In this version that I photographed in Bangkok's National Museum in 1968, the Burmese (NOT a Tonkinese) is depicted second, the Korat fourth and the Seal Point Siamese seventh. This indicates the rarity and meaningfulness of the breeds in their native land. All are shorthaired cats with extraordinarily long tails. Thais believe "the longer the tail the better the disposition". Some of the cats are familiar, such as the Sam Sawet which resembles a Shaded Silver Oriental Shorthair, while others have not been seen among today's feline breeds.
GIC. Jona's Da Lin
Breeder: J.A. Didriksen
Owner: Anita Hem (NO)
The white bodied, seal or dark brown pointed Vichien Maad cat, made known to us originally as "THE Siamese", was developed by British fanciers of over a century ago, according to early records, from a handful of imports bred with local "unknowns". Among the resulting Siamese entries in shows those days many were quite darkly coloured with barely distinguishable points. The British believed then that the ONLY Siamese cat was sealpointed and that's what they worked to develop from their tiny original gene pool. When a "Blue Siamese" was exhibited in London's Crystal Palace 1896 show, the famous publisher and author, C. A. House reported that judge Louis Wain refused to judge it because it was "blue instead of biscuit colour". The Korat breed had no identity in England at that time. When Blue Points first appeared in British bred litters fingers were unjustly pointed at the owner of a cat with the racey name of "Carlisle Lad", a registered Seal Point, imported from Siam. In the US, in the 1960's the existence of the silver blue Korat was officially accepted. But it was not until the 1970's that acknowledgement of interbreedings between Seal Point and Korat cats in Siam exonerated Carlisle Lad's owner and recognised the Korat as the forerunner of the Blue Point Siamese.
My life with Korats began in 1964 at a California show where Korats were on exhibit by Mr. and Mrs. Ray Gardner, well-known breeders of Burmese and Abyssinian cats. I was riveted to the spot at my first sight of the enormous, luminous green eyes in the silvery blue heartshaped face of the little female named "Cedar Glen's Jami" , who stood gazing down the aisle, an oval paw resting on the cage wire, her body quivering excitedly in the effort of concentration. Shortly after that my first Korat was gifted to me, and SI SAWAT was my registered cattery name. Soon, I had obtained my first breeding pair and made contact with breeders in the USA and Thailand.
CH. Jadeye's Urvasi Silver Lady
Breeder: Donatella Mastrangelo
Owner: Laura Veronese (I)
Photo: Bob Schwartz
CEDAR GLEN was the cattery name of Mrs. Jean L. Johnson who, in mid 1959, had received "Nara" and "Darra", shipped to her by a friend in Bangkok. The cats, a brother and sister from a mother and son mating, had been obtained originally from the celebrated MAHAJAYA cattery of Khunying Abhibal Rajamaitri, member of an illustrious Thai family and a celebrated Thai cat fancier. Nara and Darra are the first Korats known to have been imported from Thailand for breeding purposes. Because no other Korats were known in the US, Mrs. Johnson resorted for one generation to a breeding with the native Siamese cats she had brought home from Thailand seven years earlier. By 1962, "Mahajaya Dok Rak of Gala", female, also bred by Mme. Rajamaitri and a sturdy male from Cholburi, "Nai Sri Sawat Miow of Gala", had been brought home from Thailand by Gail Lankenau Woodward , while Gertrude Gecking Sellars had imported a single female, "Me-Luk of Tru-Lu", bred by Mr. Chompoo Arthachinda. These were our foundation cats until, in 1967 I received a fabulous female from the Bangkok cattery of Mr. Sunti Sriskoon named Malaid's Doklao Noi of Si Sawat, and in 1968 I went to Thailand to find more Korats.
In the early to mid-1960's, Korats were being shown in the US and Canada in "On exhibition only", or non-championship classes such as "New Breed & Colour".
Our first Korat grand champions were imports or born to imports. The first to gain this show honour was an import from the Bangkok cat, dog and orchid fancier Khun Luang Paripon Pochanapisuti. Owned by Mr. P.L. McMillen in Detroit, Michigan his name was "Mai-Ow Thai" and he was one of the highlights of the National Cat Fanciers Association Monroe Cat Fanciers show in April, 1967. In May 1969 Harry and Denise Pearson were notified by the Cat Fanciers Association, Inc. (CFA) that their male, "Jalna's Ming Ti of Ch'un Ch'i", was CFA's first Korat grand champion. Ming Ti's dam "Saraphi Ra' of Jalna" (Imp.) was bred by Dr. Kamol in Korat and owned by founder member Jean Clark. Also bred by Mrs. Clark from the beautiful Saraphi Ra', "Jalna's Djinn of Tuli-Rama", owned by Stanley Kerschner, made grand in the Cat Fanciers Federation (CFF) in 1969. CFA's second Korat grand, the first female to attain that status, was "Malaid's Doklao Noi of Si Sawat", sent to me in July, 1967 from the Bangkok cattery of Mr. Sunti Sriskoon. They were the first of a long list of Korats to make show history. Outstanding among these were "GC Jesilieu's Pong-To-Ko of Solna", bred from Cedar Glen lines by Jessalee Mallalieu and owned by Sonia Anderson, who won All-American Cat-of-the-Year; and a gorgeous female of Si Sawat, Brandywood, Cher Dawn and Jena lines, bred by A. Lester Buck III and owned by Peter Greuel and Larry Jones, who made CFA's Top 25, named "GC Witayasat Ms J C Peepers of Petlar".
In 1968 I went to Bangkok to meet Thai breeders and find more Korats to swell and strengthen our bloodlines. With the help of my Thai friends I was fortunate enough to fly home to Los Angeles with nine on the plane with me. Nine is a favoured number for special events so was a lucky number for our breed. Several stayed in California and others were dispersed across the US
GIC. Sawat's Kirilin
Breeder: Anita Hem
Owner: Camilla Baird (DK)
In April 1965 The Korat Cat Fanciers Association, Inc., an unaffiliated breed society was formed by a small number of dedicated American and Canadian founders, including the above-mentioned and myself, to "Protect and Develop the Korat Cat, the Silver Blue Cat with the Thai Passport". The judging standard was first composed by Mr. and Mrs. Gardner and myself in 1965 in California, based on the CEDAR GLEN cats we owned. As secretary I circulated our proposal, which was soon amended and approved by our twenty-six contemporary breeders. I was primarily responsible for the seeking of official recognition for championship classes. All over North America and in Canada breeders and owners of the day all worked hard to promote our cats and went to as many shows as we could reach. Wherever I knew Korats were to be entered, I sent a copy of our provisional standard to each judge personally, or mailed out sufficient copies in care of the show's secretary. Our unity of effort brought quick results. By mid-1966 the breed's recognition by US registering bodies had begun and our cats were gaining show honours and being admired all over the North American continent.
The usual reaction by first-time spectators was: "THOSE EYES!!!" - eyes of such infinite beauty, oversized for the face when fully open. With a depth of intelligence and gaze that is unmatched, they enslave the heart and imagination.
IC. Solna Mats
Breeder: Sonia Anderson
Owner: Elfi Kleive (NO)
In the ensuing decades, thanks to the growing awareness of the breed, service people returning from the Vietnam war, and my contacts with Thai breeders, many more imports followed and it can be estimated that at least fifty of them have invigorated our bloodlines to date. I have personally imported thirteen Korats. Our imports come in with more paperwork to prove their country of origin than is required for human travelers. If a cat cannot show origin in Thailand, it is not a Korat. Nowadays, they are recognised by the Thai government as a national treasure and their importation is far more restricted and difficult, but not impossible. Our most recent arrival is a handsome male from the Chiangmai cattery of Professor and Mrs. Mali Rose. His owner here, Nancy Wanwong, had to overcome many obstacles and pull strings to get "Chiangmai Chup" released and home to Florida. Chup now resides in the home of Dr. Thomas J. and Mrs. Marn Pirkle, in Florida. While one would imagine the imports would be besieged for stud service and integration with local lines, sadly, this has not been shown to be so in Korat circles here and in cat fancies of other foreign lands where they are now to be found. Fanciers tend to go for more immediate trends in show judging or opt for geographically closer unions. Fortunately for the future of the Korat in its adoptive countries, there are breeders who have proved to be the exception. Therein lies the eventual preservation of the breed's vigour.
There is a special love in the companionship shared with these cats that brings the comment over and over: "I cannot imagine life without at least one Korat". Over the years, other devotees and I have had letters and calls from owners whose first Korat we had bred more than eighteen or twenty years past, saying how much they have been loved and how very, very soon another must come because a home without a Korat is unendurable.
Korats live a long time and improve with age in appearance while never slowing down in their zest for play. To date in this country the longest-lived has been "GC Si Sawat's Sunan", known as "Muscles". His sire, who lived past nineteen years of age, was "CH Cedar Glen's Kasem of Ab-Hi-Ko", owned by KCFA, Inc. Founding member Mrs. Bertha Nutall. His dam was the enchanting "GC & TRC Malaid's Doklao Noi of Si Sawat" mentioned above. Muscles was mated with the exquisite little "Hansa of Kon-Lek-Lek" who was brought from Mrs. Sa'ang Suravadi's Bangkok cattery in the early 1970's by Col. and Mrs. W.W. O'Neill, together establishing their famous Kon-Lek-Lek line. Muscles finally succumbed to kidney failure when he was over twenty-two and a half years old.
IC. Primprau's Blue Emerald
Breeder and Owner: Camilla Baird (DK)
Photo: Alan Robinson
Our breed society, KCFA, Inc., has a quarterly newsletter, named MAI PEN RAI, Thai for "it doesn't matter", or "never, never mind", in hope that people wouldn't take themselves too seriously but would keep the welfare and protection of the Korat foremost. In the October issue in alternate years, Mai Pen Rai features those Korats aged ten years or over. The stories owners send in about these cherished creatures show how long-loved and long-lived is this breed. Photos show Korat eyes retain their luminosity; their glossy, closelying coats their silkiness, on into their golden - in their case, silver - years.
A great deal of effort has gone into maintaining listings of our Korats by means of "census forms" over the years. Special thanks go to those dedicated archivists who have contributed to our being able to trace our lines back to their beginnings through this often tedious paperwork, now handled on computers.
Korats have a power of special bonding with their owners. People are vitally important to them. They do best among their own kind so are not a good choice for cat owners with a "one-of-each-breed" bias. Korats greet you, sit where you sit, sleep stretched alongside or atop your slumbering form, and keep you in sight by running with you from room to room. They hang so close it should be no surprise to open a drawer or closet and find one stretching and yawning, waiting for the release it knows will come. Owners of these swift, lithe creatures must be wary at all times, check every opening, especially outside access doors. One of the pledges KCFA, Inc. members make is that they will never let their Korats "run loose and unprotected". This does not mean they can never go out and enjoy the sun and eat grass (which they crave) when accompanied by an owner or in a suitably safe enclosure; it does mean that they must not be deposited outside to face hazards alone.
Because of their special bonding, they are wonderful as pets and have been praised for bringing out shy and lonely people of all ages who have yielded little response to human overtures.
Deraza Thai Apsara
Breeder: K. Kolehmainen
Owner: Tiina Matseranta (FI)
In our dedication to preserving the natural qualities of the silver blue native cat of Thailand, the pledges signed by seller and new owner and made part of membership of KCFA, Inc. are strongly worded. To preserve the Korat in its ancient, natural form we promise never to breed our Korats with another breed with the intent to call the offspring Korats, and never to breed with cats that do not trace their origin to Thailand. We pledge never to deal through pet shops, and never to get our Korats declawed. We guarantee that each cat is of proven Thai ancestry, is as represented as to quality, temperament and health, has had all immunising vaccinations and has been HANDLED WITH LOVE SINCE BIRTH.
The Korat coat has a special attribute of not floating off when the cat is held and petted; mixing breeding would deprive the coat of this quality as well as its sleek, silky closeness. Each hair is lighter at the roots and tipped with a characteristic highly prized silvering that casts a halo over the body. The body is firm and muscular, all smooth curves, with a feeling of hard-coiled spring power. The cat is semi-cobby and medium sized. The back is carried in a curve. The distance along the back from the nape of the neck to the tail appears to be equal to the distance from the base of the tail to the floor. The tail is thick at the base, tapering to a rounded tip, not whippy.
From amber with a green tinge around the pupil during adolescence, the eyes change to their luminous green-gold at maturity (two to four years). The head is "double-heart-shaped", with breadth between and across the eyes. Actually a heart face upon a heart head, the eyebrow ridges form the upper curves of the face heart and the sides, gently curving down to a strong and well-developed chin and jaw, making a balancing line for the profile and properly completing the over-all double-heart-shape. There must be no narrowness between the eyes, or weakness of chin that gives the head a pointed or chinless look, nor may the chin be heavy or square which would blunt the heart-shape. This double heart develops with maturity. The large ears, set high in the head, give an alert expression. Korats, males especially, progress through an adolescent "ugly duckling" stage. Maturity gathers greater honours in the show ring. When, as one judge put it, the mature Korat "gets its face", it has a well defined profile with a slight stop between the forehead and the nose which has a lion-like downward curve just above the leather. The nose must not appear long in proportion to the head or be so short it gives the double heart a pressed-down look.
Bred by Donatella Mastrangelo (I)
Dedication to the preservation of the Korat in its ancient, natural form is not confined to fanciers in North America and Canada. Devotees in overseas fancies including those in Scandinavia, Europe, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Japan have taken the green-eyed, heart-faced, silver blue smoothies to heart. Some of those cats have gone on from our shores while others have been taken direct from Thailand. Even so, they remain rare and are still classified as a "minor breed" in numbers. We who have the best interests of the welfare and preservation of the breed at heart take comfort in this. Too often, breeds have had to recover from a burst of popularity or fashion fads that have proven harmful. We want our breed to keep its native characteristics and so be recognisable forever as the Si-Sawat cat from Thailand.
Among cat-lovers are many whose taste in C-A-T run to the sleek, the elegant, the wildly active at times, intensely loving, quiet in voice but not in manner, demanding and insistent upon human companionship, minimally shedding, not splashy but a sensory exercise in uniquely appealing beauty and, while looking small and fragile, hard-bodied and powerful. For them, with the added centuries-old tradition of bringing good luck to its owner, the Korat is an ideal choice.
Si Sawat Cattery - USA