Friday, October 6, 2006

The cat book of Siam

Cont'd from my previous post, the promised cat poems.

What amazes me when I read the number of poems from "The Legend of Siamese Cats" is how the poems, even if they repeat similar decriptions of certain kinds of cats, were written in different ways, revealing the creative use of words with different "authors". Names of "authors" are rarely recorded in ancient Thai literature. I can imagine that as the manuscripts gets copied, each copier who was creative enough would have added some of his own poetry. Depending on whose was most poetic, his was probably more copied and therefore endured via recieving the honor of being copied in other people's verses.

It's sort of similar to what we're doing with blogs, except nowadays we have to declare who we are in some way for readers to trust our authenticity.

The poem I'm posting here is Kaap Chabang on the "Benefits and Drawbacks of Cats"
The first cats referred, this treatise describes in their forms
Black on body, beautiful face two paws, stomach, back and tail
Nine places clear as cotton wool, eyes like jewels compared
Melodious voice, much loved by humans female and male
Whoever intends to raise them will become a master, promoted
Servants, retainers, wealth will come continually ample
With prosperity and dignity, enemies will not come near
Raising them yields results as the masters say in the treatise

One with white body, fine all over, and black in nine places
Like a piebald horse, whoever feeds it well, will trade swell
Much riches and treasures will be found, everything will come
That person is a rich man, for a good cat benefits its owner

One named fine sapphire, entirely, claws and tongue, fine black
Whichever cat you meet, black as they say, must be looked after
It will bring you all, retainers and food in ample amounts
With power, happiness, and welfare against danger

One copper, luminescent, claws, tongue and teeth as dyed red
Who raises it will gain great rank, a general or minister

One lao of flower of clear color, off-white fur, see black mixed
Who finds one, hurry to support it, that cat brings happiness
Women, men everywhere will cherish it, as this cat has charm
Loved all over by the people, both female and male

One called the jewel cat, of white body, with eyes like gems
Four black feet, ears and tail black as if ink applied
Has incalculable value, will bring great gain, more property
Who raises it will gain power, retainers and all good things

One a mercury color, a glowing shine, as if applied
Feed it well and great benefits rush in, raise it, do not doubt

One called Mongkol Amphai, the treatise says is auspicious
Black body, white neck round, good for the raiser, great wealth

One with a hourse-saddle mark, fine face with two black eye rings
Worth 100,000 gold tamleung, it brings its owner honour

One is black around the body, of great beauty, strange,
Who feeds it will have rank, power, with people fearing

One glows black all over, its nose clear white, a lovely face
Who raises, gains rank in seven months, the lords grant fortune

One with marks all over, its nose clear white, a lovely face
Who raises, gains rank in seven months, the lords grant fortune

One with marks all over, flashing beauty, strange,
Who feeds it will have rank, power, with people fearing

One glows black all over, its nose clear white, a lovely face
Who raises, gains rank in seven months, the lords grant fortune.

One with marks all over, flashing beauty, they say has dignity
Who raises, will be a minister, or chief of council, with rank

One marked large on mouth and nose, who finds it, should care for it
Will get land, fields, riches, a commoner becomes a master

One with underbelly markings is good for trade by boat
Merchants raise it hoping the cat is a bank of gold and silver

One has the line all along, good by the book, will further the family
With rank and power, replete, on an eternal base

One with amusing feet, they say to keep only for queen's lines
This cat brings virtue, so kindly do not endanger it

One marked on two ears, the treatise says should be raised by monks
For studying well, without forgetting with success as desired

They repeat in the books, one must study, raise and all will follow
Even in death, never discard the ghost, bury it, and keep the bones
In a pot to keep, which is also a virtuous act
When keeping do not despise it, or hit it, but care for it with love
Give it fine food, rice and fish, service it with everything replete
The cat will prosper, do not fret, or doubt the text

There are many more bad cats with tiger patterns,
They eat their young and have still births
Red tail markings of loss, twisted white tails, they say let go.

Here endeth the cat treatise, the bad and good in summary.

This particular poem didn't give the names of most of the cats, but other texts name 17 auspicious cats and 6 kinds of bad cats.

Just to show their poetic names, the 17 are: Ninlarat (Dark Sapphire), Wilat (Beauty), Suphalak(Excellent) or Thong Daeng (Copper), Kao Taem (Nine Points), Maaleht (Flower) or Dork Lao (Lao Flower), Saem Sawet (Alternate White), Ratanakamphol (Jewelled Cloth), Wichien Maas (Moon Diamond), Ninlajak (Sapphire Circle), Mulila, Krop Waen (Spectacle Frame) or Aan Maa (Horse Saddle), Pat-sawe (White Line) or Pattalort (Line Throughout), Krajork (Sparrow), Singha Sep (Lion), Karawek (Bird of Paradise), Jatubot (Four Feet), Konjaa (Sarus Crane)

Even the bad have exotic names. Six bad cats: Tupphalaphet (Weakness), Phan Phayak or Lai Sewa (Tiger Breed), Pisaat (Fiend), Hin Thot (Bad Stone), Korp Phleng (Fire Raiser), Nep Saniat (Dagger)

I wonder how these verses were used. Unless you were a cat breeder there isn't much use. I don't think cat breeding could have been such an important job (even if you could sell one cat for 100,000 gold pieces), but the survival of these texts certainly means that there was an abundance of them. An abundance of texts, but because of the nature of medium they were preserved in, never as ubiquitous as books in the west, and so Thailand was more of an oral society and a literate one.

These cat poems needed to be shared by being read aloud. I think they could have been tools for young students to learn how to memorize (and eventually read and write) since these cat poems didn't serve any practical purpose like buddhist texts or housebuilding manuscripts. They certainly are entertaining and the motivation of knowing your cats would be an incentive young ones to learn the verses.

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