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Museum Of Meows

Story by Jill Turley
Cat museum located in Kuching's North City Hall, Sarawak
Cat museum located in Kuching's North City Hall, Sarawak
Kitsch kitties in love
Kitsch kitties in love

Ancient Egyptians shaved their eyebrows in mourning when the family cat died. Malays attached superstitions to cats believing they possessed supernatural powers. In Medieval times, black cats were associated with witchcraft and there is a Javanese instrument, the saron that is shaped like a cat with extended paws and an open mouth. These are some of facts found in the Cat Museum, a unique treasure-trove of kitty artefacts and memorabilia in Kuching, Sarawak.

The idea for a Cat Museum came from the Chief Minister of Sarawak, YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Hj Abdul Taib Mahmud and his wife. It is believed to be the only one of its type in the world and is a celebration of Kuching, otherwise known as 'Cat City' (Kucing means cat in Malay).

In honour of the city's name, both of Kuching's City Halls have erected cat statues in the town but the cat museum is housed in the modern North City Hall building in Petra Jaya.

The museum is far more than just a collection of artefacts. Material has been collected from, and donated by, countries from all over the globe. It entertains cat lovers but also acts as a useful research centre outlining the history, legends and various beliefs about cats.

Feline poster: 'A cat turns a house into a home'
Feline poster: 'A cat turns a house into a home'

Egyptian mumified cat dating back to around 3000 BC
Egyptian mumified cat dating back to around 3000 BC

A mummified cat found at Beni Hassan in Egypt sometime between 3000 BC-3500 BC is displayed in the museum. They found the feline mummy bound in different coloured, chemically treated bandages. The face was supposedly found covered with a wooden mask. On the mask, eyes, whiskers and a nose had been drawn.

An information board in the same gallery tells how the grain growing Egyptians were the first people to domesticate cats.

They became revered animals because of their culinary preference for rats and mice. Important, indeed, in the great granaries of Egypt.

Anyone who killed a cat was put to death. Ancient Egyptians had a cat goddess named Bastet who supposedly protected crops, made rain and symbolised motherhood.

The cat's significance in music is also noted in the museum. Perhaps the best known musical celebration of our meowing friends, was the stage show 'Cats,' but as the museum reveals, these furry felines have also purred their way into a few song titles over the years as well. The Cat Came Back in the late 1800's, and Kitten on the Keys - a jazz classic in 1921, to name just two.

One section of the museum is dedicated to the five species of wild cats found in Borneo. In fact, the museum claims it has the only mounted specimen of the world's rarest cat- the Felis Badia. This cat is only found in Borneo's rain forests, and beside the boneless, rather scrawny stuffed specimen, stands the mounted skeleton of this peculiar animal.

The common old domestic puss, Felis Catus, had smooched its way into the hearts of Malay families even before the time of the Melaka Sultanate, authorities believe. One of the museum's galleries has fascinating accounts of the cat's role in the Chinese, Japanese and Malay societies.

Cats even today are the most popular pets kept by Malay families. And a number of beliefs, legends and superstitions are associated with them. In Malay society for instance, cats were not allowed in tin mines as they brought bad luck. The museum also suggests that some Malays used to believe that an effective method of making rain was to 'soak a cat in a pan of water until it was half drowned.' Generally, Malays believe that it is good luck to keep a cat.

For those among us who are just hopelessly and unashamedly besotted with 'the mouser,' and all things 'catty', a visit to the Kuching Cat Museum is a must. There is plenty of cat kitsch among the 2,000 exhibits to amuse, including napping cats, cats in love, teapot cats and even rat-chasing china cats. Kitty stamps are displayed for philatelists, and cat funerals are described for the morbid. There is something for everyone's taste. Unless, that is, you are a cat hater!

Source: Borneo Bulletin

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