The facts and figures in this article may not be 100% accurate – I wasn’t around to witness the history of the cat from the very beginning about 5000 years ago, so I’ve had to rely on various sources and my own imagination in equal parts. Furthermore, it’s not supposed to be totally accurate – just a humorous and hopefully entertaining look at the history of our most beloved pet: THE CAT!
Some 5000 years ago (recent studies say about 100.000 years ago, but who’s counting) a smart – and hungry – African Wildcat somewhere in (what was then) Upper Egypt made a clever observation. “These strange and mysterious bipeds seem to be very fond of grain”, he thought. “Biped collects lots of grain and keeps it in big baskets. Big baskets of grain attract lots of yummy mice! Biped doesn’t seem to like mice in his grain! I think I’ll adopt one of these strange bipeds and live in his house and EAT HIS MICE FOR HIM!”
And thus a mutually beneficial relationship between smart African cats and strange Egyptian bipeds began! And history was made.
Life in Egypt was good and the African cats enjoyed their newly discovered coexistence with human beings; the Egyptians liked cats, the pharaoh LOVED cats and there was plenty of food around, but still… So after having lived the good life in Egypt for about a thousand years or so, cats – being curious animals! – started wondering: “What is outside this country. Are we missing out on something?!”
One cat thought: “I would like to sit outside a temple with one paw raised, beckoning people to enter that holy place. That would be neat! My skills and talents would totally fit that job description”. The cat told this to a Mediterranean merchant, who was in Egypt on a business trip, and the merchant said: “I know of such a place. I’ll take you there”. And the merchant brought the cat to Japan, where the cat found a nice-looking five stories pagoda temple with a beautiful garden.
The cat positioned himself outside the temple and raised his paw in a friendly manor to beckon passers-by to enter the temple, for that was now his job! The Japanese people had never seen anything like it, but they liked what they saw and they said: “This little animal has an air of holy mystery about him, this animal will bring us luck! We shall call this animal Maneki Neko and we shall make lots of little porcelain Maneki Neko figurines that we shall sell to tourist and make lots of money! …in about 4000 years.”
A couple of elderly cats were so tired of the never-ending African heat and drought and told another visiting trader (in town to buy small pyramid replicas for his novelty shop in London), that they would like to go to a cooler and wetter climate. The trader, of course, brought them back to England. The English being… well, ENGLISH, said: “I say! What positively lovely little creatures. We shall take them in, feed them and breed them and have magnificent CAT SHOWS!” The whole cat show thing came much later of course (in 1871 to be precise), but, believe me, the idea was born the second the very first Englishman (or it might… it PROBABLY was an EnglishWOMAN) laid eyes on those cats.
But England wasn’t the only European country where the Egyptian cats set paw. Around 2000 B.C. the cats of Egypt started a very successful worldwide marketing campaign, promoting their exceptional mouse and rat hunting skills. And it paid off! Soon cats were being invited to every European country, the Middle East and Asia, where they lived well and in harmony with the human bipeds for many, many years. But then something happened:
ENTER THE DARK AGES! …in the history of cats. Right after the end of the middle ages – beginning around 1550 and lasting about a century – the Christian church decided that cats were the source of all evil. Cats had always been associated with gods; in Egypt it was Bast, goddess of life and family and in the northern part of Europe it was Freya, who was always surrounded by cats. But these were not Christian gods, so cats now became “animala non grata”. This was probably when the saying “curiosity killed the cat” entered the English vocabulary; “They wanted to see the world, and look where it got them!” Yes, curiosity did kill a lot of cats during these terrible times. Cats were hunted down, burned, drowned and hanged. And people who had the audacity to so much as look kindly at a cat, were deemed witches. And they were killed as well. This was NOT a good time to be a “crazy cat lady” in Europe!
During this time cats were also being blamed for spreading the plaque, when in fact it was the disease-carrying rats that managed to kill off almost half the European human population by spreading plagues and other epidemics. And as the humans had so efficiently killed off most of their cats, there were practically none left to kill the rats! That’ll teach them to treat cats so disrespectfully!!!
But eventually things got better. The Europeans came to their long lost senses and realized that cats were actually good to have around! Less rats, no more plague and soon the former so beautiful and harmonic cat-human relationship made its come-back. And when the first European settlers came to America in 1600-something, they brought cats with them to THE NEW WORLD. Good thinking! Their cats kept their homes, farmhouses, henhouses, outhouses and doghouses rat and mice free. Well, maybe not doghouses!
Yes, the human bipeds truly rediscovered the value of cats. They took cats into their homes again and this time into their hearts as well. The cat became more than a useful little mousetrap, it became a PET.
And so cats – being cats – now started to claim their INDOOR territory; the couch, the best arm chair, the dining table, the bed, the lingerie drawer… in short: THE WHOLE HOUSE. And finally things were as they should be between cat and man.
5000 years ago the Egyptians worshipped cats and showed their admiration and respect by mummifying them after death and depicting them on vases, amulets, rings and inside tombs! Today we pay homage to cats by putting pictures of cats on coffee mugs, napkins, sofa pillows, mousepads, clocks, refrigerator magnets and t-shirts! And in a thousand years from now, I’m sure there will be an enormous image of a cat on our first spaceship to Mars.