By Julia Williams
The Egyptian word for cat is Mau (rhymes with wow). A translation from the Egyptian Book of the Dead (240 B.C.) states that “The male cat is Ra himself, and he is called by reason of the speech of the god Sa, who said concerning him, He is like unto that which he hath made, thus his name became Mau.”
You probably already know that cats were worshipped as deities by the ancient Egyptians. Large numbers of sacred cats were mummified and placed in underground galleries. Numerous bronze votive statuettes have also survived, such as the Gayer-Anderson cat now housed in the British Museum. Cats were also cherished as pets, and mourned upon their death. Tombs of the kings revealed not only mummified cats but toys and food as well. It’s been alleged that very often, a family would shave off their eyebrows to mourn the passing of their beloved cat.
Spotted cats were depicted on the walls of the pharaoh’s chambers, and were said to be the kings’ most sacred and revered companions. Many historical experts believe that artwork of the ancient Egyptians clearly identifies the Egyptian Mau. It’s hypothesized that the Egyptian Mau was domesticated from a spotted subspecies of the small African Wildcat.
The Egyptian Mau is the oldest and the only naturally occurring breed of spotted domestic cats, a group that includes Ocicats, Bengals, Savannahs and Safari cats. The Mau’s history in North America began in 1956, when they were imported by an exiled Russian princess named Nathalie Troubetskoy. The Egyptian Mau was recognized by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) for championship competition in 1977.
The Egyptian Mau is a fascinating cat with a stunning “wild” look and a delightful demeanor. First-time Mau owners are said to become so enchanted with this spotted breed that they almost always want more than one.
Temperament of the Mau
As a rule, the Egyptian Mau is an intelligent and active cat. They are fiercely loyal and devoted to their human companions, and are known to form very strong bonds with their owners. Mau kittens adapt easily to new situations, but an adult Mau cat who has already bonded with a family may experience a challenging adjustment period when going to a new home.
The Egyptian Mau has a soft, melodious voice and is known to use it to express happiness. Another way they demonstrate their contentment is by vigorously wiggling their tails (the equivalent of a dog’s wagging tail, perhaps?) while kneading a person with their front paws.
Physical Attributes of the Mau
The beautiful Egyptian Mau is a medium size cat with well developed muscles and athletic grace. The large, slightly almond-shaped eyes are in a distinctive gooseberry green shade. The Mau has alert, medium-to-large ears that are broad at the base, moderately pointed and sometimes tufted.
The coat is medium long and silky, with a glossy sheen. Three colors can be shown in championship status: Silver, Bronze and Smoke, with Silver being the most popular color by far. In the Egyptian Mau standard, much importance is allocated to pattern and contrast. Spots may be any shape or size, but they must be clearly visible and should not run together.
Cats in Egypt Today
Like most American cat owners, Egyptians typically have just one or two felines in their household. However, cat-keeping is largely confined to members of the upper middle class, which is a tiny minority. Although the Egyptian peoples’ feelings toward cats are conditioned by tradition, many are not fully aware of the sacred history cats have in their country.
Photo courtesy of Lil Shepherd.
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