“Lily seeds are scattered over Rukai land.
We will see the shadow of the clouded leopard leaping the Southern Ailiao River,
Licking the sweet rain of our ancestors,
Which wets the spirit and flesh of the clouded leopard.
When the leopard leads us to look up to the peak of North Tawu Mountain
The sunlight we see there invites us, calls us on…”
– Rukai Poem –
The Rukai are one of the 12 groups of aborigines native of Taiwan – about 10 000 people out of 460 000, mostly concentrated in eastern and western sides of the southern mountains. The eastern Rukai – the Danan group – lives in Luchia Creek near the plains, while the Hsiasan group and western Rukai group live in Chuokou Creek and Ailiao Creek in the mountainous area. It is said that the later groups are splinters from the East Rukai who, facing invasion, crossed the Central Mountain Range to settle there; but tribal legends also say that it was the clouded leopard that led the Rukai to discover their homeland.
The legend is as follow: a very long time ago, Puraruyan – a strong and brave warrior – and a clouded leopard went hunting into the mountains. They got in the Kochapongane area and the clouded leopard didn’t want to leave the place. It had a waterfall and lake behind it, so Puraruyan led 4 or 5 households to settle there, and it is now known as Old Haocha and honored as the “Home of the Clouded Leopard” by the Rukai tribe. There the clouded leopard changed into a person and the people commemorated this by building a house at the spot. The Haocha Rukai would never kill the animal, because it would bring disaster to the hunter and the whole tribe as well. The clouded leopard wasn’t only the tribe’s animal, it also was one of the forms in which the gods would appear.
This is the only cloudypard tale I know because clouded leopard folklore is so rare. Just like the cat; shy and withdrawn. If I had to sum up clouded leopard in one word, it would be farouche – I picked it in French, but it could apply in English. That’s apparently the trait that shows the most when people meet me, or so I’ve been told. Farouche is from Late Latin forasticus: belonging outside, from Latin foras (out of doors, outside). The latter also gave “foreign”. This makes much sense to me because while some people may identify as Warrior or Healer or anything else, I identify as Traveller, and along my path I look at the world from the outside. Clouded leopard is a guide and traveller, and he also is an outsider because he is not like the other big cats, and not like the small cats either. But because of this, somehow, he also is the center of everything. He is balance. Clouded leopard is called the modern-day sabertooth, he opens the gate between past and present. He is half alive, half extinct. Part young with warm blood and colours and scent, and part ancient with bones and teeth and spirit, and echoes from the Old Cats. I think that’s why the essence of clouded leopard feels so deep and wise, to me.
I felt alone, but I wasn’t. Maybe I sometimes shift into scimitar cat because I should feel the presence of the Old Cats next to me and it is not just scimitar cat, but Scimitar Cat and the SaberTooth. Old Fangs people on four legs, poking at clouded leopard and inviting him to the chase – even though the image of a small-big blotched jungle solitary cat in a circle of strong-jaws-big-teeth hyena-lion-pride felines seems awkward. Maybe I failed into getting the message before: I am a Cat, new and old. There is no known story about the Old Cats, and almost none about clouded leopard, so I have to make my own. How clouded leopard got his blotches is not the same as how leopard or jaguar or serval got their spots. I have to imagine why clouded leopard have a so long tail, and why he cannot roar. Just like Quil said, we become storyteller and story-subject, and I tell the story of Clouded Leopard and clouded leopard within the same breathe.
Some days I talk with people who look like girls but are boys, and people who are girl and boy in the same body, and I feel foreign even though I’m tomboy-boy in girl-skin, because I am the only walking-talking animal in the room. I want to go outside and eat birds; I want to purr and meow except clouded leopard is too shy and hiding behind my eyes, hackles raised. People pet me and scritch my mohawk-crest and sometimes it’s fine, but I am not a house cat. I am territorial with big teeth from the Old Cats, a long twitching tail with thick fur, and I also have feathers and talons. Maybe I croak instead of roaring but that’s okay. This is the paradox of being a corvicat. Maybe Old Beaks had sabertooth too but I don’t think so, I think they were bigger and covered in scales. Right now what is logical does not matter because I am a corvicat in a human body, and it stands out even more when I am sitting at a table with other homo sapiens people, having a drink and talking about gender-topics while I feel my ears and whiskers.
Maybe they can call themselves gender-variant, but species-variant people don’t exist. We all are homo sapiens and there is no word for species identity, and no pronoun for animals. Being another animal inside is different from being another gender inside, and Cat does not care about words. Maybe someday you will hear animal people singing about astral-shifts on the radio, and therianthropy will be listed in the DSM-IV, and animal people will sue their boss for being therianthrophobic. Maybe contherianthropes and syntherianthropes and cladotherianthropes will walk in the street at Therian Prides with purple werewolves shirts. *Snickers.* And the real animal people? They will still be there in the background, musing and writing animalwords, celebrating being an animal person everyday.
Sometimes I like being in the crowd thinking about what I am, a talking feather-cat boy with invisible spots. I went to see a rock concert back when I was in South of France, and it took place in an ancient Roman amphitheater because we have old roots that are still alive there. The crocodile is one of the city’s symbols and it makes me think of Sobek and the Nile. Young-ancient cat in an ancient-alive place along with the Mediterranean Gods, ghosts of gladiators, and nowadays media gods calling the muses with the crowd. There was electricity in the air and cat liked it. When I think of the Gods I think of the cat gods of ancient Egypt, because it seems that some cities around here were Phoenician or Carthaginian and Egyptian colonies before being Hellenized and Romanized, and I think of the Greek gods like Hekate and Hermes. Mediterranean gods, I think, feel the closest to “home”. I went to Turkey a long time ago, and it felt home too because it looked like where I grew up with the same smells and trees; the landscape was simply dryer. It is a landscape for caracal, not for clouded leopard and other jungle cats, and there aren’t any clouded leopard around Mediterranea – but I exist.
Most of therianthropes seem very caught up in a very specific and restrictive animal imagery, whereas they could re-think their concept of the animal. I am writing about being a Mediterranean clouded leopard, and I could dream of a clouded leopard-headed god of the sea. Perhaps clouded leopard isn’t awkward on earth because it comes from trees, but because it actually comes from water like otters. I get images of his large paddling paws as he swims underwater after colorful tropical fishes in coral reef kind of aquatic settings. It would actually make sense to me when I think of Southeast Asia and its archipelagoes, and clouded leopards swimming to go from an island to the other. I don’t consider the folklore of clouded leopard set in stone, because to the existing legends I can find I am adding my own experience and perception of clouded leopard as an animal person, and it is as true and valid as the ancient myths.
Likewise, it is not because I am not part of any concrete tribe that my piercings and tattoos-to-come have no ritualistic connotations and are not as valid. Maybe it also is part of the self-made boys culture in trans people, but I can find it in animal people as well. We re-appropriate our bodies by the mean of jewellery, tattoos and piercings. I want to get a set of several tattoos to celebrate my animal aspects and honour my totems. I also want a bridge piercing. I don’t do this purely for aesthetical reasons, and there are deep meanings behind it such as my self-initiation as a young man – the equivalent of a ceremony and aknowledgements of my existence as a man that have never been given to me because society considers I am a woman. This is a human thing, and yet I can easily portray myself as corvicat with feline ears pierced and the soft tinkling of my silver earrings against each others as I burn incense and think of totems and gods. I am not just a humanthing interacting with Jaguar and Raven, I am a ball of fur, feather, flesh and bones more closely related to them, and this is somehow striking. I am an animal and artist with pencils in my paws making colorful things for the spirits I respect. At the exact same time I am a simple humanthing struggling with transition, art school and relationships just like anyone else. At the same time, I am just a corvicat, wanting nothing else than run after birds or sunbath.
I know four kinds of cats. The living ones, the dead ones, the human ones and the god ones. Sometimes I meet cat folk – animal people – and when I look at us, the distinctions between the categories blur. Something beyond the words reaches my core and resonates inside. Then I go on to other things because that’s life, and I am back being a simple corvicat struggling with words and musing over clouded leopard tales.