The Birman is said to have originated in western Myanmar (modern day Burma) where it was considered a sacred companion cat of the Kittah priests. However cats with similar markings are recorded in documents from ancient Thailand.
The legend of the origin of the Birmans distinct colours is as follows:
... the guardians of the temple of Lao-Tsun were yellow eyed cats with long hair. The golden goddess of the temple, Tsun-Kyan-Kse, had deep blue eyes. The head priest, Mun-Ha, had as his companion a beautiful cat named 'Sinh'.
One day the temple was attacked and Mun-Ha was killed. At the moment of his death, the cat 'Sinh'placed his feet on his master and faced the goddess. The cat's white fur took on a golden cast, his eyes turned as blue as the eyes of the goddess, and his paws, legs and tail became the colour of earth. However, his paws, where they touched the priest, remained white as a symbol of purity. All the other temple cats became similarly coloured.
Seven days later, Sinh died, taking the soul of Mun-Ha to paradise.
History is vague on the first reports of this cat, but it is certain that Birman cats were first sent from the the Khmer region (i.e near modern day Burma and Thailand) to France in 1919.
Whether the breeders August Pavie and Major Russell Gordon (former travellers of the Birma region) were the 'fathers' of the breed or whether a certain Mister Vanderbilt, an American millionaire, obtained a stolen pair, whilst cruising his yacht in the Far east, is open to debate. However in both cases it seems that male cat of the two died on the voyage to France, but the female kitten survived.
Nice, 1920. A litter of kittens were produced from the remaining Birman crossed with another animal. One of the offspring was a splendid creature and so given the name of 'Poupee'. Poupee was believably bred to a Laotian Lynx (though some said this cat was in fact a Siamese). It was not until 1933 that the acknowledged top Birman breeder Baudoin Crevoisier, confirmed this in an article, stating "Poupee could not be bred by a male of that breed, but was bred to a Laotian Lynx cat belonging to a doctor in Nice. This type of cat resembles the Siamese, with very blue eyes, and this breeding produced young mongrels of Birmans and Laotians. Through successive breeding was born a perfect result – 'Manou de Madalpour, whose marks resemble her mother, Poupee."
Despite the above statement, after years of research by expert breeders at this time the origins of the 'Sacred Cat Of Burma' still still remained as mysterious as it always was.
Today, nothing more has been found on the subject and there is still no proof as of who acquired the pair of cats. However, the breed known as 'Sacre de Birmanie' was registered with the French Cat Registry in 1925.
The Birman breed was almost lost entirely during World War II. Only a single cat pair survived, named 'Orloff' and 'Xenia de Kaabaa', both belonging to Baudoin-Crevoisier. The foundation of the breed in postwar France were offspring of this pair. These cats were called Manou, Lon saito, Djaipour, Sita 1 and Sita 2, but to produce these animals the offspring had to be heavily outcrossed with long-hair breeds to rebuild the breed. By the early 1950’s, pure birman litters were once again being produced. The restored breed was recognised in Britain in 1965 and by the American Cat Fanciers' Association in 1966.
Birmans have been bred as companions for many generations, and, as such, are very loving. They frequently take a genuine, affectionate interest in what their owners do. Birmans are typically used as show cats who travel with their owners if they are "show quality", meaning that the color of their paws (usually white) and the color of their legs must not blend or intermingle. Such an occurrence will render the Birman unshowable.