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Native American Turkey Mythology

It is often said that the name turkey comes from a corruption of a Native American name for the bird; however, this is not true. The name of the bird comes from the name of the country Turkey, by way of a colonial mistake (early English settlers mistakenly thought turkeys were a kind of guineafowl, an African bird that English people used to import from Turkey.) However, the Spanish name for turkey, guajolote, does come from the Nahuatl (Aztec) name huexolotl.

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Turkeys play a variety of roles in the folklore of different Native American tribes. In some legends, Turkey is portrayed as a wily, overly-proud trickster character. In others, he is shy and elusive. In parts of Mexico and the American Southwest, turkeys were domesticated and kept as food animals by some tribes, and their role in stories from these tribes is similar to chicken stories from Europe, with the birds mimicking the concerns and activities of human farmers. The Akimel O'odham (Pima) people consider the turkey a rain spirit, and have folk beliefs about turkeys being able to predict the weather.

Turkeys are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Turkey Clans include the Creek tribe (whose Turkey Clan is named Pinwalgi or Penwvlke,) the Shawnee and Miami tribes, the Navajo, the Zuni (whose Turkey Clan name is Tona-kwe,) and other Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. The turkey was also the special tribal symbol of the Unalachtigo tribe (a division of the Delaware nation.) Turkey feathers have been used in the traditional regalia of many tribes, particularly the feathered cloaks of eastern Woodland Indians like the Wampanoag and the feather headdresses of southern tribes like the Tuscarora and Catawba. The Turkey Dance is one of the most important social dances of the Caddo tribe, associated with songs about war honors and tribal pride. Some other eastern tribes, such as the Lenape, Shawnee, and Seminoles, have turkey dances as well.

Native American Turkey Gods and Spirits

Chalchiuhtotolin (Aztec)
Koyona Kachina (Hopi)

Native American Legends About Turkeys

A Turkey Story:
    Cherokee turkey legend explaining the bird's unusual shape.
The Indian Turkey-Girl:
    Zuni legend about a girl who neglects her promise to the turkeys.
*Acawai Flood Myth:
    South American legend explaining why turkeys have red wattles.
*Coyote The Hungry:
    Caddo tales of the trickster Coyote and his humorous attempts to catch turkeys.
*Rabbit and the Dancing Turkeys:
    Caddo legend about Rabbit helping Wildcat to catch some gullible turkeys.

Recommended Books of Turkey Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

Turkey and Gray Giant:
    Bilingual picture book for children illustrating a Navajo myth about a turkey's escape from a menacing giant.
The Turkey Girl: A Zuni Cinderella Story:
    Zuni folktale about magical turkeys that teach a girl a hard lesson about keeping her word.
Birds of Algonquin Legend:
    Interesting collection of legends about turkeys and other birds in Algonquian tribes.
Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies:
    Book by a Karuk elder about the meanings of Indian animal spirits, including a chapter on turkeys.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian tales about animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition:
    A good book on the meaning of birds in world mythology, including North and South America.



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