Native American Turkey Mythology

Published on December 8, 2012 by Casey

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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.

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.

Source: native-languages Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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