Fairy Tales in a Different Culture: The Turkey Girl

For our final Native American Cinderella tale, I am sharing a Zuni version called The Turkey Girl retold by Penny Pollock. Now this story is a bit of a stretch to be a Cinderella tale, but I have seen it on various lists of types of Cinderella tales, so I am sharing it. First a bit about the Zuni people.

The Zuni live in New Mexico and have been there for 3,000 to 4,000 years (according to archeologists' estimations). Their reservation is about 450,000 acres. They are farmers of maize (corn) and wheat. They also now engage in jewelry making as an important income to the Zuni people. The traditional Zuni life is a matrilineal line. They have very specific groups and order for religion and life. Zunis still practice their own religion and beliefs. They are very artistic and express their beliefs in their art. The Zuni language is believed to be more than 7,000 years old.
Source: By Kmusser (Self-made using the National Atlas.)
 [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Zuni live in pueblo style of houses. Pueblos are built of clay and often are built into the ground or on top of one another. Here is a picture I found of a Zuni Pueblo. (Sources: The Pueblo of Zuni, Zuni Indians, Wikipedia)
Source: Timothy H. O'Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Now onto our story. In the author's note it is mentioned that Frank Hamilton Cushing included this tale in his collection of Zuni folktales. Cushing traveled to New Mexico in 1879 to study the Zuni. He admired them so much that he became a member of the tribe and lived with them.

A young orphan girl lived  in the shadow of Thunder Mountain and nestled against the edge of the pueblo village, Matsaki. She was very poor and herded turkeys for a living. The wealthy families of Matsaki valued the turkey tail feathers for decorating prayer sticks and ceremonial masks. They paid the young girl with corn and cast-off clothes and called her the Turkey Girl.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Her days started at dawn when she led the villagers' turkeys to the flat-topped mesa of Thunder Mountain to graze. Then at sunset she led the turkeys back to their stockade of cedar sticks. The turkeys were her only friends. The humans did not talk to her even when she went to the spring to get water and saw others there.   
One night while at the spring, a herald-priest announced from one of the flat housetops that a Dance of the Sacred Bird would be held in Hawikuh in four days time. The Turkey Girl caught the excitement and imagined herself dancing with others. She could not stop dreaming of the dance and told the turkeys all about her dreams. On the day of the dance, the villagers left at dawn for Hawikuh. The Turkey Girl was left with the turkeys and her normal day, however she had tears running down her cheeks. While walking along the birds cause a commotion and get her attention. Then a huge turkey stepped forward and begins to talk to her and tells her she shall go to the dance. Then he tells her the turkeys will take care of her tattered clothes if she goes into the pen with them.

In their pen the turkeys break into song and dance and clean the girl. Then they have her undress. Swaying up and down the turkeys tread and tap new life into her clothes. They sing while they work.  Soon she is dressed in a white doeskin dress belted with red and yellow cloth. They give her rare shells and beautiful moccasins. Next the turkeys cough up jewels that the people have dropped on the ground over the years.  Then the turkeys give her one condition--she must not forget them and will show this by returning to them before Sun-Father returns to his sacred place and while she is gone to leave their pen unlocked so if she does not return before night they will be free.

She rushes off to the dance feeling beautiful and special. When she arrives the dancing has already started. She hears music from drums, flutes, turtle rattles and notched sticks. The musicians miss a beat when they see the beautiful stranger.  She joins the dance and has a wonderful time. The braves want to dance near her. As the sun's rays began to go down, she thinks when the music dies I will leave, but with each break the music started right back up and she continued to dance. As darkness approaches she thinks of leaving, but a brave brushes against her and she wonders why she will leave for turkeys. Then as night sets in she remembers the kindness of the turkeys and she runs home to their pen. She however is too late. The turkeys had waited for the sun to set but  left Matsaki forever. She is full of sorrow and even more so when she sees her dress was back to rags. She understands she has lost her turkey friends forever.

From this day on the turkeys have lived apart from their tall brothers for the Turkey Girl had not kept her word.

Join us later this week for more on Native Americans!! Also visit last week's fairy tales for other Native American versions of Cinderella.