Marriage: The Girl and the Turkeys

Stith Thompson actually gives this story a title that comes from a European fairy tale, but I have not included that here; you can decide for yourself as you read if the story reminds  you of a European fairy tale (you will probably figure out very quickly which tale Thompson had in mind).

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Native American Marriage Tales unit. Story source: Tales of the North American Indians by Stith Thompson (1929).

The Girl and the Turkeys
(Zuñi)

Long, long ago, our ancients had neither sheep nor horses nor cattle; yet they had domestic animals of various kinds — amongst them Turkeys.

In Mátsaki, or the Salt City, there dwelt at this time many very wealthy families who possessed large flocks of these birds, which it was their custom to have their slaves or the poor people of the town herd in the plains round about Thunder Mountain below which their town stood, and on the mesas beyond.

Now, in Mátsaki at this time there stood, away out near the border of the town, a little tumbledown, single-room house, wherein there lived alone a very poor girl — so poor that her clothes were patched and tattered and dirty, and her person, on account of long neglect and ill fare, shameful to look upon, though she herself was not ugly, but had a winning face and bright eyes, that is, if the face had been more oval and the eyes less oppressed with care. So poor was she that she herded Turkeys for a living, and little was given to her except the food she subsisted on from day to day, and perhaps now and then a piece of old, worn-out clothing.

Like the extremely poor everywhere and at all times, she was humble, and by her longing for kindness, which she never received, she was made kind even to the creatures that depended upon her and lavished this kindness upon the Turkeys she drove to and from the plains every day. Thus, the Turkeys, appreciating this, were very obedient. They loved their mistress so much that at her call they would unhesitatingly come, or at her behest go whithersoever and whensoever she wished.

One day, this poor girl driving her Turkeys down into the plains, passed near Old Zuñi — the Middle Ant Hill of the World, as our ancients have taught us to call our home — and as she went along, she heard the herald-priest proclaiming from the house-top that the Dance of the Sacred Bird (which is a very blessed and welcome festival to our people, especially to the youths and maidens who are permitted to join in the dance) would take place in four days.

Now, this poor girt had never been permitted to join in or even to watch the great festivities of our people or the people in the neighboring towns, and naturally she longed very much to see this dance. But she put aside her longing because she reflected: "It is impossible that I should watch, much less join in the Dance of the Sacred Bird, ugly and ill-clad as I am." And thus musing to herself, and talking to her Turkeys, as was her custom, she drove them on, and at night returned them to their cages round the edges and in the plazas of the town.

Every day after that, until the day named for the dance, this poor girl, as she drove her Turkeys out in the morning, saw the people busy in cleaning and preparing their garments, cooking delicacies, and otherwise making ready for the festival to which they had been duly invited by the other villagers, and heard them talking and laughing merrily at the prospect of the coming holiday. So, as she went about with her Turkeys through the day, she would talk to them, though she never dreamed that they understood a word of what she was saying.

It seems that they did understand even more than she said to them, for on the fourth day, after the people of Mátsaki had all departed toward Zuñi and the girl was wandering around the plains alone with her Turkeys, one of the big Gobblers strutted up to her, and making a fan of his tail, and skirts, as it were, of his wings, blushed with pride and puffed with importance, stretched out his neck and said: "Maiden mother, we know what your thoughts are, and truly we pity you, and wish that, like the other people of Mátsaki, you might enjoy this holiday in the town below. We have said to ourselves at night, after you have placed us safely and comfortably in our cages: 'Truly our maiden mother is as worthy to enjoy these things as any one in Mátsaki, or even Zuñi.' Now, listen well, for I speak the speech of all the elders of my people: If you will drive us in early this afternoon, when the dance is most gay and the people are most happy, we will help you to make yourself so handsome and so prettily dressed that never a man, woman, or child amongst all those who are assembled at the dance will know you, but rather, especially the young men, will wonder whence you came, and long to lay hold of your hand in the circle that forms round the altar to dance. Maiden mother, would you like to go to see this dance, and even to join in it, and be merry with the best of your people?"

The poor girl was at first surprised. Then it seemed all so natural that the Turkeys should talk to her as she did to them, that she sat down on a little mound, and, leaning over, looked at them and said: "My beloved Turkeys, how glad I am that we may speak together! But why should you tell me of things that you full well know 1 so long to, but cannot by any possible means, do?"



(900 words)





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