Thursday, November 22, 2007

The origins of Turkey

(president Bush pardons May)

Ever since President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving day an official national holiday in his Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863, and Americans have been celebrating the day that marks the original pilgrims who in 1621 celebrated their first Thanksgiving by cooking the Turkey Bird, a truly native American bird.
Yesterday, President George W. Bush, in line with American presidential tradition spared the lives of the National Turkey and pardoned May and her alternate Flower declaring ” May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling”

But how did this huge and colorful bird we call Turkey, came to be known as “Turkey” which is actually the name of a country.

Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2003 that the reason Americans or “westerners” named the exotic bird they encountered in the new world “Turkey” because for one it was a strange, exotic and unknown bird to them, and since the Ottoman Empire at the time, the 17th century, was an unfamiliar and exotic landscape for most westerners especially that the Ottoman “Turkish” Sultan was also exotic looking with his colorful turban and attire. So according to Lewis analysis, the Western pilgrims named the exotic unknown bird they encountered “Turkey” because Turkey also represented an exotic unfamiliar place to them.

In everyday American lexicon, I noticed that when someone calling another a “ Turkey” often times it is said in ridicule by drawing on the original strangeness and exotic looks of the bird when Europeans settlers in America encountered it.

Interestingly, however, the Turks in their country Turkey, do not call the Turkey Turkey” but rather “ Hindi” from “ Hind” which is India, so it is called the Indian Bird.

The reason is that the Turks thought the Bird was originated in India.

In Arabic the bird is called the Ethiopian bird “ Deek Habash” (Deek is rooster or bird) because Ethiopia was called Abyssinia and Habash is Arabic for Abyssinia. One reason could be because Arabs thought the bird-originated Ethiopia, and another reason, which I think is more plausible, has to do with the black-feathered body of the bird itself. Ethiopia is a black African country which is right a cross the red sea from Arabia proper, the term Habash/Habashi is used alternately as being from Habasha (Ethiopia) and black.

In Egyptian Arabic the bird is called “ Deek Roumi” which means a Roman/western/European Bird. In line with Bernard Lewis analysis, the Egyptians associated the bird with the westerners or even the Roman Emperor because the Roman Emperor, much like his Ottoman Sultan counterpart, sported a crown and colorful attire.
In Iraq, though the bird in general called “ Habash’ but there are other local names for it like “ Ali Sheish” more commonly used by the Shias. “ Ali Sheish” is perhaps a corruption of the words “ Ala Sheish” which perhaps has to do with the way it is cooked on charcoal, like a Sheish kabob.

(Charelamn,Holy Roman Emperor)

In Macedonian Slavic the bird is called simply Misir which means “the Egyptian bird” (Misir, for male bird and Miserika for female) the Arabic word for Egypt is “Misir”

But what do they call this worldly bird in India?

By now I thought India would have the answer to this chase, but to my utter surprise, I found that the bird does not exist in India.
And I also found that there is no word for it in any of the Indic languages I researched!

I asked few Indians I know about it who told me that there is no Turkey or a name for it in India.

However, the common theme I found when digging the archeological etymology of the word “Turkey” was that in most European languages,in several variations, the Bird is always called or referred to as an Indian Bird or the bird from India or from the Indian city Calcutta.

The reason for that I think it had to do with the Greeks who originally called it “Indike ornitha” which means Indian Bird, which influenced many other European tongues afterward.

Therefore In polish its called “Indyk” while in Russian its “Indjuk”
while in Portuguese the bird is called “Peru” named after the country Peru.

The Chinese call the bird hu ji, in Chinese Mandrine, which roughly translates into “fire chicken”, while in Japanese it is called shichimenchoo, which means “the Seven-sided bird”

The common theme of the naming this bird in all languages and cultures has to do with they way people see and perceive the bird itself. This is of course a character in language itself and the way we human invent words and meanings to correspond with our cultures,perceptions and imagination.

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