What's in a name? TURKEY

I am musing over this a couple of days before thanksgiving in USA, a day when thousands of Turkeys will be killed, roasted, stuffed and eaten with gusto…

When I was working in the Middle east, I realized that Arabs called Indians ‘Hindi’, since we are people from Hindustan (India is Hindi to Arabs but then, for Indians, Hindi is a language). ‘Aye Hindi…taaal…’. was the way they would call out to get our attention..

When we moved to work at Istanbul-Turkey, I realized that India was Hindistan (mind you, Hindistan not Hindustan) for them and Indians were ‘Hintli’. But I soon found out while eating food at the canteen or in hotels that there was another word they used, this was ‘Hindi’ meaning the bird we know as Turkey. Chicken was ‘Pilic/tavuk’ and Turkey was ‘Hindi’. Hey! Now the language becomes a bird which is also a country!

So there I was, in Turkey, an Indian wondering why the Turks call what we call Turkey the bird as Hindi – what Arabs mean to be Indians and which is instead a language to Indians!!

There were no Turkeys in India ( wrong now, saw a program yesterday on Asianet showing that this is an upcoming business in Kerala – Turkey farming). So what has India got to do with Turkey fowls?

For those who are wondering if they are going to get a lesson in ornithology. Let me reassure you in the negative, I will make this as painless as possible.

We all agree that the English were a confused lot (Did they have a hand in this?). Yeah! I see you nodding your head. Except in this case, it was further confounded by the Spaniards, Yanks and others.

Many people think that Turkey is named Turkey after the country Turkey

Mexicans were the first, to domesticate and raise Turkeys many centuries ago. They apparently called it the ‘huexolotlin’. Obviously nobody listened to Mexicans in those days or do so today.

When the Europeans started trading via Calicut in India, they saw wonderful sights & documented it, and one exotic bird which impressed them was the Peacock. This bird (now the national bird of India) is called Mayil in Kerala and in TamilNadu, but its feathers are called Thokiyam in Tamil (note : Thoki – Thukki this is the one and only Tamil word in the old Testament and borrowed by Hebrew). Apparently some of the colonials picked up this Tamil word and some others called it the Calicut hen. In those days many things exotic were for that reason somehow attributed to Calicut. So let us agree that the word Mayil did not catch on, Thukki did since Biblical times.

Columbus landed in the America's (new India as it was subsequently termed) and thought it was India, saw the Turkey birds (let us assume that Amerigo Vespuchi saw none or was wiser) thought they were Thukkis and believed he was for sure in India. To summarize, Spaniards had by then decided that the Turkey bird & Peacocks are fowls from the Indies…So they get the family name Indian fowls, Calicut hens, Thukki etc..

Then there was the Guinea-fowl (which lived in sub-Saharan locations). This bird was popular cuisine in Roman/Greek days and was reintroduced into Europe by Turkish merchants. It appears that that is how the Guinea fowl started being called Turkey birds by the English and others, since they were supplied by Turkish merchants.

Well we are half way now…..These quaint birds (Peacocks, Guinea fowls and Turkeys) were called Indian birds by the Spaniards (also the same by the Arabs and Turks). The English still did not know about the Turkey fowl, they called the Guinea fowl ‘Turkey’ since they got it from Turkish merchants or since it looked like the Thukkis (note also that Thukki, and Turki sound just about the same after a few drinks) that Spaniards talked about.

In early 17th century, the Pilgrims reached the "New World". The colonists saw turkey cocks gobbling and strutting around, and they were similar to the domesticated birds (Guinea fowl-Turkeys or Calicut Hens) they brought from England. So they ended up calling the American fowl too by the same name, Turkey (Finally India & Turkey meet officially in the US thanks to the English!), but the Turkey was obviously not the peacock.
When the Turkey did arrive in India finally, it came via the Spanish & the East Indies, and by then the name for it was the "Peru bird", as that was what the Portuguese called it. Indians also called it the Peru bird.

Boy! Can you imagine how many more such errors could have crept into History!

Now did you know that the Greeks called it the French bird and that the Japanese called it the Chinese bird?

Its zoological name is Meleagris gallopavo (pavo is Peacock in Spanish)

Benjamin Franklin, fearing that the 'bad moral character' of the bald eagle would reflect poorly on the young nation (USA), attempted to have the Turkey declared the national bird, BUT FAILED…That is a great story –
read this

So we went from England to Africa to Spain to Portugal to USA to Peru to Turkey to Calicut in India…I am sure more research will bring in more countries… The bird considered to be a slow and lazy one, traveled a long long way without being at most of its purported homes…to reach your Thanksgiving table..

So enjoy your meal
and give this a thought...Pictures:

A joyful bargain over a couple of hindi - turkey the bird -Safranbolu / Türkiye
Turkeybird picture courtsey www.lilytherese.com/Turkey_bird.jpg


Anonymous said...

And I thought you were a Veggie

Kavipriya said...

Wow!Googled on "Hindi in Turkey" after talking with someone from Turkey who said "Hindi" in Turkish means Turkey...Thats how I happened to read this post...I did try teaching him tamil....Well well Aama(yes in Tamil) in Turkey has a total different meaning...
Nice Job!