Program 104: Turtle Island Storytellers

Turkey Girl

Nora Naranjo Morse

Nora Naranjo Morse


with Nora Naranjo Morse

Nora Naranjo Morse: There is this story called Turkey Girl. And it is of this young woman who was orphaned at a very early age. And she made her way through life in the village by doing things for other people and working hard.

Arlie Neskahi :
Tewa Pueblo sculptor and storyteller Nora Naranjo Morse shares the traditional story of the Pueblo orphan girl who was honored by the wild turkeys she watched over.

Tewa Indian Women’s Choir
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Smithsonian Folkways Recordings


Nora Naranjo MorseMorse:
Poor Turkey Girl, she didn’t have anyone to look after her. So she had to learn the hard way how to be strong and how to be forthright. And she didn’t learn or have anyone to tell her how to take care of herself so she was quite scraggly. She didn’t take care of herself and the way she looked, because she was so busy working and always doing for others so she could make her way through life.

People would make fun of her, and of course the young men didn’t even pay attention to her because just looked like she was all worn out and dirty and not a beautiful young girl. Because she was so hard working, she never felt sorry, had no time to feel sorry for herself. She was always busy from sunup to sundown. And she would haul wood for people, especially the older people and she would help people mix their clay and sift their clay and she would help people do the farming.

And Turkey Girl would chop wood and gather wood and help in the fields and plaster the mud homes in the village to make her way though life. And when she was maybe, at the verge of blossoming into a young woman, she went one day into the canyon of the village closer to the mountains where there is water coming from a stream. She walked into that area and she was, um, taking care of the turkeys in the community.

R. Carlos Nakai
Tapestry V, for Native American Flute, African Per
Spirit Horses (Concerto for Native American Flute and Chamber Orchestra)
Canyon Records

And the Turkey People started talking to her because they were her friends and they wanted to make sure that she was doing well and they asked her, “How are you doing?”

And she said, “I am feeling low and I feel sad that I have no one to take care of me or no one to dress me for the ceremony that is coming up.”

And so they said, “We’ll help you. Come with us.” And so they walked further and further into the canyon. And she didn’t know and she was afraid because never before, even though she had taken care of these turkeys, she had never before trusted them. She was always taking care of them. And today, for some reason they were offering her what they could give her.

And so Turkey Girl was not quite sure where the turkeys were leading her. And they took her further into the canyon.

John Trudell
Bone Days

And before she knew it, she was in this sacred place. And the sun was shining. And she felt safe. And the turkeys were all around her. And they started pecking at her hair and pulling out the leftover pinions that had fallen on her hair and they were trying to clean her hair.

And they had come out with a Manta, which is a ceremonial dress of the Pueblos. And they wrapped it around her. And they also brought out a belt and they put the belt on her. And they were dressing her in the most finest of clothes, ceremonial clothes.

And she was so surprised because this was such magic to her. No one, no human being had ever taken such interest and care for her and she was very touched in her heart.

And the turkeys washed her. And they washed her hair with yucca and they made sure the sun dried her hair perfectly. And they just pampered her and she felt so loved. The turkeys washed her hair and dressed her and made sure she looked very beautiful. And turkey girl was very touched simply because no human being had ever taken such care in the way she looked. And she was very excited because she was going to go back into the village and be part of the ceremony and look beautiful.

And right before they started walking out of the canyon, the oldest turkey said to her “come to the side of the river and look into the water and see yourself, Turkey Girl. See what it is that you have become. And know this is truly who you are.”

Robbie Robertson
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Robbie Robertson
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Turkey girl looked into the water and she was surprised. She didn’t recognize herself because staring back was this beautiful woman who had been cleaned and washed by these turkeys. And now they had taken great care in making her and transforming her into this beautiful woman dancer.

So Turkey Girl looked, thanked them all very much, told them, “I will always remember this. I will always care for you because you have given me so much today.”

Ed Lee Natay
Tewa Turtle Dance
Navaho Singer
Canyon Records

So Turkey Girl, after having looked at herself in the water and realized that she was not ugly or unkempt, she walked into the village with such confidence. And she began to dance. And everybody was whispering in the crowd, “Who is this beautiful woman who is dancing? Who could she possibly be?” Nobody even recognized her. And all the young men in the village looked at her with new interest. And that is the end of the Turkey Girl story.

Nora Naranjo Morse is a noted potter, sculptor, poet and writer. She lives and works in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico.