Thursday, November 16, 2017


Thanksgiving is approaching and it’s time to answer that question you’ve been asking yourself all these years.  What is the origin of the word “turkey?”  Turkeys are indigenous to the New World (i.e. not Europe) so when the early explorers arrived somebody had to name them. 
Here is the theory that I ascribe to in my new novel, Gateway to the Moon (to be published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, April 2018).   While there is no historic proof, this is at least a good story.  What is fact is this:   In 1492, as he was preparing to sail and discover his sea route to China, Christopher Columbus hired a man named Luis de Torres to be his interpreter.  De Torres spoke five languages, including Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic.  His real name was Yosef ben Ha Levi Halvri (Joseph, Son of Levi, the Hebrew).  He was a converted Jew and, many believe, a secret or crypto-Jew.  Crypto-Jews were those who continued to practice what the Spanish Inquisition called “the dead Law of Moses” at great risk to themselves.
Columbus believed he was soon going to enjoy the grand palaces and riches of the Great Khan.  Never mind that Columbus was basing his plan on the writings of Marco Polo, who narrated his tales to a French romance writer in a Genoa prison.   And that the journey of Marco Polo had happened two hundred years before Columbus set sail.  Columbus was determined to become famous and get very rich in the process.  But he needed an interpreter to speak with the Jewish and Arabic traders he would meet along the way, who would lead him to the Great Khan.  So he hired de Torres and on August 3, just days before the Jews who failed to convert to Judaism were to be expelled from Spain, de Torres sailed with Columbus on the Santa Maria. 
Some eight weeks later when Columbus and his men arrived in the Bahamas, expecting to be greeted by the entourage of the Great Khan, with offerings of gold, they were met instead by the naked native Taino people who spoke Arawak, and offered them trinkets and parrots.  Columbus was certain that he had arrived in Mainland China, then known as Cathay.  After days of waiting for the emissaries of the Khan to come for him,  Columbus sent de Torres and another man named Rodrigo Jerez inland to find the palaces.  Instead de Torres and Jerez came to native encampments where they took smoke into their lungs via burning leaves stuffed into a pipe.  They are said to be the first “white” men to smoke tobacco – a practice that did not interest Columbus at all.   It is also said that de Torres feasted on a large native bird that was sweet and delicate.
Now this is the part that may or may not be an invention, but de Torres did not know what to call this fowl.  He could think of no other name so he called it tukki which is the Hebrew word for parrot.  So it is possible that the bird that we will be brining, stuffing, carving, gobbling, and in some cases (in a tradition that I find rather creepy) “pardoning” is actually named for the tukki.  Though I can’t really imagine eating a parrot.  I have a pet parrot, and she is very intelligent.  I don’t think I can eat anything that talks.
But whatever you do or whatever you devour, have a Happy Thanksgiving.  And when the conversation lags or the L-tryptophan makes everyone sleepy, you can share this juicy tidbit around your holiday table and get a lively conversation going.     

turkey painting by MM  Nov. 16, 2017

1 comment:

  1. So glad to know that you don't think you can eat our parrot ... ! Great T-day post, love !