Equiano’s Turkey

November 28, 2013

Yes, according to Mark Forsyth, the Thanksgiving bird is named after a country 4429 miles away.

But not the first to be so named.  In fact, the original turkey was a guinea fowl from Madagascar, brought to London by Turkish merchants, called Turkey for short.   Later, when the English emigrated to America and found a similar-looking bird, they reached for that name too.

In Turkey, the same bird is called the “Hindi.”

Being a vegetarian, I can avoid all this mess and concentrate on the country itself.  Quite a few authors have spent significant time there — James Baldwin comes to mind — but Equiano wins hands down when it come to praise for that country.   Of Smyrna he says: “This is a very ancient city…  Provisions are very plentiful in this city, and good wine less than a penny a pint. The grapes, pomegranates, and many other fruits, were also the richest and largest I ever tasted. The natives are well looking and strong made, and treated me always with great civility.”  He notes, however, “I was surprised to see how the Greeks are, in some measure, kept under by the Turks, as the negroes are in the West Indies by the white people.”

Doesn’t stop him, though, from deciding “at last to set sail for Turkey, and there to end my days.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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