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Thirteen Moons on a Turtle's Back

A Native American Year of Moons explains the way Native People of North America keep track of the changing seasons. The changing seasons differ in each region of the continent but the pattern of thirteen moons has similar traits among many Nations. In this Joseph Bruchac book, an Abenaki grandfather shows his grandson how to keep track of the changing moons. He uses the scales on the back of the turtle. In counting the scales the boy learns that the number counted equals thirteen. Grandfather tells the youth that each moon has twenty-eight days from each new moon until the next. Each moon relates a specific story about the season. Grandfather explains that the Abenaki have stories for each moon. The book relates a story for each moon according to a different Nations traditions. The winter time relates a story about the Moon of Popping Trees according to the Northern Cheyenne. There are explanations from Potawatomi, Anishinabe (Ojibwe), Cree, Huron, Seneca, Pomo, Menominee, Micmac (Mi'kmaq), Cherokee, Winnebago, Lakota Sioux, and Abenaki. It is a way of organizing time and seasons. Each nation has its own stories that correspond to the changing seasons. It is the spiritual nature of Native People's respect for the earth.

Many Native Americans share the knowledge of the thirteen moons on a turtle’s back. As children they are taught to examine the segments on the back of every turtle. There are thirteen large segments which represent the thirteen moons which make up the lunar year. By counting the smaller segments around the lower edge of the shell, you will find there are 28, which represents the 28 days between new moons. 

Every group of Native Americans has names for the thirteen moons and there are stories to go with each new moon. The names of the moons and the stories that accompany them vary from one group to another, but each is descriptive of the season in which the new moon appears.


To make your own turtle, print out the following drawing on heavy paper or card stock. By following the directions you will have your own pet turtle showing the number of moons and the number of days between new moons.



NOTE: The information on the thirteen moons on a turtle's back is drawn from the traditions of the Pokanoket Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation. However, it must be noted that this type of lunar calendar was common to many Native American Tribes.



Ritchie White

September 15, 2010 at 12:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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