MS/Lakes: Two Opossum Stories

The word opossum itself is a Native American word from a Virginia Algonquian (Powhatan) language. You can found out more about possums at Wikipedia. In this story, you will learn the words of the Song of the Opossum in the Biloxi tradition!

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Mississippi Valley / Great Lakes unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1914).

Why the Opossum Plays Dead

THE Ancient of Opossums thought that he would reach a certain pond very early in the morning, so that he might catch the crawfish on the shore. But someone else reached there first, and when Opossum reached there, the crawfish were all gone.

This person did this every day. Opossum did not know who it was, so he lay in wait for him. He found it was the Ancient of Racoons.

They argued about the crawfish and the pond. They agreed to see which could rise the earlier in the morning, go around the shore of the pond, and catch the crawfish.

Racoon said, “I rise very early. I never sleep until daylight comes.” Opossum said the same thing. Then each went home.

Now Opossum lay down in a hollow tree and slept there a long time. He arose when the sun was very high and went to the pond. But Racoon had been there ahead of him, and had eaten all the crawfish. Racoon sang the Song of the Racoon as he was going home. Opossum stood listening. He, too, sang. He sang the Song of the Opossum, thus: Hí na kí-yu wus-sé-di'.

He met the Racoon who had eaten all the crawfish.

“Ha!” said Racoon. “I have been eating very long, and I was going home, as I was sleepy.”

Opossum said, “I, too, have been eating so long that I am sleepy, so I am going home.”

Opossum was always telling a lie. People say this of the Opossum because if one hits that animal and throws it down for dead, soon it gets up and walks off.

Why 'Possum Has a Large Mouth
Choctaw (Bayou Lacomb)

VERY little food there was for Deer one dry season. He became thin and weak. One day he met ’Possum. Deer at once exclaimed, “Why, ’Possum, how fat you are! How do you keep so fat when I cannot find enough to eat?”

’Possum said, “I live on persimmons. They are very large this year, so I have all I want to eat.”

“How do you get the persimmons?” asked Deer. “They grow so high!”

“That is easy,” said ’Possum. “I go to the top of a high hill. Then I run down and strike a persimmon tree so hard with my head that all the ripe persimmons drop on the ground. Then I sit there and eat them.”

“That is easily done,” said Deer. “I will try it. Now watch me.”

’Possum waited. Deer went to the top of a nearby hill. He ran down and struck the tree with his head.

’Possum watched him, laughing. He opened his mouth so wide while he laughed that he stretched it. That is why ’Possum has such a large mouth.

(500 words)

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