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Native American Opossum Mythology

The opossum is one of several North American animals whose name has Native American origins. The word for "opossum" was among the Powhatan words first recorded by English colonists at Jamestown, variously spelled opassom, aposoum or apasum. (The Spanish words for "opossum," tlacuache and zarigŁeya, come from indigenous Mexican and South American Indian names for opossums: the Nahuatl word tlaquatzin and the Guarani word sarigweya, respectively.)

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Despite their prevalence in the Americas, opossums are not common characters in Native American folklore. In North America, Opossum sometimes appears in legends as a buffoon or braggart, whose habit of playing dead stems from embarrassment over having made a fool of himself. In Central America and parts of southern Mexico, Opossum occasionally plays the role of a trickster or an animal hero who escapes from danger by using his wits. Opossums are also symbols of fertility in some Mexican tribes, and a drink made with an opossum's tail is still used by some Nahuatl women as folk medicine to help deliver babies. In some South American tribes, Opossum plays a more important mythological role as the Fire-Bringer.

Opossum is also used as a clan animal in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Opossum Clans include the Yuchi and the Mohegan.

Native American Opossum Gods and Spirits

Ahuizotl (Aztec)

Native American Legends About Opossums

Why Opossum's Tail is Bare:
    Cherokee legend about Opossum being punished for his vanity.
Rabbit and Possum Story:
    Miami Indian legend about Opossum unsuccessfully trying to keep the world in darkness.
*Turkey Buzzard and the Sun:
    Lenape legend explaining how opossums got their hairless tails.
*Coyote The Hungry:
    Caddo folktale about Opossum tricking Coyote by playing dead.

Recommended Books of Opossum Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

The Opossum's Tale:
    Children's book illustrating a Cherokee legend about how the possum got his tail.
Opossum and the Great Firemaker * Why Opossum Is Gray:
    Picture books based on a South American legend about Opossum bringing fire to the people.
Native American Animal Origin Stories:
    Collection of children's stories based on Native American legends about the origins of the opossum and other animals.
Myths of the Opossum: Pathways of Mesoamerican Mythology:
    Anthropology book about opossum myths and other aspects of Mexican and Central American mythology.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian tales about opossums and other animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.



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