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.)
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.