Native American Indian cultures
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 zarigüeya, 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.
Native American Opossum Gods and Spirits
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:
Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links
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.
Native Languages of the Americas website © 1998-2020 Contacts and FAQ page
Back to Meaning of animal spirits
Back to Latin American legends
Back to List of monsters
Native American leather bags
Old Indian art
Native Indian tattoo art
Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?