The Cherokee people originally lived in the area now known as the states of Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Because they adapted so quickly to the European way of life, they became known as one of the “civilized tribes.” However, long before the coming of Europeans they had a sophisticated form of government and lived in large, well-organized villages.
In the early 1800s many Cherokee people were forced to leave their homes and move to Indian Territory by traveling the infamous Trail of Tears. Today Cherokee people live all over the United States, but their two contemporary tribal governments are in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Wily, wise Rabbit is still their favorite trickster character.
Note: If more children wish to take part in the play, other animals, such as Deer, Owl, Chipmunk, Squirrel, Beaver, or Fox, can be represented as non-speaking parts.
The forest can be suggested by a painted backdrop or potted plants.
A bandage is needed for Possum’s tail.
A medicine bottle or bowl is also needed for Possum’s tail.
The oak tree for Scene III can be painted on a backdrop.
Narrator wears a turban made of patterned cloth.
Animal roles can be represented by masks made from paper plates decorated with markers, yarn, cotton balls, beads, etc. The mask can be held by hand in front of the wearer’s face or mounted on a handle like a fan.
Possum’s furry tail can be made of dark socks stuffed with cotton and stitched together.
Possum’s rattail for Scene III can be a long piece of rope.
Scene I: The Forest
A group of animals stands together.
narrator: Long ago Possum had the most beautiful tail of all the animals. Everyone knew that was true. And if anyone didn’t know, then Possum would tell him so.
bear: Tomorrow we will have a big meeting. Rabbit, you be the messenger. Go tell all the animals. We will meet at the big oak tree when Grandmother Sun rises up into the sky.
rabbit: What will the meeting be about?
bear: We will decide that tomorrow.
turtle: Oh no, here comes Possum!
raccoon: He is going to brag about his tail again. I can tell.
Possum enters and walks over to the other animals, holding his long tail in front of him.
possum:Siyo! (see-yo) Hello! This day is beautiful. And so is my tail. Look at my beautiful tail.
other animals:Siyo, Possum.
possum: Did you say there would be a meeting tomorrow?
possum: Then I should speak at the meeting.
otter: Turtle, don’t ask him! He’ll just talk about his—
possum: Because of my beautiful tail. It is the most beautiful of all. It is not short like Bear’s tail. It is long and silky. It is not stiff like Raccoon’s tail. It is soft and lovely. It is not stubby like Rabbit’s tail. It is fluffy and big. It is not ugly like Turtle’s tail. It is pretty and nice.(Possum can continue to improvise while Bear and Rabbit speak, saying “Isn’t it beautiful?” etc.)
As Possum goes on talking, the other animals yawn and roll their eyes. One by one they fall to the ground and pretend to sleep. During this activity Rabbit taps Bear on the shoulder, and Rabbit and Bear step toward the audience. Possum does not notice, but keeps talking.
rabbit: I have an idea about Possum.
bear: We should stuff moss into our ears so we cannot hear him?
rabbit: No, I have a better idea than that. Let me whisper it to you.
Rabbit whispers into Bear’s ear. Bear smiles and nods.
bear: That is a good idea.
Bear and Rabbit turn back toward Possum, who is still talking. The other animals are still pretending to sleep, but Possum doesn’t notice.
rabbit: Possum, youdo have a beautiful tail.
possum: Yes. That is true. Shall I tell you about it?
bear: No! I mean, not now.
rabbit: We have decided that you should be the first speaker at the big meeting tomorrow.
possum: Of course. That is true. The one with the most beautiful tail should always speak first.
rabbit: Possum, your tail should look its best for the meeting.
possum: Of course. That is true. My tail should look its best.
rabbit: I will take you to Cricket. He will put some special medicine on your tail. Then your tail will be ready for the meeting.
possum: Of course. That is true. Let us go to Cricket.
Possum and Rabbit go offstage together. The other animals open their eyes and sit up.
raccoon: Oh, no!
otter: If Possum’s tail is made more beautiful, he’ll never stop talking.
turtle: Otter is right. We’ll all have to move away to escape his bragging.
bear: Don’t worry. Rabbit has a plan.
Scene II: Another Part of the Forest
Cricket crouches on the ground.
rabbit: Cricket, I want you to put some of yourspecial medicine on Possum’s tail.
possum: Yes. That is true. I want my tail to look even more beautiful.
cricket: Rabbit, do you mean myspecial medicine?
rabbit: Yes, I mean yourspecial medicine.
possum: Hurry up. I want you to fix my tail.
cricket: I will fix it.(Cricket pretends to apply medicine to Possum’s tail from either a bottle or a bowl.) This medicine will make your tail look as it has never looked before.
possum: Will everyone notice it?
cricket: Oh yes, everyone will notice it.(Cricket wraps a bandage around Possum’s tail.) Now you must keep this old snakeskin wrapped around your tail all night. Do not take it off until you are at the meeting.
Scene III: The Forest, Near the Big Oak Tree
All the animals are gathered in a semicircle. Possum’s tail is still wrapped in the snakeskin.
bear: Possum will open our meeting.
rabbit: Everyone, pay attention.
possum:Siyo, everyone. I have been asked to speak today because of my tail. It is the most beautiful of all. Here, let me show you how beautiful it is.
Possum unwraps his tail. It now looks like a big rat’s tail, but Possum does not notice.
raccoon: Look at Possum’s tail!
possum:(still showing off the tail without looking at it) Yes. Look at my tail. Look at how beautiful it is.
turtle: It has no hair at all!
otter: It is really ugly.
raccoon: It is funny looking.
The animals begin to laugh. Possum looks at his tail and sees that it has no hair.
possum: My tail! Cricket has ruined it!
Possum sits down on the ground, closes his eyes, and then rolls onto his back with his feet up in the air. He stays there until all the other animals have gone. Then he gets up and runs away.
narrator: So it is that Possum now has the ugliest tail of all the animals. Ever since that time, whenever Possum meets another animal, he closes his eyes, rolls over on his back, and pretends to be dead until the other animal goes away. And Possum no longer brags about his tail!
Copyright © 2019 by Joseph Bruchac. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.