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"How the Bat Got its Wings," #199 Swapping Stories
Bertney Langley, Elton, Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana

Recorded September 18, 1993, by Pat Mire and Maida Owens. Bertney Langley, a Koasati Indian and the nephew of Bel Abbey, shared this story with his family in Elton.


I'm going to tell you how the bat got its wings. A long time ago, the bat was a little creature who didn't have any wings, but the Creator said, "One day out of the year, you will have a game -- the animals will have a game."

So it was decided that they would choose up into two teams: one were the animals who didn't have wings, and one was the birds, who had wings. So there was a little creature out there who didn't -- who didn't have any wings, so he wanted to play on the animals' side. But he went and asked the animals if he could play on their team, but he was too small. So they laughed at him and made fun of him and said, "You cannot play on our team."

So, he went to the birds' side and asked if he would play on their team. But, since he didn't have any wings, the birds said, "Well, we don't know how you can play with us, since you don't have any wings, and the rules are: you have to have wings to play on our side." As they were talking, one of the birds said, "Well, let's see how we can help him. So, as they looked around, they saw . . . a top of a drum that was left by one of the Indians, so they took the skin off the drum and made wings for the birds and put wings on him and showed him how to fly.

But, since he was just a beginner, he didn't know how to fly. So they took him on top of the treetops and dropped him, and he did like that [waving hands]. He couldn't fly straight -- he was going all over the place. "So," he said, "that's that -- that's the best I can do."

They said, "Well, the game is getting too close. We can't teach you how to fly straight." So they went back and put him in. So as far as the game was played -- let's say like in the fourth quarter, the animals were tied with the birds. So, at that time, they decided to put the bat in there.

And the bat went and got the ball, and he was going like -- like this all over [waving hands]. And there was no way they could touch him. So, he scored the winning touchdown -- we could say -- for the birds. So, when the game was over, the animals said, "Who was that superstar that you all had that came and we couldn't touch him? There was no way we could stop him from scoring the winning goal."

When they came to find out it was the bat, they didn't know what to do, because they had made fun of him, and he had gone out of his way to go and play for the birds. But the moral of this story is that you can't make fun of anybody, no matter what size they are or how big they are or what they can do. You have to respect whoever they are for what they are and make sure that you give them the chance to participate. And the moral, like I said, is to respect people, and that is how we are told the bat story -- how the bat got its wings.

Because bats blur the boundaries between mammals and birds, they are the subject of many tales that attempt to explain their mixed characteristics. In Africa and among native North American cultures, the confusing status of the bat is often explained in terms of a game or war between the animals and the birds. Usually the bat is seen as a cheater or a fence-sitter who sides with the birds when they are ahead and with the mammals when the tide turns; the two sides then call a truce and the bat is punished for switching sides by being forced to sleep upside down during the day and come out only at night. This Koasati tale is far friendlier to the bat, who becomes a surprise hero in the contest between birds and beasts.

For more information about this and related tales, refer to the book Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.

About the Transcriptions


National Endowment for the Arts.

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