"How the Bat Got its Wings," #199
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."
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
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