Maskoke Okisce (ca. 1985)

Wotkoce Okisce

This poem whirls across the wall. It is playful, but also carries a serious undertone: the fear for a tornado is real.

illustratie: lees in nederlands

Creek Fabel

                   Het kleine volk zei: ‘Tornado's
    worden veroorzaakt door slechte geesten
                           die de staart afrukken van
                                         de waterschildpad
                                           en die slingert
                                         naar beneden en
                                           in het rond en
                                                 in het rond
                                                      naar de

Vertaling: Jelle Kaspersma


Is Muscogee your native language and would you like to recite this poem? Please contact us at muurgedichten@taalmuseum.nl!

illustratie: ontdek dit gedicht in 1 minuut

This poem in 60 seconds

How do tornadoes come into being? The territory of the Creek experienced these whirlwinds regularly, which gave rise to many superstitions. Were they created by malicious spirits playing tricks, and tossing the tail of the poor water turtle down to earth? This is what small children believed, and also perhaps more adults than were willing to admit to it. Because the fear of tornadoes lived in hearts of all ages. Louis ‘Little Coon’ Oliver, or Wotkoce Okisce, wrote about it in this poem.

Want to know more? On this website you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.

Wotkoce Okisce

Wotkoce Okisce, pseud. of Louis Oliver

Coweta 1904 - Tahlequah 1991

Louis Oliver was born in the region of Chattahoochee, nowadays part of the state of Alabama but in the early 1900s still an Indian Reservation. Oliver belonged to the golden raccoon clan, a part of the Yukki tribe of the Creek nation, or Muscogee. He also went by Little Coon and Wotkoce Okisce.


Oliver graduated high school in 1926. This was remarkable, as not many American Indians obtained their high school diploma in those days, and Oliver had had to do it without the support of his parents. They had passed away at a young age, after which Oliver was taken in by family members. Being a relatively high-educated American Indian left Louis Oliver in a bit of a solitary position: some members of his tribe thought he was ‘capitulating to the White Man’s ways’, but there he was also regarded as an outsider.


Louis Oliver gathered fame when, in the 1980s, his focus turned to his own heritage. He wrote two books containing stories and poems, Caught in a willow net (1983) and Chasers of the sun: Creek Indian thoughts (1990). It was then that his work also became more widely appreciated among American Indians. In 1987, he received the Alexander Posey Literary Award from the Mvskoke Arts Council of the Muscogee people.

illustratie: over dit gedicht

What's this poem about?

As can be derived from its shape, this poem is about a tornado. When he wrote it, Wotkoce Okisce lived in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a state struck by tornadoes every year. The Muscogee people had various ways of explaining how tornadoes came into existence. In one of the stories, they were caused by evil spirits, which yank the tail off the water turtle and toss it from the sky down to earth. Did only the children believe these tales, or was it effectively popular belief? Regardless of whether or not these folklores were believed, the fear of tornadoes was very real.

illustratie: ontstaan van dit gedicht

Origin story

Wotkoce Okisce (Louis Oliver) wrote this poem in Mvskoke, or Muscogee. It is a language nowadays still spoken by approximately 5,000 people, mostly by American Indians of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. For him, the language was an integral part of his cultural heritage. At the same time, Wotkoce Okisce had had a Western education, in which he had been introduced to world literature and Western poetry. In the poetry he wrote from the 1980s onwards, these two traditions meet. He drew inspiration from folklore, but occasionally chose to give them a new shape.

illustratie: ik heb een verhaal bij dit gedicht

Share your story

Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at muurgedichten@taalmuseum.nl! We would love to add your story to our website.

illustratie: gedicht in leiden

Wotkoce Okisce in Leiden

Photo: Anoesjka Minnaard

This poem can be found on a Leiden wall since 1993 and is part of a set of three poems, in three languages spoken in the USA, applied along the Nieuwe Rijn river. In 2008, when the outer wall of the building required restoration, the painters redid not just the wall, but the poem as well - they even emulated the style of original painter Jan Willem Bruins.

illustratie: citaten


Corporations have denied the wider reading audience to this delightfully gifted man's truly special creativity.

Maurice Kenny, a contemporary American Indian poet

illustratie: wist je dat

Fun facts

  • Okisce is a word from Muscogee, the language spoken by the Creek in which Wotkoce Okisce wrote his poetry. Loosely translated, it means something along the lines of “I have spoken.” The name Wotkoce Okisce therefore clearly expresses that he has something to tell. Okisce also features in the title of this poem, Maskoke Okisce, which roughly translates as “The Muscogee people say…”

  • On 21 June 1991, the New York Times published five poems in celebration of the first day of summer. One of these five, entitled Fishing, was written by Joy Harjo, also a Muscogee. This poem was a tribute to Oliver, who had passed away not long before.
illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels

Maskoke Okisce

     Hi yomen Kawetulke Yahola
                  mekko nake makvtet
                           os po mekvna
                              pon hesaketa
                                     os en ka

illustratie: video

Here, you can watch a video about the poem Fishing, in which it is also read. Fishing was written by Joy Harjo as a tribute to Louis Oliver.

illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels

Creek Fable

    The little ones said: Tornados
             are caused by evil spirits
                     yanking the tail off
                            the water turtle
                              and it spins
                                  down and
                                round and
                                        to the


Translation: Anne Oosthuizen, based on the Dutch translation by Jelle Kaspersma

illustratie: meer weten

Learn more

This entry was written by Het Taalmuseum. The translation into English is by Anne Oosthuizen. The following sources were consulted: