Tappin, the Land Turtle
Traditional African American

Once a time, there was land chil'ren and tree chil'ren. And there was the land turtle, he call isself Tappin. Tappin has six chil'ren. They all hungry. Everybody hungry all on the land, for it was famine time.

There was the eagle up there, hidin in a cloud. He on his way cross the ocean. He go for the palm oil and the seed to feed his tree chil'ren. Tappin see what the eagle do and he say, "Hold on there. It bein hard times, where you come by all this and that to feed your tree chil'ren? I got six of my own. Show me where you get your food."

Eagle says, "I has to fly cross the ocean to get this and that."
Tappin, he say, "You give me some of them wings you got, and I'll  travel with you."

Eagle, he say, "All right. When you wanter go?"
Tappin tell him, "The first cock crow, tomorry mornin." So first cock crow gone come. But Tappin, he not wait for it. It be three o'clock and Tappin go over to Eagle's house. Sayin, "Cuckoo-coo, cuckoo-coo."

Eagle tell him, "You go on back home. Lay you down, it ain't day yet." But Tappin kept it up, "Cuckoo-coo."
So Eagle gets on up, say, "What you want now?"
Tappin tell him, "Put me three feathers on this side and three on the other side."
So the Eagle, he pull out the feathers for Tappin. He put three on one side of Tappin's shell and three on the other. Now, Eagle say, "Lemme see you fly." So Tapping, he right off start in to fly. One of the feathers fall off him.
"That be all right," he says. "I got me some more wings. Let's be on our way."
So Eagle and Tappin flew and they flew. But over the ocean all of Tappin's eagle feathers fall off. Tappin commence fallin in the water. He fallin fast when Eagle go catch him and put him under his wing.

"Whew!" Tappin say. "It do smell foul under here."
Eagle let him drop in the ocean. Tappin fall down and down under water, way down to the underworld.
The king down there, king of the underworld, meet up with Tappin. He say, say, "Why you here? What you doin here?"
Tappin tell him, say, "King, we have terrible time on there earth. We can't get nothin to eat. I got six land chil'ren and I can't find food for them. The eagle, he got but three tree chil'ren and he can fly across the ocean and get all the food he want. So would you please gimme somethin to feed my chil'ren'?"
King tell him, "Aw-right, aw-right." He give Tappin a dipper, long-handle cup. He tell Tappin, "Take this, and when you want food for you chil'ren, say this:
                               "Bakon coleh
                                 Bakon cawbey
                                 Bakon cawhubo lebe lebe."

So Tappin, he carry home the dipper and he go to the chil'ren. "Come on here," he say to them. When they all come on here, he say this:
                                "Bakon coleh
                                  Bakon cawbey
                                  Bakon cawhubo lebe lebe."

There the food come out the dipper. They get everythin to eat. So the king go and call all the people and everybody eat from the he dipper. They ate and ate the meat, the fruit, everythin. Tappin think he take the dipper back home, so he do.
"Come on, chil'ren," Tappin say. He tryin to feed them but nothin coming from the dipper. Nothin. So when the dipper out, it's out.
Tappin say, "Aw-right, I'll go to the king of the underworld and have him fix this dipper up."
He go way down to the underworld and he say to the king there, "King, what is the matter? I can't feed and land chil'ren no more."
King say, "You take this cowhide, and when you want somethin, you say:

                               "Sheet n-oun
                                nou o quaako."

So Tappin, he does it. But that cowhide start to beat the land chil'ren. It say, "Drop, drop." Some chil'ren are dead. Some is only sick. But they all drop down.
Tappin, he say, "I'll call the underworld king up here." He calls the king and all the people. And he has isself a cover made to fit him before he have the cowhide to beat. He make cover of sand and some lime, to cover him good. Then he say:
                                            "Sheet n-oun"
                                              n-jacko nou
                                              o quaako."

The cowhide beat and beat. It beat everybody-it beat the king, too. It beat, beat, and beat right through the cover over Tappin. Tappin have beat signs all on his back. Why, Tappin's shell have marks on it all over to this day. And that's why you never find Tappin in a clean place. You look, see him under some leaves or a log lyin there. That's Tappin, beat marks all on his shell.

                                                                               --Told by Virginia Hamilton

Tappin, the Land Turtle
Identifying facts:

1. Describe how Tappin plans to get food for his children. Why does it fail?        
        --Eagle gives Tappin some feathers so he can fly to the food but the feathers fall out. When Eagle puts Tappin under his wing to save him, Tappin complains about the smell and Eagle lets him fall into the ocean.

2. What magic gifts does the king of the underworld give Tappin in the story?
         --He gives him a magic dipper that fills with food and he gives him a              cowhide that beats the people.

3. What is the natural occurrence this story explains?
         --It tells why the turtle's shell is marked all over and why he hides in dark, dirty places. Interpreting meanings:

4. What details in the story might show that it was told by
     African-Americans held as slaves?
          --Tappin's children are starving.
          --There is a famine in the land, but the Eagle can get food.
          --The cowhide beats the children and they get weak, sick, or die.
5. What could the magic cowhide symbolize?
         --The overseer's or slave owner's whip.

6. What is a moral, or life lesson, one could learn from this tale?
          --You can be beaten, but you shouldn't give up.
         --A big mouth can get you in trouble. (see question 1)