the Land Turtle
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.
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."
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
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."
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?"
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
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.
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 cawhubo lebe lebe."
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 cawhubo lebe lebe."
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:
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
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:
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
1. Describe how Tappin plans to get food for his children. Why does it
--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.
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.
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.
details in the story might show that it was told by
African-Americans held as slaves?
--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
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)