There are many, many versions of the “Tailypo” story. It is spelled many ways: Taleypo, Tallipo, Taillipoe, etc., but it is usually pronounced in a similar manner: [ tay lee poe ]. The story, though told with many changing details, has several facts in common between the most popular versions. Here is a brief account of how the story goes:
An old man living alone in the deep woods encounters an unknown creature near
(or inside) his meager cabin. The creature has a tail that is extraordinarily long.
Out of either hunger or fear, the old man chops off the tail of the creature. Later
in the story, the creature returns to re-claim its “stolen” tail which the old man usually
has eaten for dinner. A confrontation between the old man and the creature takes place.
Through the many versions, things normally don’t end well for the old man -- he’s maimed violently, never seen again, his is cabin burnt to the ground, or what have you. The creature often has an animal voice that says something to the effect of “Where is my Tailypo?” or a “Taaaaiilllyypooo” call, which can be heard in the forest.
What is “Teh-Li Po: An Appalachian Tale”?
One writer’s interpretation of how Native Americans might have pronounced, and settlers would have learned to spell, the name of a creature living deep in the forest -- a creature with a long tail and no fear of man or beast. . .a top of the food chain predator to be feared.
So in answering the question “What is Teh-Li Po?”, there is a long winded answer if one desires accuracy.
The first written account of the Tailypo story explored in “Teh-Li Po: An Appalachian Folktale” would most likely be that of southern writer Joel Chandler Harris in the form of his “Uncle Remus” stories. Harris was a bit of a cultural liason in that the stories he recorded in print were largely the stories of slaves which were told orally, passed down by word of mouth, hence the many variations one finds in the stories. Harris’ works were recorded in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s -- it is believed Harris’ works is the first time the Tailypo story was recorded in print.
As Dr. Edgar Slotkin, head of Folklore in the English Department at the University of Cincinnati explains in the DVD’s educational materials, in the academic world of folklore, the likely rock-bottom origins of Tailypo can be found in the Grimm Brothers’ tales. The story believed to be the catalyst for our Appalachian Teh-Li Po, as recorded by the Grimms, has nothing to do with a long-tailed creature as we know it here in America. The Grimms’ story is called “The Man from the Gallows” in which a corpse is seeking its stolen liver! Quite gruesome.
It’s interesting. Folklore is a highly academic and well-defined field of study. Most people do not realize this. It has a very complex system of categorizing and cataloging folk tales, legends, and myths from all over the world. Dr. Slotkin tells viewers all about which category and “tale type” the Tailypo story is accepted into and where it belongs, academically speaking. One may then say that the sort of story Tailypo is goes back hundreds of years, or earlier.
Teh-Li Po, as we Americans know it, is much different than the academically accepted “original” tale and so since the Uncle Remus stories of J.C.Harris is the first place Tailypo appears in print, we can assume that the story was being passed down by African American slaves by mouth since at least the mid 1800’s in America and probably before. You can search online or at your local library/bookstore for Tailypo and find it easily, should you care to explore.
The intention of this explanation of Tailypo is more etymological than to actually tell you the story.
“Teh-Li Po: An Appalachian Folktale” not only tells a story in stunning visuals, but the DVD extras also educate viewers about the origins of the story, exploring several of the many different versions.
What is Teh-Li Po? Indeed.
A cultural and perhaps spiritual theme that touches something within many people, across great distances.
Considering the Grimms’ almost unrelated in detail, but thematically similar ”The Man from the Gallows”, where Tailypo started, one might think of Tailypo as a lesson -- don’t take something that is not yours, or else!