For the past three weeks I've had several people message me on Facebook to learn more about the Little People of Native American folklore and mythology. I've also had quite a few people ask to read excerpts from my new book The Age of Myths and Legends as well. Today I kill two birds with one stone by including a small excerpt of Chapter 3. in this month's Fireside Chat.
Hope you guys enjoy.
Chapter three: Masters of Wood & Water
“For know by lot from Jove I am the power
Of this fair wood and live in oaken bower,
To nurse the saplings tall, and curl the grove
With ringlets quaint and wanton windings wove;
And all my plants I save from nightly ill
Of noisome winds and Blasting vapors chill;”
-Arcades - John Milton
According to the old tales, a race of mysterious yet powerful spirits once haunted the windswept plains, lonely forest and snow enshrouded peaks. These beings were akin to the mighty race of giants in that they too were living, breathing embodiments of the Earth’s power. But where the Giants came to embody all that was chaotic and destructive in Nature’s Mosaic, these little beings came to represent the constructive purpose and order of the very Earth itself.
The Little People, as their name implies, were small, diminutive beings who varied in height from six inches to three feet. Many tales describe them as being perfectly formed men and women with long, silky black hair and possessed of a cold, unearthly beauty. Like their giant brethren, these beings were old; old enough to remember the birth of the Earth itself.
Because of this intimacy with the world, all of the Earth’s secrets were laid bare to them. They knew the tongues of all living things whether they be bird, beast, tree or man. They were also great wonderworkers, able to cast enchanting illusion or horrifying nightmares. At times they were able to walk unclad and unseen to mortal eyes or they were able to change their shape and form into that of an animal. Their potent songs of power and enchantment were without equal, differing greatly from the songs of the Wise. The hierophant, through years of discipline, learned to attune himself to Nature and was thus able to hear and mimic the distant song of the Earth. In essence, the medicine-person derived his or her strength and power from the natural world. However, the power of the Little People was rooted in the essence of their very beings rather than extracted from the Earth. Besides, if mortal men could vaguely hear the Earth’s distant chant, the Little People could, without a medium, speak directly to the Earth itself. For this reason, North American tribes honored and respected the Little People and at times made offerings and effigies to placate these mighty beings.
The Little People were known by many names across the vast North American continent. To the Quinault, they were known as Stick Indians. The overall character of these Stick Indians could be described as ambiguous at best. While not particularly evil, these Little People did enjoy playing
mean-spirited pranks upon solitary hunters. At times these Little People could be so bothersome that it became common practice for hunters and fishermen to leave shiny objects while in their domain as the Little People were fascinated and mesmerized by sparkling objects.
To the Kickapoo, the Little People served as protectors to sacred places and to the very young. They were also enforcers of cultural taboos and morals. These powerful beings were called the Muchee-Muna-Toe, and so respected were these Little People that it was taboo even to speak of them except during the winter months.
The Comanche knew the Little People by the name Nuna-Pee. It was said that on certain moonlit nights that the drums of these Little People could be heard echoing in the distant hills. But it was perilous to seek the Nuna-Pee out because they possessed invisible arrows capable of killing any mortal that trespassed too near their abode.
The Northern Ute named their Little People Mookich. These shy spirits lived in cliff dwellings well off the beaten path. Hunters were wise to leave offerings of tobacco, coins, small pieces of rope, or food whenever traveling through the Mookich domain. To do so ensured that these Little People would not be so inclined to harass the hunters or cause mischief around the camp.
Ponca and Omaha tales speak of the Gada’zhe and Ni’Kashinga Man’tanaha, the Wild Ones. These dangerous Little People were able to injure mortals internally without even piercing the flesh or spilling blood. They also had the disturbing habit of kidnapping young children.
Among the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy existed tales of the mighty Jogah. These Little People were the protective spirits of nature who kept the natural order of the world in total balance. Without them, it was believed all life on the Earth would die. These nature spirits were divided into three groups, the Gandayak, the Ohdowas, and the Gahongas. The Gandayak held all forest and rivers under their protection. The Ohdowas lived underground and held almost all poisonous creatures and monsters in check, while the Gahongas warded the mountains and hills.
The Canotila or Tree Dwellers were a solitary Little People who were both feared and honored by both the Lakota and Dakota peoples. These powerful beings served as messengers between the world of the living and the world of spirits. However, some of the Canotila enjoyed causing sickness and injury to humans, usually solitary hunters or fishermen. The Sioux dreaded even to see this creature, for doing so meant that a close relative would soon die.
The Creek tribe called the Little People I’sti Lupu’ski and often times had to employ the services of powerful medicine-men to counteract these Little Peoples’ dangerous magic. Adept shape-shifters, it was not unheard of for hunters to be lead astray deep into the dim forest by the wily I’sti Lupu’ski. On a darker note, they were also known to cause madness in even the hale and strong.
The Miwok feared the volatile nature spirit Nenakatu, who had not only power over the waters but also had the ability to mesmerize her victims. This powerful being sometimes wore the appearance of a small, wizened woman with long black hair that swept the ground. Like the Canotila of Sioux lore, to even see the Nenakatu was an omen of ill portent.
The Catawba people of South Carolina avoided certain vales and deep forests because they were the known haunts of the Yehasu'rie, the Wild People. These mysterious Little People lived deep underground and subsisted on turtles, roots, tadpoles, and acorns. Private beings, the Wild People shunned mortals unless they were on raids to steal items from tribal campgrounds such as knives, whetstones, jewelry, or feathers. However, should a man or woman accidentally stumble into their domain, then would the Yehasu'rie make their presence abundantly known. Out of spite, these creatures would tangle a horse’s hair, kidnap children, and frighten hunters with their discerning child-like cries. They also possessed magically charged arrows that could maim or kill their intended victims without the victim even realizing the damage until it was too late.
It is important to note that not all groups of Little People were so perilous to mankind. Some groups of Little People were simply watchful and uneasy when in the company of mortals. One such group was the May-may-gway-shi of Algonquin folklore. These small hairy beings were believed to have carved the ancient petroglyphs among the various caves and cliffs in the regions of the north. The May-may-gway-shi were also known for their love of fish. In that long ago age it was not so uncommon to see small canals dug along the river banks that teemed with life. These canals were supposedly the workings of the May-may-gway-shi, which they used to stock with their favorite fish. At other times, when they were in need and bold enough, they would make stealthy incursions into tribal camps to steal from the fishermen’s nets. Easily frightened, the May-may-gway-shi could travel at tremendous speeds either on foot or in their small stone canoes. Upon entering a stony outcrop or cliff, they would enter the rock face and vanish.
T. D. Hill (Wichita, Kiowa, Pawnee) is a Native American artist, writer, and motivational speaker
What Reviewers are saying...
"The Age of Myths and Legends will take you on an exciting journey through Native American folklore. T.D. Hill artfully draws together characters from many indigenous traditions including his own, exposing both the uniqueness of each story and the commonalities across them. Hill’s beautiful paintings also give these fearsome creatures full visual effect. A valuable and thorough collection of the earliest folktales and teachings of Native American elders."
"Hill takes you on a mesmerizing journey through the tales of monsters and evil beings in Native American folklore. The similarities among the tales across peoples fascinated me and gave me goose bumps, especially when great distances separated the peoples! Hill's art masterfully adds a visual chill to the image his words paint, eliciting an extra shiver of delighted terror."
"Perfect for those who love mythology, and especially mythology of the First Americans. I’m definitely looking forward to the next in the series."