While many tend to associate fairies, elves, and other hidden peoples with the stories and lore of Europe, these magical beings are found all over the world and with striking similarities. Turtle Island is no exception. From the Appalachian woodlands to the mounds of Mississippi – the Fairies, Hidden People or Little Folk (also referred to as the Good Neighbors by many) are known to pre-exist humanity on Earth. As they are deeply connected to the history and wellbeing of the lands and waters, many believe the Little Folk to be ancestral spirits, healers, tricksters, and deities who are to be respected and in most cases, feared (rightfully so)! Below we’ll learn about a few groups of local Little Folk known to the Tsalagi, Mvskoke Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw peoples of the great southeast.
Yunwi Tsunsdi (Tsalagi)
The Tsalagi (Cherokee) people of the Appalachian region know one group of Fairies, or Little Folk as Yunwi Tsunsdi (yoon-wee joon-stee). They are just one group of invisible humanoid nature spirits that are usually seen in and around rocks and cliffs, and are said to be the size of children, even smaller in many cases. They have long black hair that falls to the ground, and they love to sing, dance, and drum in traditional ways. Many have depicted them as being helpful and playful towards humans, especially children, and they are highly skilled in magic, medicine, and agriculture. They have little patience for being disturbed or having their homes disrespected. If a child has lost their way in the woods, it is said that the Yunwi Tsunsdi will help guide them back to safety. Divided into three clans: Rock, Laurel, and Dogwood, each is known to teach a moral lesson to humans.
The Rock clan is the most aggressive and quick to anger because their homes and spaces have been invaded without their permission. They are the most known for stealing children, and teach us about respecting boundaries. The Laurel clan, on the other hand, is more benevolent towards humans but loves to play tricks. They teach us about lightheartedness and not taking life too seriously. The Dogwood clan, finally, are the most familiar and friendly with humans but prefer to be left alone. They teach us to only serve out our own kindness and not in expectation of rewards. It is said that (as an adult) to see a Little Person is an omen for someone nearing death, and that any encounter should not be talked about until seven years have passed. Often, Little Folk will only show themselves to children, hunters, and/or medicine people, also known as herb doctors. As thanks, they can be given offerings of bread, whiskey, sweet candies like butterscotch, tobacco, fresh venison, rabbit, as well as honey.
Este Lopocke (Mvskoke Creek, Seminole, Miccosukee)
To the south of Tsalagi homelands are the Mvskoke people, mound builders who have similar and overlapping beliefs about the local groups of Little Folk, one group who is referred to as Este Lopocke (ee-stee lo-poach-kee), or Gee for short (to avoid using their full name disrespectfully). The Seminole and Miccosukee people have a similar name for their local little beings (one of which is called Este Fasta/Fastachee, translated to Little Giver who provides corn and medicine to the people). The Este Lopocke are said to be beautiful, handsome, and strong, known to live within hollow trees, along the treetops, and rocky cliffs of the area. Like the Yunwi Tsunsdi, they will only show themselves to children to help them find their way back home, hunters, and to medicine people to occasionally help them find and collect herbs. It is considered bad luck to talk about them after dark. Some of Little Folk can be tricksters who enjoy making travelers get lost in the woods, while others are happy to help humans when approached respectfully (and maybe with some offerings as incentive!), especially when it comes to finding herbs and the pathway back home.
“‘There are beings like humans roaming among the green trees,’ the old Indians used to say: the little people are very agile and play tricks on people, drive them insane, and take a person with them wherever they go. They send people to the rough part of the country and let them wander around there. Many people have told about this. They were taken by little people; even at night they take them around, and when it’s daylight, they keep them hidden among the rocks. The little people have special places where they live, and during the evening, they visit one another…”Creek (Muskogee) Texts, Mary R. Haas and James H. Hill
To read the full story, click here.
Hatak Awasa (Choctaw)
To the immediate west of Mvskoke homelands are the Choctaw mound builders, who know one group of local Little People as the Hatak Awasa. A certain type of Hatak Awasa is called Kowi Anukasha (or Kwanokasha), or the forest dweller. The forest dwellers are two-three feet tall and are said to have old knowledge of magic. They can be dangerous because they are always standing watch, and are known to take little children who wander too deeply into the thick of the forest. It is said that, if caught, the Kowi Anukasha will take a child to their cave where three other spirits with long white hair will meet with the child and present them with a test of character:
“The first one offers the child a knife, the second one offers them a bunch of poisonous herbs, the third offers a bunch of herbs yielding good medicine. If the child accepts the knife, they are certain to become a bad person and he may even kill their friends. If they accept the poisonous herbs, they will never be able to cure or help their people. But, if they accept the good herbs, they are destined to become a great doctor and an important and influential person of their tribe and win the confidence of their people. When they accept the good herbs, the three old spirits will tell them the secrets of making medicines from herbs, roots and barks at certain trees, and of treating and curing various fevers, pains and other sickness.”The Little People, a Choctaw Legend – First People.us
To read the full story, click here. Generally, the Hatak Awasa are feared by children, who learn the stories early on about how they could be snatched away in the forest if they don’t listen to their parents or elders.
Finally, to the immediate north of Choctaw homelands (and west of Tsalagi territory) are the Chickasaw people, who know their Good Neighbors as Iyagȧnasha (ya-gay-na-chuh), an all-encompassing term that includes Little People and every other invisible nature spirit. Some of these Iyagȧnasha are said live in the woods, be no more than three feet tall, and they are known on occasion adopt human children to teach them the ways of herbal medicine, as well as hunters in the way of catching deer.
The little people lived at a certain time, but everyone could not see them. They did not live in all places, but sometimes under high banks or along a branch which had such high banks. It was necessary for their preservation that most other people should not be able to see them. They, on their part, could see everybody but they showed themselves to few. When they saw a person who they liked, a person in good health, dreaming good dreams, they would make a doctor out of them. Having selected them, they would lead them off into the woods where others could not find them…
When a person who had been carried off in this manner returned they would not tell their friends where they had been or whom they had been with, for the little people warned them against divulging anything. The little people told them that if they had related what they had seen, or told where they had been that they would fall sick, forget all they had learned, and never become a doctor, but otherwise they would become whatever the little people had trained them for. They generally became a good doctor…”Chickasaw Society and Religion, Story of the Invisible Little People, John R. Swanton
Swanton goes on to explain how some doctors like to talk about the workings of the little people, but those are not good doctors who can be trusted. If a doctor was not careful about what they had been taught, everything they knew could be taken away, or worse they could be killed. Herb doctors are said to owe their knowledge, practices, and origins to the Little Folk.
Sources & Further Reading
- Pursiful, Darrell J; Fiction and Folklore Blog
- “Yunwi Tsunsdi: Cherokee Little Folk.” December 23, 2013. https://intothewonder.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/yunwi-tsunsdi-cherokee-little-folk/
- “Five Little People from the American Southeast” July 25, 2014. https://intothewonder.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/five-little-people-from-the-american-southeast/
- “Legends of the Cherokee: beloved stories shared through centuries.” Visit Cherokee North Carolina. https://visitcherokeenc.com/play/culture/legends/
- “The Little People: A Choctaw Legend.” First People. us https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheLittlePeople-Choctaw.html
- “Creek (Muskogee) Texts” by Mary R. Haas and James H. Hill, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Creek_Muskogee_Texts/gpEkDQAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=este+lopocke&pg=PA346&printsec=frontcover
- “Chickasaw Society and Religion” by John Reed Swanton, University of Nebraska Press. 2006. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Chickasaw_Society_and_Religion/Kx0cctZXE0IC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=little+people+of+the+chickasaw&pg=PA78&printsec=frontcover
- Dunn, Carolyn. “Little People of the Southeast II.” https://endicottstudio.typepad.com/articleslist/little-people-of-the-southeastiiby-carolyn-dunn.html
- List of Little Folk: https://writinginmargins.weebly.com/the-little-folk.html