Synopses & Reviews
Weaker and Weaker It was long ago, and the old people's children grew up and had children, and their children's children had children, and their children's children's children had children, until the island they lived on filled up with people, and one clay it tipped into the sea. Everybody was washed away except one grandmother and her grandson.
"And what will we do now?9' said the grandmother. "We must make ourselves strong." Then she began to sing:
my teeth are flint
my stomach is copper
my heart is a hammer
But it was no use. Every day the grandmother and her grandson grew weaker.
At night they would crawl into the one house that was left on the island and try to stay warm in a small room to one side of the main room. With no oil for their lamp, they went to bed early, always hungry. They were getting weaker and weaker.
One evening when they had lain down in the dark and the little boy, as usual, had said, "I wish some living thing would come"-and nothing had come, not even a rabbit-they heard a noise outside the passageway.
A very small man and his wife were just pulling up with their sled. They came to a stop right at the door, and seeing no light, they said to themselves, "The house is empty."
They unloaded the bags of walrus meat they had brought on their sled and set them in the passageway. Then they went into the main room of the house and made their beds, and as no one said to them, "Don't come here," they lay down to sleep.
The grandmother could hear the talking of little people, and as soon as the house had become quiet again she said to her grandson, "Go into the pas
sageway where they put their meat. Touch your finger toyour tongue, then draw your finger around the bottom of one of those bags, touching both the bag and the ground."
The boy did exactly as he was told, then crawled back to his grandmother.
When the dawn came, the little people were up again and about to go on their way. While the little husband was getting the sled ready, the little wife was taking the meat out of the passageway. But one of the bags was so heavy that when she tried to lift it she could not. She shouted to her husband, "Yesterday it wasn't heavy at all. Now I can't move it."
The little man jumped from the sled and tried to lift the bag. But it stuck to the ground. He tried again, and still it stuck. He called into the house, "Then take it!" and as they sped away he said to his wife, "I thought there was somebody there."
After that the grandmother and her grandson had good times and were cheered up for a while. They had plenty of food. They weren't hungry. And here ends the story. Now sleep!
If you ever see them, don't be afraid.
Talk to them, be nice to them,
and they will bring you luck.
The world of the little people is no farther than the patch of woods beyond the last house. Yet it is a place of mystery, closely connected to nature. From the little people come rain and wind. From their cooking pots comes food that never runs out. They themselves are small, but their strength and wisdom are great, providing a source of lasting power for average-size humans.
Here are twenty-two not-quite-folktales in an unusual collection gathered from the Mohawk, the Cherokee, the Zuni, the Inuit, the Maya, and other Native American groups. Though each tale is different, the little people themselves are recognizable from one story to the next. They are capable of playing tricks, yet offer help when someone is in trouble. They run and hide, yet want to make friends, even propose marriage.
Are the little people real? Or do they live only in stories? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes, as explained by folklorist John Bierhorst in a fascinating introduction exploring the history and meaning of the little people in Native American culture.
Complementing the tales are perceptive illustrations by Native American artist Hilbert Coy, demonstrating that the helpful (and sometimes not so helpful) little people are everywhere -- at least to those who have eyes to see them.
Here are twenty-two not-quite-folktales in an unusual collection gathered from various Native American groups. Though each tale is different, the little people themselves are recognizable from one story to the next. They are capable of playing tricks, yet offer help when someone is in trouble. They run and hide, yet want to make friends, even propose marriage. Complementing the tales are perceptive illustrations by Native American artist Ron Hilbert Coy, demonstrating that the helpful (and sometimes not so helpful) little people are everywhere -- at least for those who have eyes to see them.
About the Author
John Bierhorst, author of many acclaimed works about Native American cultures, lives in West Shokan, New York.Z