Dan Baines

Fairy Rings and Monstrous Things

Foreign Fairies

For me one of the most compelling pieces of evidence supporting the existence of 'little people' is their documentation in almost every culture. Whether it's Native American Indian folklore or ancient Persian texts, they all refer to what we commonly categorize as fairies. They generally have similar traits regardless of location, emerging from forests or subterranean domains to help, hinder or horrify we surface dwelling destroyers of nature.

This very interesting article by Chauburji appeared in Pakistani newspaper The Nation.

On a long ago visit to Ireland, I found that the lives of the Irish were deeply linked to strange stories about things that could at best be called paranormal. The central characters in these stories, which my host in that beautiful country adamantly maintained were true, revolved around hereditary precognition, Leprechauns and ‘The Little People’. My interest in these accounts was aroused as I was born and raised in a house, where inexplicable things occurred on a daily basis. These occurrences were always benign and even protective, causing us to lose fear.

My mother sometimes spoke of mythical beings known as ‘baalishtias’ (derived from the word ‘Baalisht’ or ‘one hand width’). These miniature people, no more than a hand width in height, had perfect human features and hid themselves in forests by day, coming out nocturnally to forage for food. When we questioned our mother on the subject, we were told that she had heard these tales from her grandmother and the local hill people during her family’s annual summer sojourn to Dharamsala and Srinagar in the pre-independence era.

I too happened to hear similar accounts from Jumma Khan, our summer home caretaker cum cook in Murree. According to local narratives, these tiny beings inhabited forests, had magical powers and exhibited total empathy with insects and small animals. In everyday parlance we could perhaps refer to them as fairies, elves and pixies. I found that the Irish description of ‘little people’ was exactly similar to these ‘baalishtias’.

Stories about ‘miniature people’ with magical powers and the propensity to do mischief, are as old as antiquity and have featured in classics such as Gulliver Travels and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson. Box office hits have been produced around them indicating that the subject holds a never ending attraction for human beings of all ages. It is interesting to note that tales about existence of such creatures is not restricted to Ireland or the Sub Continent, but can be found in ‘folk lore’ around the world – in Greece, the Philippines, Hawaiian Islands, Flores Island, Indonesia and even amongst Native Americans in the United States.

Legends speak of the little people playing pranks on humans such as singing and then hiding from those, who looked around for the source of music. It was often said that these creatures used music to lead travellers astray in the days before modern transport. Other stories say that if accidentally spotted by someone, they begged the person not to say anything about their existence for a reward, which usually consisted of help in times of trouble. There were also unconfirmed reports regarding remains of tiny people discovered in the United States around Montana and Wyoming many years ago.

I once wrote a column describing a personal encounter with what appeared to be a miniature dwarf-like face that peered at me from the bull rushes, during a duck shooting trip with my dad and uncle near Chuharkana somewhere in the nineteen fifties. I had been left behind in the car, while the adults had waded into the water. To this day I am not sure whether what I saw was a figment of my imagination or something real. The fact is that I put my hand on the horn and did not lift it till such time that my uncle returned and berated me for scaring the ducks away.

Almost every child anywhere in the world has been raised on stories that feature fairies, elves, gnomes and pixies. These characters have been both good and evil. No childhood would be complete without tales that titillate imagination and (as some psychologists would insist) even create illusions. Nonetheless, my advice to anyone travelling to Ireland is never to pass a ‘frivolous’ comment on hearing strange stories, for such a remark will not be taken lightly by the locals. I for one would like to reserve my comments, for every folk tale or legend has been known to have some basis or the other. In this case too – who knows?

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