The classic narrative of Gulliver’s Travels has always been one of my favorite tales since childhood. Gulliver’s adventures in Lilliput, inhabited by inches-high tiny people are fascinating, as are those in the land of giants, where this shipwrecked hero finds himself to be only a few inches tall in size.

As we age and grow in size relative to inanimate objects around us, we are subjected to something that I call ‘The Lilliput Effect’. The phenomenon develops in so unobtrusive a manner that when it does ‘strike’, it generates a weird and creepy feeling. I had always remembered our school Assembly Hall as a huge spacious room, with a high ceilinged roof. It was during a reunion forty five years after leaving school that I came face to face with ‘the Lilliput Effect’. One of the items on the program during this event was a reenactment of the Morning Assembly by old students many of whom were (or on the verge of becoming) senior citizens. As we filed into the Hall, I felt a queer sensation that the once huge room had shrunk in size from all directions. I asked the young man (a current student) conducting me, if the place had been redesigned and was told that it had not. The ‘shrinking’ feeling continued as we were taken around class rooms, which appeared much smaller. To my surprise, my former class mates told me that they too had undergone the same experience. A distinguished looking lady, who had spent 14 years with me in school, burst out laughing and explained that this was a perfectly normal psychological sensation produced by the fact that we had grown in size, while the rooms had remained the same. On my way home, I began to think of Lilliputians and Gulliver. It was during this muse that I remembered a long forgotten meeting with an Irish friend, who had told me about ‘The Little People’.

‘Little People’ have been part of Irish and Native American folklore since antiquity. Tales about this ‘mythical’ race can also be heard in Greece, Philippines, Hawaiian Islands, Flores Islands and Indonesia. Native Americans speak of ‘Tiny People’, who inhabited forests in the vicinity of sandy hills and rocky terrain bordering lakes. Legends often mentioned these people playing pranks on humans, such as singing and then hiding when approached. It was often said that the ‘little ones’ loved children and would take them away from bad or abusive parents or if the child was abandoned in the woods to fend for itself. Other legends say that whenever this tiny species happened to come in contact with an adult human by accident, all they would ask was that their existence should be kept secret. In return they would reward those, who kept their word by helping them and their kin in times of need. Many people believed that these ‘Little People’ cause mischief.

Stories about these ‘mythical’ entities have been fueled by reports of their physical remains having been discovered from caves in the Western United States, particularly in Montana and Wyoming. These discoveries are reinforced by more reports, where remains sent to a local university or the Smithsonian for analysis, disappeared along with the research results in a mysterious manner. Leading archaeologists however suggest that the discovery of two mummies identified as anencephalic infants with deformities in the first half of the twentieth century, caused some people to believe in the existence of a group of tiny prehistoric people.

I have heard elders in my own family speak of ‘balishtias’ (tiny people only one hand high). My paternal grandmother believed that her husband (my paternal grandfather) saw a party of these creatures, during a hunting expedition. Our skepticism, often evoked an angry response from her. On a personal note and as a student of history, I know that every legend has a factual origin. What needs to be determined is whether the said origin was an illusion, a natural phenomenon or something that the mind conjured up in a fleeting moment of extreme stress. It is only after elimination of these factors that one may begin to believe that stories about ‘Little People’ are true.