What Is a Pukwudgie? If You See One, It’s Best to Stay Away
Pukwudgies were known to Native Americans, who gave them a wide berth.
Long before Europeans ever stepped foot in the New World, the legends of pukwudgies were already quite robust. Pukwudgies, also known as bagwajinini, were said to live in the wilderness throughout North America. Native Americans believed that pukwudgies were creatures that had once lived in harmony with humans but had turned against them. They featured in the folklore of diverse tribes, from the Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts and Southern New England to the Algonquian tribe of the Great Lakes region. And according to various legends, it was best to leave the creatures alone.
Pukwudgie translates to “person of the wilderness.” They were said to be small creatures, ranging from knee-height to about three feet tall, with human-like features, yet sporting larger ears, noses, and fingers. Their skin has been described as grey and smooth, and they have often been compared to trolls and goblins. The small creatures also have a variety of tricks up their sleeves to taunt or harm humans.
The threat that pukwudgies posed tended to vary from region to region. In some places they were considered benign, even helpful to humans. In others they were mischievous, but harmless. And in other regions–they were murderous.
The Wampanoag tribe has a particularly detailed origin story of the pukwudgies. Legend has it that the creatures originally got along well with humans, but humans were distracted by their relationship with Maushop, a giant kind-spirited deity who created the land mass we now know as Cape Cod. The jealous pukwudgies were offended that they weren’t as well-loved as Maushop and began to cause more and more mischief. After the Wampanoags had a talk with Maushop’s wife, Maushop exiled the pukwudgies and forcefully spread them far and wide throughout North America.
However, many of the pukwudgies found their way back and instigated a more belligerent relationship with humans and Maushop, eventually killing Maushop’s 5 sons. Some variations even suggest that they killed Maushop himself, and this legend coincides with the giant disappearing from Wampanoag folklore.
Like leprechauns, the legendary little people of Ireland, pukwudgies are capricious. Their powers depend on which tribe you ask. A human who annoyed a pukwudgie might just be the victim of some unpleasant trickery, but they might also be pushed from a cliff, shot with fiery arrows, or have their children stolen. Pukwudgies could also create fire or orbs that lured people into deep woods to their doom. They had the power of invisibility and in some places could transform into dangerous animals like cougars. Perhaps most frightening of all is the rumor that they had power over the spirits of the people they had killed.
Steve Ramsey, Alberta. Canada