Have you ever heard of the ‘Whut’sah’ people? I’m spelling their name phonetically because I have not yet found any written reference to their existence, real or imagined, by that particular name.
However “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“.
I was introduced to the Whutsa people by my maternal grandfather at such a young age, their presence was as natural as the air I breathed, and as normal as warm sunlight coaxing the flowers into bloom.
Grampa spoke to me only in heavily accented English, most likely a hold-over from when my grandmother (a D.A.R. – Daughter of the American Revolution) forbid him from talking in his native Italian language around ‘her’ children for fear they would grow up speaking “broken English” and thus become stigmatized by polite society. That’s how it was in those days…
Emigrating from Sicily, Italy, my grandfather entered the USA through Ellis Island and settled in Brooklyn, New York to make his fortune selling Real Estate to other Italian immigrants eager for a new life in the land where the “streets were lined with gold”.
By the time I was born my grandfather was nearly eighty years old so my memories are few, but no less profound. If anything, his stories and lessons have stayed with me my whole life; shared often as valued family traditions time and again with my own children, now ready to be carried forward once more.
According to Grampa, the Whustsa’s are Italian fairies. They are the Little People who come into our house while we’re fast asleep. Why? I had asked.
Well, “to party” he explained, and if we didn’t give them a place to sing and dance and have a good time – then oh ho ho, we would suffer the consequences because unhappy fairies make for lots of mischief.
So we spent many happy hours fashioning special places, like little villages, just for the fairies.
A round, compact mirror transformed magically into a skating rink, and some of my Petite Princess Fantasy dollhouse furniture was donated with a glad heart for my visiting Whutsa’s. Grampa and I even absconded with some shrubbery from my Dad’s electric train set. We tried to be as imaginative and thoughtful to their every need, even providing items they could use to make music, like small bells raided from our Christmas ornaments.
Grampa was filled with all sorts of hidden knowledge, mostly about how to protect ourselves from the unseen forces that ruled misfortune.
We made certain to “knock on wood” when talking about a stroke of good luck so the fairies couldn’t hear us and be tempted to reverse our fortune from good to bad. I remember one Christmas season, Grampa saw my mother carelessly place a gift-wrapped box on the kitchen table and became horrified, scolding her about bad luck. I immediately knew what that meant. The box contained shoes, of course.
Then Grampa died, and we moved to the country in upstate NY. It was there that my mother picked up the torch, continuing the tradition, to teach us wisdom from the old country as it was taught to her.
To this day, every time I pass any vehicle carrying hay of any kind or quantity, I’ll make a wish – and keep it secret or it won’t come true. I toss coins into ‘wishing wells’ that can be anything from a stream to a fish pond and never will I walk beneath a ladder. Why would I risk the bad luck? And never, ever, send an empty rocking chair into motion…
All these things were preached as fact, in absolute seriousness, the same way any other piece of parental wisdom is preached such as brushing teeth before bed and the importance of eating one’s vegetables.
It is only now, after all these years, that I finally figured out why I can’t find the name “Whut’sah” in any of the Fairy stories.
I think their name got lost in translation.
In trying to convert the Italian name into English for a very small child, Grampa must have stammered, “you know — the Whats ya ma call it, er — the Whatsa people, the little folk.” And over the years, after the retelling to countless children, they eventually became known to us as — The Whut’sah People.
Unfortunately there is no one left to ask; the story origins have died with my ancestors.
But my husband tracked down a piece of information via the wonderful Internet that may hold the answer:
Mazzamuriello is the Italian word for The Little People, who scare bad people and reward good – basically the Italian version of English brownies. (I’ve paraphrased)
It has the ring of truth and supports my theory. I can just imagine my grandfather trying to pronounce “Mazzamuriello” to a four year old American girl. I would have stammered over that too. “Ya know — the whatsa ya ma call it, the whatsa people…”
But I don’t think the fairies really mind one way or another. They’ve been known by a multitude of names in every culture since ancient times.
Good night to you, my beloved Whutsa People. Have a wonderful party!