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In Tomb of Annihilation first sees chwinga, "small, shy elemental spirits" who are vaguely helpful to the characters if allowed to run their course.

Are chwinga new (in D&D) to 5e, or did they appear in earlier editions? Are they lifted from pre-existing mythology/folklore?

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I don't have a primary source to confirm this, but I'd be very surprised if the chwinga wasn't based at least in part on the kodama.

A nature spirit that lives within trees

Chwingas have a feature called Natural Shelter that allows them to live within trees and other natural features.

Kodama (木霊, 木魂 or 木魅) are spirits in Japanese folklore that inhabit trees, similar to the dryads of Greek mythology.

Wikipedia

No shared language with humans

Chwingas have no language with which to communicate. The sounds typically attributed to kodama are echoing natural sounds, rather than speech.

Occasional fascination with humans

In some cases, a chwinga might simply like the way a humanoid walks or the way it combs its hair. Other times, it might be smitten by a humanoid's ability to play music or to eat copious amounts of food.

ToA p.217

Kodama are known to take on the appearance of humans, and stories exist of them even falling in love with humans.

Rarely seen

Chwingas have numerous abilities which which to make themselves unseen: between Natural Shelter, pass without trace, and +7 Stealth, they aren't seen unless they want to be.

Similarly, kodama are rarely seen, to the extent that a tree in which one lives is referred to as a kodama as well.

Depicted in media as a tiny humanoid with a white, mask-like face

ToA describes chwingas as appearing like animated dolls, and minus the black skin and hair, in the illustration they bear a striking resemblance to the kodama in Princess Mononoke:

Kodama per *Princess Mononoke*

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And I thought chwinga looked kinda freaky... =\ \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 21 at 12:27

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