Things Go Bump in Alaska Night   Leave a comment

Every culture has its creepy folktales and the Alaska Natives are no different. I grew up hearing some of these tales.


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The Qalupalik is a creature of Inuit legend described as being human-like and having green skin with long hair and very long fingernails. She lives in the sea, hums to entice children to come closer to the water and wears an amautik — a parka worn by Inuit women to hold a child against the back in a built-in baby pouch just below the hood.

Parents and elders tell children that if they are disobedient or wander too close to the sea shore, the Qalupalik will come onshore, put them in her amautik and take them back to the sea with her to raise them as her own children, never to see their family again. So, if you are ever standing on the shore of the Arctic Ocean and hear a woman humming — run!

The Nunavut Animation Lab created a short animated film that tells the Qalupalik legend in great detail with unique illustrations. You can view it here.

The Alaska Bushman, or Tornit

Stories of the Alaska Bushmen, or tornits, have been told since the first humans crossed the Bering Land Bridge. In the beginning, the story goes, the Inupait and the tornits lived peacefully in villages near each other and shared common hunting grounds.

The Inupiat people often built and used kayaks for hunting. While the tornits were unable to master the building of kayaks, they were very aware of the advantages of having and using one. One story goes that a young tornit borrowed a young Inupiat’s kayak without permission and damaged the bottom of it. The young Inupiat became very angry and stabbed the tornit in the nape of the neck while he was sleeping, killing him. The rest of the tornits feared that they too, would be killed by the Inupiat and fled the country, rarely to be seen again.

Since that time, many stories have come out of the bush of hunters disappearing, later found dead and mangled or never seen again. Apparently, hunters and the Tornits no longer peacefully shared common hunting grounds.

We were once fishing with a Inupiat family, pulling white fish from a northwestern Alaska river when a nasty skunky smell floated toward us. It suddenly dawned on me that most of the other fishing families had quietly and quickly disappeared. Of course we were all armed in case of bear, but our host unsnapped his holster and quietly told us to reel in our gear and pack up.

The smell didn’t say “bear” to me, but one doesn’t argue in these circumstances, so we obeyed. That night was the first night I heard the tale of Tornit.


Image result for image of alaska folktalesThe third creature to inhabit Alaskan nightmares was the bloodthirsty Adlet, which bears some resemblance to the better-known werewolf. From the Inuit legend, the Adlet are a race of people said to have the lower body of dogs and the upper body of humans. Typically, they’re believed to be the offspring of an Inuit woman and a dog, brought about through an unnatural mating.

The woman gave birth to 10 children, half of whom were dogs and the other half Adlet. The family was sent to a remote island because they were so voracious, and their grandfather would hunt for them and provide them with meat. Every day, the dog-husband was supposed to swim from the island to the mainland, where the grandfather was supposed to fill a pair of boots wrapped around the dog’s neck with meat. Eventually, the grandfather filled the boots with rocks, drowning the husband.

Fearing for her children’s lives, the mother sent them inland, where they spawned more Adlet. The Adlet are typically portrayed as aggressive savages who will attack men when they cross paths.

Although the Adlet legend is based in far north mythology — a version of the story also appears in Greenland, where the Adlet are instead dubbed Erqigdlit — a few researchers have linked it to the European tales of the werewolf. The Greenland Inuit are, after all, mixed with Viking blood.


Image result for image of alaska folktalesIn mythology, the Tizheruk are large, snake-like sea creatures that are believed to roam Alaska’s waters. They are described as having a head 7 feet long with a tail ending in a flipper, for a total of 12 to 15 feet long. Tizheruk were said to snatch people from docks and piers.

The Tizheruk have some similarities to the Haietlik, or “Lightning Snakes,” occasionally associated with the Thunderbird of Southeast Alaska and Pacific Northwest native cultures. Once the Thunderbird spotted a killer whale, it would launch Haietlik as living weapons by throwing them from the skies like lightning.


Image result for image of alaska folktalesThe Keelut is described as an evil earth spirit that takes the form of a black, hairless dog with only hair on its feet. It’s much like the Black Dogs of Great Britain, following travelers at night, attacking and then killing them. If a trail of dog tracks is found that suddenly disappear, it is believed that the Keelut is nearby.

Now, Alaska is filled with all kinds of canines: wolves, foxes, coyotes, sled dogs, and your typical other domestic dogs. With all the canine activity, I’m not sure how you could confirm big, bad Keelut was tracking you, unless he came up and bit you on the rump with a wicked laugh.I’m thinking there was some real element in here because being hairless is not exactly a smart attribute in Alaska. I would guess there was a dog born this way and when it disappeared, someone made up a story to explain the disappearance. Of course, it died of exposure, but nobody wants to believe that of their favorite puppy, so …. And legends always experience story creep.

Posted November 10, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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