Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Yupik Fairy Tales

Almost all fantasy stories are based on a limited number of European, Japanese or Chinese ideas. Yet there are many more incredible stories that go ignored by writers and artists. So for today's writing prompt idea, I'd like to introduce you to Yupik ghost stories.

For those of you who don't know, the Yupik people live on the far West Coast of Alaska. This is where I spent my entire childhood and where I developed my love of folk tales. What is so fascinating about growing up with these stories is that here people didn't think of fairy tales as taking place in a far away place. Instead fairy tales happen all around us. This is important to keep in mind when thinking about fairies in general. They weren't off in some distant isolated forest, they were in and around people's homes.

Unfortunately my memory isn't great so I only recall snippets of tales. I have just bits and pieces of the ghost stories I heard as a child, while the freezing cold wind howled outside (school wasn't canceled until 75 below zero). Still I've put together a small collection of stories that I do recall to some extent or another which you can see  here.

Or see the individual stories below

Big Mouth Baby

Raven and the Whale

The Ghosts Tea Kettle

Witch of the Long Grass

Raven and the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

The Spirit Women and the Unfaithful Husband

Hooking a Man

You can also watch Yupik Story teller, which is is a PBS show in which a number of different elders share their stories of encounters with the other world.

Long Nails

I heard a similar story in Kipnuk with a few minor differences. For one the boy who dies is friends with the other boy, another is that they are lured by the smell of cooking food to the witches house. Still the basic tale is the same, as is the moral. You can read the version as best I remember it here.

There is also a great Facebook dedicated to Yupik Ghost stories, and I have a snippet of one of the tales shared on it below.

The Shaman's Famine by Panruk
A great famine swept the land. Animals had been led away from their usual migratory routes although the berries and greens were abundant. No one could explain the phenomenon and people became sick and many died of malnutrition.
There were two shamans left in the area. One good and one evil.
The remaining people congregated to one village and the shamans set up their own camp on each side. The good shaman arose before dawn and prayed daily for good fortune upon the hunters. Then the hunters ventured out in search of food. They'd have to travel for many miles on foot and took the entire day, but they always managed to find something.
The setting sun marked the time the hunters returned and the time when the bad shaman awoke. He was the only one who stayed up late and never worked or helped the people in the village. He felt entitled to receive all that he desired by any means and he terrified the people into giving him whatever he wanted.


John Active
Spirits are enforcers of morality, so many of the stories are about how ghosts will punish immoral behavior.

Yupik Masks



Jeanne said...

I spent only a little bit of time in Alaska - Fairbanks actually. I found the whole state to be magical - a sense of mystery was always present.