Folklore of the Inuit Siren
In Alaskan Inuit culture, there are ocean-dwelling creatures known as Qalupaliit (kah-loo-pah-leet)—they are the Arctic version of the mermaid or siren. Unlike the popular mermaid princess culture that surrounds much of the lore of this aquatic creature, the Qalupalik (kah-loo-pah-leek) is not a beautiful half-fish, half-woman who lures sailors to their deaths. Wraith-like in appearance, her long black hair is perpetually plastered to her sallow, slimy, scaly skin—her ghastly despondent face is paired with her dark and hollow eyes. Her webbed feet and hands are topped with long sharp claws—all of this is enough to strike terror into the hearts of the children that the Qalupalik preys upon.
Curious and adventurous children who don’t heed the warnings of their parents are the ones she seeks to claim; she hums beautiful melodies to lure them to the icy banks of the ocean’s shore where she snatches them up. It is said, once she seizes a child, she takes them down to the freezing depths of the ocean to live with her forever, never to be seen or heard from by their family again.
So what purpose does the myth of the Qalupalik serve for the Inuit society? Well, the harsh arctic environment within which the Inuit people live is terrifying and dangerous; within a community that works so hard to survive, the parents and elders used storytelling as a way of aiding in the upbringing and survival of the children of the village. Essentially, the use of scare-tactics was a way for children to avoid the dangerous aspects of their environment when they were alone. The story of the Qalupalik was created to encourage these children to fear to be alone near the dangerous shores of the sea, where they could easily fall prey to the natural elements.
The Story of the Qalupalik
Nunavut Animation Lab created an animated version of one of the traditional tales about the Qalupalik, just like all of the folklore originating in Alaskan Native culture, there is always a moral to the story. This is an example of one told to children, to inform them of the dangers of not obeying their parents and wandering by the icy coastal waters on their own. Not to be mistaken with her more traditional lore, the video (linked below) describes a circumstance where the child who was kidnapped is rescued by his father, which of course is not what would typically happen if a child were kidnapped by this Inuit monster of the deep.
An even less traditional take on the legend of the Qalupalik was fairly recently made into a children’s book, but it errs more on the side of child-friendly, where it suggests that despite her frightful appearance, she is rather easily tricked.