Long ago before the kasseq’s (White people) came to our land there was a small river that flowed directly into the Bering Sea. Along that river there was a village of over a hundred people. The people there hunted the sea and land and fished the rivers and the sea.
In this village live a hunter and his wife. The hunter was gone hunting nearly everyday. Only when the weather was too bad for hunting did he retire to the Qasgiq (men’s house) to repair or create new hunting gear. Fear of hunger drove him everyday, but most of all he feared that the spirits of the animals that fed him and his wife might turn against him if became lazy and failed to work everyday. This would be a gross insult to all the creatures that made his life possible. His wife too was rarely home because she often went to work with her sisters and cousins. She loved to talk and gossip with her female relatives as she sewed or worked skins into clothing or cut up fish or meat for winter storage. So she and her husband were rarely in their home during the day.
Her home was like that of her female relatives. She and her husband had built it by gathering a large number of drift wood logs. (No trees grow along the Bering Sea Coast). Some they split and some they notched on the ends, and some they adzed into planks. They then dug out the tundra or sod to about four feet deep. The planks were used to make the floor and sleeping benches; the logs were cribbed up on posts; and the split logs were used for siding. The whole thing was covered with grass and sod and a tunnel was dug and covered with logs and sod for an entry. The house had a sky light over head that doubled for a smoke hole. The sky light had a removable window made of translucent seal gut strips sewn together. The tunnel had a dip in it to act as a cold trap and a bearskin covered the room entry. The single room was lit by a seal oil lamp of clay. The walls and benches were covered with grass matting and caribou skins. The room was twelve to sixteen feet in diameter. The husband spent most his time in the winter at the qasgiq with the other men and boys and the woman’s house was often empty.
The winter houses are rarely too warm and the women wear their inner parks inside their houses. The hunter’s wife was expecting a child, but because she had lost several infants, she did not tell her relatives or other villagers that she was pregnant. She was afraid that if she talked of the coming child, it might attract bad luck. When the child was born in early winter, however, it came as a terrible disappointment.
The child was a male but it was horribly deformed. Its face was all twisted with a mouth that stretched almost from ear to ear, and the poor thing had a mouth full of teeth. The face itself was twisted in a horrible permanent grimace, while the eyes were equally distorted. The woman at first was horrified and then angry as she realized that this monster child would not die. When she nursed it, it bit her until her swollen breasts bled. Her husband told her that the pitiful thing would surely die, so why not put it outside on the nearby hill where nature would soon bring an end to this sad creature. She agreed, but did not want to anger the baby’s spirit and told him that it would soon die. He went hunting and she went to work with her sisters. Soon however, her swollen breast forced her to return and nurse the child and this time she was more successful. Her efforts meant that the child lived on. She and her husband were frustrated by the failure of the child’s life to reach a natural conclusion. It not only lived, but seemed to grow stronger each day. In fear, that the child might live a long time and grow up to be a useless and helpless adult, she approached the village shaman (medicine man) and sought his advice.
She asked him if it was ok for her take deformed child to a nearby hill and leave it to die in the winters bitter cold. Her husband had supported this choice, but in an unexpected answer, the shaman said, “No, do not abandon this child to the elements. “ Instead he said, take the child home and care for it as you would any other child. Love it and care for it carefully. Carry him next to your body under your parka at all times so that it is never alone. The child must know a mother’s love or he may not grow up to be a strong young man who can feed his family. If you do that he said, “All will be well with the child.”
The mother immediately took her deformed son home, but instead of following the advice of the shaman, she chose instead to ignore the child by leaving it at home alone. Still once or twice a day her tormented breasts required her to feed the unwanted child. Every day she left the poor child while her husband hunted or worked at the Qasgiq. The piteous child cried constantly from loneliness and hunger. The more it cried and the filthier it became, the less the mother wanted to be around the child. The more the baby’s jagged and sharp teeth hurt her, the more she tried to avoid the child. Sometimes the father or mother would give the child a piece of raw bloody seal meat to chew on to quiet it screams and howls. This went on for several months and soon it seemed that the child would never stopped screaming and die.
Late in the winter while it was still cold, the husband came home from hunting and entered the tunnel entry to his wife’s house. He stopped for a moment and heard some very strange sounds. There were munching, crunchy and even slurping sounds. The sounds were so strange that he called out to his wife, “Wife, wife are you there?” Again he heard the strange sounds and again he called out, “Wife, wife are you there?” There was no answer so he continued up the passage into the main room of the house. As he entered the room he was presented with a ghastly sight. Across the room on the sleeping bench in the dim light of a flickering seal oil lamp, he saw his wife on her back with her child kneeling on her chest. Something dark was dripping from the woman’s body down onto the plank floor. The man gasped at the sight and baby who had been chewing and gnawing at her chest turned toward the sound of the man.
What the hunter saw then was like part of a horrifying nightmare. The baby’s deformed face was covered with his mother’s blood and dripped from its huge mouth, while bits of tissue hug from his jagged teeth. The child screamed at his neglectful father and leaped off of his mother’s mutilated corpse. Unable to walk upright, he hopped toward his father while gnashing his jagged, blood stained teeth. “Snap, snap, snap” went his teeth as he hopped toward his father. Frightened and losing his nerve, the “monster baby’s” father turned and ran out of the tunnel into the daylight. The man screamed out that he was being pursued by a “monster baby”. The puzzled villagers came out of their houses at the sounds of his screams and stood staring at the frightened and horrified man. Within moments the baby hopped out of the tunnel.
He squatted on his knees and little fists, blinking in the bright sun of a winter’s day. When his distorted eyes adjusted to the light, he turned his bloody distorted face toward his father and the villagers. One eye rolled around and the other one focused on the people, and he began to hop at them while again snapping his teeth. As he charged them, they were so frightened that all the people and their children turned and ran away. Even the dogs turned and ran in fright with them. They ran out of the village out into the snowy and windy tundra. Soon they stopped. At first they saw nothing and then they saw the baby hopping along their trail. Stopping and sniffing their track he kept moving toward the villagers. They ran even farther and when they stopped, they again turned and saw no one, but before they could start back toward the village, the saw the little “monster” hopping and sniffing along their track. Again they turned and ran farther into the tundra. The monster terrified them, but they also feared the bitter cold of the open tundra.
One young boy, braver than the rest, stopped and turned and faced the little “monster”. Waving his arms and yelling at the “monster baby”, the boy turned and ran toward the nearby hills. The little “monster” turned away from the path of the villagers and begin to hop after the boy. All the while snapping and gnashing his bloody teeth. The “monster” sniffed and followed the boy’s track as the boy made his way over the wind hardened snow higher and higher into the hills. The boy ran and trotted for several miles until he was in the mountains. Here the wind never stopped blowing during the winter and the mountain sides were scoured of snow. It was here that the caribou often came in the winter when the moss they needed was covered with wind packed snow and ice. Here they could feed with their food exposed and where man rarely came. The boy looked back down the mountain, and he could see the “monster” sniffing out and following his track. Soon however, the wind picked up and filled the air with fine snow. When the boy was sure that the little “monster” was high in the mountains, but could no longer see him, he turned around and drew his ivory snow knife from his parka. He leaned over and carefully cut a deep line across his back path. Turning back, he continued for a ways and then started back down the mountain away from the pursuing “monster baby”. He left the baby behind in the wind blown mountains.
The brave boy had remembered his apa’s (grandfather’s) words when he had told him how to deal with ghosts and evil spirits. Every one leaves a trail of tracks and scent and evil creatures will track you by either one, but a knife has power and in the same way you can cut a rope or piece of wood, you can cut your path and break all connection to an creature of evil. (this is one of several methods that all Yupik children are taught to stop ghosts or other evil spirits from attacking them).
The boy returned to his people and told them what he had done, and they returned safely to their homes. His family took great pride in the courage of their son.
As the years went by, the hunters in the village were occasionally driven by hunger into the mountains to hunt caribou in the winter. Often the hunters would return with stories finding caribou dead of terrible ripping and tearing wounds and surrounded not by wolf tracks but by the imprints of the little knees and knuckles of the “monster baby”. Even today, the village’s hunters avoid those mountains in winter.
Credit To: Richard W. edited by Tomas S.