The Qalupalik of Inuit Folklore
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Do you like terrifying children?
I've always been fascinated by how the meaning of a single sentence can be interpreted in many ways. The same holds true for larger works like flash fiction, short stories, and novels.
How did you read that first sentence?
Do you like to terrify children?
Do you like children who are terrifying?
No matter which of those questions you answered 'yes' to, you're in good company with the Inuit people. There are many intriguing stories from history, especially the farther back you go. In fact, my own family's Native American Tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and the larger Muscogee Nation they split off from long ago have all sorts of terrifying legends. The Inuit people are no exception to this type of thing, and they have their own stories of grotesque creatures to tell their children about. Fun!
Now, I know what you're thinking.
"How can I, too, terrify children?"
Well, I'm glad you asked!
First, you need to set the stage.
You are a five-year-old kid living in the Arctic.
It's springtime and a balmy 36° Fahrenheit*.
(*That's 2° Celsius for literally everyone else in the world except the US and Liberia—which happened to be founded by the American Colonization Society.)
So, anyway, you are a five-year-old kid living in the Arctic. It's springtime and a balmy 36° Fahrenheit. The landscape is covered with snow and ice from the nine-month-long winter. Your parents are finally going to let you go jumping ice pans with the other kids. You bundle up in your poofy red coat, and your mom wraps your favorite fuzzy scarf around your face. "Off you go!" She opens the door and sets you on your way with a gentle push. As you walk toward the three older kids standing in the snow waiting on you, you hear your mom call out from behind, "Don't let the Qalupalik snatch you!"
You shuffle off with your friends through the snow and over to the ice pans. Your cheeks burn with a cool sting by the time you get there, and your nose keeps running straight into your scarf. Mom will wash it later.
The broken chunks of ice floating around in the water are close enough to hop between, and you go running straight for them.
A knocking sound from the ice near you. You make your first jump toward the noise, glancing down at the dark water. How cold is it down there?
A smell hits you, the same scent that comes from your dad's gas cooking stove—rotten eggs. You jump across a small gap of water and onto another chunk of ice.
This time, the knocking sound comes from the ice underneath your feet. A slimy green hand, covered in scales, shoots up from the water and grabs your ankle. You gasp, scream. Your friends are backing away, one of them already running.
"Help!" You shout and squeeze your eyes shut as the hand on your ankle tightens its grip.
The icy fingers jerk your leg out from under you. You slip and fall, head tipping toward the hard ice. A moment later—you stop, caught by something soft. You open your eyes to find yourself tucked into the hood of a soaking wet amauti like your mom wears. You kick around, trying to get out, but it's too big, much bigger than your mom's. Your feet slide on the slippery sealskin fabric.
You open your mouth to scream.
A cold hand slaps over your face.
You feel yourself tip backward, then splash into the icy waters.
You've just met a Qalupalik, a child-snatcher, and you will never return home. If you're lucky, or...perhaps unlucky, you will eventually become a dweller of the dark, icy waters yourself—instead of simply drowning. Over time, you grow lonely living in the cold Arctic waters. When spring comes, you hear children hopping the ice pans above you. You tap, tap, tap on the ice to draw a child close to you, then snatch it up to keep you company.
Some say that the legend of the Qalupalik was created to keep children from playing on thin ice. But then, hopping ice pans is a long-standing tradition. No one has proven either one, so for now, I'm avoiding trips into the ice pans of the Arctic.
I wrote the little story you just read, but if you're interested in more, you can get these handy children's picture books, guaranteed to terrify you more than any kid you show it to.
- A Promise is a Promise
- Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupalik
- The Qalupalik
- The Orphan and the Qallupilluit
* Qallupilluit and Qalupalik are different spellings for the same thing.
As you might imagine, the modern world is absolutely overflowing with media about Inuit culture. Just look at the wealth of resources I found on Amazon while searching for the monstrous ice kidnapper. Check out the top search results screenshot when I tried both spellings (qalupalik/qallupilluit.) I used a web browser I've never used for anything, put it in private/incognito mode just to be sure, and even had a friend in another city confirm she got the same results.
Keep reading. This is a screenshot, not an ad. ⬇️⬇️⬇️
UPDATE: March 15, 2022—Amazon comes back with relevant search results about half the time now. When I wrote this in December of 2021, I had to dig (a lot) to find anything relevant. It's nice to see more relevant results now, and hopefully, it keeps up.