Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ircinrraqs - Alaksa


Being of Scotch-Irish decent, I have always believed in Leprechauns. I have never seen one, of course, but there are many things I have not seen that I believe. However, believing in Leprechauns is a far cry from believing in Ircinrraqs, or the Little People as they are called by my Eskimos friends.

More than just a few Yup'ik Eskimos believe in reincarnation, ghosts, animals that change into humans, humans that change into animals, bouncing fireballs over the Bering Sea, lights that mysteriously appear on the tundra, and a host of other things that go bump in the night.

Although where I use to live while in Alaska, according to village lore, was built over an ancient burial ground, I cannot say with any certainty that I have experienced any mysterious bumps in the night. But, strange things are done, or happen, in the midnight sun, and who am I to discount such beliefs?

Not every Eskimo I have talked to believes in ghosts, humans and animals that change places at will, tundra lights, or the big bouncing fireball. But I have never talked to an Eskimo who does not believe in the Ircinrraqs. That does not mean they all do, it is just that I have never found one who doesn't.

Ircinrraqs apparently are very tough, resilient, and mean. They were the only phenomenon that really struck fear into the hearts of the villagers.

The little people are rarely seen other than in the middle of the night and then just fleetingly. They live somewhere on the tundra and only venture into the village when everyone is supposed to be asleep. They rummage through the trash, steal fish off the drying racks, and latch on to items left loose. They seldom hurt anyone unless you come upon them suddenly. The kids who are wandering around at all hours of the night are not in real danger but only because they avoid the places where it is said the Little People have been.

On one particular night of the year, however, Ircinrraqs come out in droves and terrorize the village. Of course that night is Oct. 31. According to popular belief, they gather in the graveyard just outside the village and participate in all sorts of debauchery. They eventually work themselves into a frenzy and scamper into the village and a look for any man, woman, or child foolish enough to be out after the witching hour or answer a knock on the door.

My first year in Alaska, on Halloween, I was unaware of the danger and thought it strange that no one showed up for candy after 8 p.m. No child of any repute would consider going home at such an early hour, normally. I've only known of one other time that the children of Hooper Bay observed the curfew. That was when a pack of wolves were reported to be near the river. But none but the brave or foolish venture out after curfew on Halloween in the little village by the Bering Sea

There have been many a lad or lassie, so it is said, caught out on the boardwalk or under the school and dragged out onto the tundra never to be seen again. Some kids have escaped from the little people and are able to tell the tale. A teacher's aide told me that she was one of the lucky ones many years ago who escaped from certain death. I am sure she is still much in demand among the school children this time of year to tell the story.

I tried to pin my good friend Nanook down about the subject and since he was educated at the University of Alaska, I guessed I would gather some insight into the legend.

He told me it was not a legend but a truth that should not be regarded with skepticism. When I asked him how he could believe such an outlandish tale he just looked at me and said, "Isn't it just as outlandish, using your logic, to believe in a place where everyone is happy and you live forever?" Well, that is different, I said, and he said "to you."

Every year there is a costume dance on Halloween starting right after school, and afterward the kids comb the village from shanty to shanty acquiring candy. The teachers get hit pretty hard, and are well stocked. The kids, and some adults, will go after the goodies with a fervor, but by 8 p.m. there will not be a soul, at least a human one, who is not snugly wrapped in their seal skin coats, hid snugly away in their plywood houses.

I stated earlier that I, for one, did not believe in such things as Ircinrraqus, Leprechauns being the exception of course. The few fleeting images I noticed when outside at night when I was there can be explained, I assume, and the things that went bump in the night below where I lived were probably due to the heating system. The bouncing ball over the Bering Sea is undoubtedly the sun, and I have known many a human who acted like an animal.

However, one does not have to see to believe and one should never take chances when one does not have to. I made a personal pledge when I was there to participate in the total experience. I handed out candy with the best of them up until the bewitching hour. I got a knock on the door that Halloween night around 8:30 pm and got up to answer it. Well I am here now writing this so one of two things happened. I either opened the door and was not confronted with an Ircinrraqs or I thought about it and went back to my easy chair and pretended to hear nothing. Faith and begorra.



  1. Conley, the big, bouncing fireball was most likely the sun but I have seen fireballs in Colorado rolling between the mountains--it was a form of lightning!
    Good piece! Thanks for sharing! Janelle