A Guide to Mythological Creatures in Canadian Inuit Art Has Been Released

Why the sound of knocking on ice spells trouble and to whom you shouldn't give crying children

The Inuit Art Foundation has produced an online guide to the folkloric traditions of the Inuit peoples in northern Canada. The material not only offers a brief overview of characters and spirits from oral folk art, but also presents the works of contemporary Inuit artists who work with these subjects.

Below we retell the stories of some of these mythological creatures. You can get acquainted with the rest of the collection on the Foundation's website.


A knock on the ice walls of the igloo heralds the appearance of an unusual visitor. A kajutajuq hides outside—a head without a body and arms, only legs. The chest is visible in the place of the cheeks and the vulva is located on the chin. She dwells in the abandoned igloos and brings trouble: those who see the kajutajuq soon fall ill. Looking for shelter in the abandoned igloos, people can meet with her or with a similar creature—tunituaruk. The latter has the same shape, but also wears tattoos on her face.

Davidialuk Alasua Amittu. Legend, 1963
Walker's Auctions


One day, a blind woman was looking after a crying baby while his parents attended a ceremony. Nothing could calm the child and the woman began to call for help. At that moment, a figure appeared and offered to take care of the child. The woman put the child in the guest's amauti (a women’s parka) and the figure disappeared along with the infant. It is believed that it was amautalik—a female spirit that carries her victims away in her parka. It preys on travelers, crying babies, or children wandering too far from home.

Martha Tickie. Amautalik, c.1980
Walker's Auctions


The Qalupalik lives under the ice and waits for children who play too close to the sea or lake. It is a creature with tendrils and large claws, dressed in either a down or duck skin amaut. He takes his prey on a ridge into deep-sea caves. Sometimes these creatures take the form of animals to trick victims into approaching water. Fairy tales warn children of the dangers lurking under the ice cover that make an echoing knock. The knock serves as a warning about natural and supernatural threats but also serves as safety precaution, so that when children hear the actual sounds of breaking ice it will frighten children off the surface.

David Ruben Piqtoukun. Qalupalik Holding a Head, 1994


An incessant giggle, carried by the wind, warns that a mahahaa is approaching. With a menacing grin on his face, he stalks travelers throughout the winter months. This small creature is usually depicted with almost no clothes and no shoes, with creepy teeth and sharp claws. Ice blue eyes peek out from under a matted shock of hair. The most notable features of mahahaa are long fingers and equally long claws with which he is ready to tickle victims to death. You can try to deceive the evil spirit: invite him to take a sip at the edge of the ice and then push him into water with a strong current.

John Nutarariaq. Mahaha, 2018
Carvings Nunavut Inc.